It’s downright amazing that Skyrim is still going strong after all this time. Released back in 2011, Bethesda’s open-world RPG masterpiece set gamer’s imaginations aflame, and resonated with such significance, that many fell head over heels in love as if Cupid himself had unleashed a well-aimed arrow straight into their heart (or should I say “knee” — ahem).
Fast forward to 2017, and it’s a title that’s still doing surprisingly well with the release of this newly fangled Skyrim: Switch Edition as well as a PSVR version dropping shortly, too. Like the re-animated corpse of an ancient undead draugr, it’s a title that refuses to lay down and give up the ghost, which is great for those – like me – who consider the icy Nordic mountains of Skyrim as a sort of home away from home.
Before we get stuck into the review, I just want to mention that I’ve written about my deep fondness for the game before (you can check out my review for Skyrim: Special Edition here). I surmised that it was “a terrific entry point for those who were unlucky enough to miss out on one of the last decade’s best open-world RPGs.”
Long story short, I really love Skyrim (perhaps not quite as much as I adore Oblivion, but I digress). This review will focus on the Switch port that has been developed in-house by Bethesda themselves. I’ll cut to the chase: in a word, it’s… impressive. Thank the Nine!
A quick recap for those uninitiated few (all three of you): This fifth iteration in Bethesda’s critically lauded Elder Scrolls franchise focuses on you – the “Dragonborn” – an unlikely hero who possesses the unique power to consume dragon souls. Using this extraordinary gift, you are granted the potential to harness the power from the nasty winged beasts once you’ve defeated them in battle. This bestows you the skill to shout a plethora of mighty spells, which you slowly unlock as you progress through the story. Luckily for you, a multitude of dragons across the kingdom of Tamriel have awoken from their eternal slumber, and are ready to wreak havoc upon the inhabitants of the titular province of Skyrim. It’s your task to rid the land of these troublesome overgrown lizards and bring peace to the Nordic wilds of Tamriel.
In essence, this is a tremendously crafted power fantasy that gives you a vast, blank canvas to work from. In typical RPG fashion, you are given the choice of a class and a race to choose early on, however, one of the game’s strongest and most tantalising elements – even to this day – is its freedom of meaningful choice that allows you to shape your character any way you see fit. Even six years after release, this is still an incredibly alluring and compelling concept, and it’s safe to say that Bethesda was pretty ahead of the curve back in 2011, before the open-world zeitgeist really took hold.
These interesting choices would be moot if it wasn’t combined with a fascinating world to explore and Skyrim delivers in spades on that front, too. Put simply, this may well be one of the most gorgeous environments to grace a video game. Period. Bethesda absolutely nail that wonderful feeling of exploration as this truly is a world to get lost in. Distilling such a colossal experience onto a portable console is an incredible feat.
The good news is that very little has been lost in the game’s transition to Nintendo’s handheld hybrid. At its core, this port is a cross-breed of the recently released Skyrim Special Edition and the original console and PC versions from 2011. It looks really nice on the 6.2 inch real-estate of the Switch’s pint-sized display, and runs at a consistent 30 FPS in 720p. Admittedly, there are the odd, occasional drops when the action gets busy, but these are few and far between, and not at all detrimental to the overall gameplay experience.
Some elements from the Special Edition can be noticed in this port’s more impressive lighting and water effects, especially when compared directly with 2011’s vanilla release. The new Quick Save feature is also present from the Special Edition, and this small touch is a great boon for the hybrid console’s pick up and play unique selling point. Add to this, some noticeably shorter load times (about 20 seconds to load a save, give or take) and it’s clear that this is no mere spit and shine port of the original release. Still, there are a few minor cutbacks that were needed to get the game running smoothly on such diminutive, modest architecture.
Both foliage and the overall number of trees has been scaled back slightly, resulting in a slightly “emptier” visual experience, particularly when looking out across the phenomenal vistas the game offers. The close range draw distance seems to have been slightly reduced as well, though, the panoramic views still remain mighty impressive. Nevertheless, these are super minor visual downgrades that don’t impact the core game too significantly.
Honestly, I think it’d be unreasonable to expect 100% parity with its beefier console brethren. That said, even though the Special Edition is arguably the ideal way to play Skyrim purely from a specs and visuals point of view, you’re going to have a really tough time trying to play those versions on a plane or a bus ride. And this is where Skyrim: Switch Edition really comes into its own.
The Switch version comes sporting a few extra welcome bells and whistles. Firstly, there are some pretty neat motion controls that take advantage of the Joy-Con’s in-built accelerometer and gyroscope. It’s all quite well-designed and intuitive; swinging the Joy-Con unleashes an attack, for example, while lockpicking can be performed by rotating the left controller and trying to feel for those gentle HD vibrations.
These motion controls are all additive, of course, and can be switched to on the fly. Overall, they work surprisingly well, but the truth is, motion controls in games that are not built specifically for them often err on the side of gimmickry. And Skyrim: Switch Edition is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice bonus feature, but I don’t expect many to be playing the game solely with this control scheme in mind.
Secondly, there’s Amiibo functionality built-in for those die-hard Nintendo fans out there. Similar to Breath of the Wild, scanning Amiibo unlocks special in-game loot, like the Master Sword, Hyrule Shield or Link’s iconic tunic. Luckily, for those – like myself – who don’t own any Amiibo, you can still unlock these goodies (phew!). All you need to do is climb to the peak of The Throat of The World; one of Skyrim’s highest, most foreboding mountains. It sure is worth the trek, though!
And finally, like the Special Edition, this version comes replete with the full raft of DLC, to boot. Before I wrap up, there’s a few niggling issues I’d like to touch on. As you’re already probably aware, there’s absolutely no mod support at launch in the Switch Edition, and I doubt we’ll ever see them come to the platform in the future, either. It’s pretty understandable considering the specs of the humble Switch, but it’s still worth mentioning nonetheless. Because of this, I can see why Nintendo and Bethesda decided against marketing the game as the Special Edition. That said, I do think it has more in common with the 2016 remaster than the vanilla 2011 release, but that’s strictly using my ol’ eyes, rather than detailed computer analysis, so take that with a grain of salt.
Though this may seem super minor, I just need to get it out there: the lockpicking sucks using the traditional Joy-Con sticks. For some reason, they feel peculiarly inaccurate and fiddly. Perhaps a patch may iron this out or maybe it’s just my big, unwieldy thumbs. Whatever it is, I had to stock up considerably on lockpicks thanks to this strange occurrence, which is something I never noticed in any of the other versions of the game I’ve played. Weird.
Taken as a whole, Skyrim: Switch Edition is a really cool and mighty impressive achievement. There are some minor cutbacks that needed to be made to make it run well on the hardware, but it doesn’t detract from the experience in any significant way. It’s Skyrim on the go, and that alone is a monumental milestone in my book. Sure, some may balk at the idea of playing a six year old game portably. However, like the many traders across Tamriel often mutter ad nauseum: “Some may call this junk… Me, I call them treasures.”
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy was provided by Bethesda.