The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review
Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
When the Nintendo Switch was unveiled in late 2016, one of the trailers that was shown was Bethesda’s excellent The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. At the time the game hadn’t been officially announced as coming to Nintendo’s new platform but by the New Year, that had changed and would make Skyrim the first Elder Scrolls title to be released on a Nintendo console. This was excellent news for Switch owners and was widely seen as statement from Nintendo that, unlike the WiiU, the Switch had plenty of third-party support. Launching on its sixth platform, how would Skyrim stack up on Nintendo’s plucky and portable platform?
Launching Skyrim for the first time and starting a new game we were greeted with the familiar intro. Bound and in the back of a cart, we were slowly making our way to Helgen. The banter between our fellow captives is, even now, so well written and acted that you remember just why, six years on, Skyrim is held in such high regard. It’s also at this point, and the mayhem that soon follows, that you realise just how good a first impression this port is setting. Sure, this is an old game and you’d expect any modern console to play it without issue. The Switch, however, isn’t a normal console having to straddle being both a handheld, and the more traditional TV-based, console. Everything from the facial animations to the environment is presented beautifully and with rarely a hitch. It’s not quite on par with the recent special edition we reviewed last year but it certainly looks better than its original forebear.
If you’re thinking something had to give graphically to make it work on the Switch you’d be right, though it’s not as bad as you may think. As we explored the world of Skyrim we did notice assets popping in but it was never overly jarring nor did it distract us. This was mostly encountered when we were coming down from a vantage point or on long vistas but given the Switch is powered by an NVidia Tegra System on a Chip (SoC) the performance Skyrim manages points to a lot of optimisation on this front. None of that optimisation, however, is with content. Everything is present and correct including the DLC of Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn. So if this is your first outing, there’s plenty of action and adventure to sink your teeth into. There’s no mod support in this version and for some that will be a shame. However, given that the install alone takes up over fourteen gigabytes it’s probably a good thing. For if you purchase a digital copy and you only have system storage, you only have twenty-five gigabytes to play with. We would also imagine that, given the likely optimisation needed for Skyrim to run on the Switch, a poorly optimised mod could bring a Switch to its knees quite easily.
If you’ve never played Skyrim before but have played recent RPGs from Bethesda like Fallout 4 then you’ll find yourself in familiar surroundings in terms of controls and mechanics. At that start of your story in Helgen you’ll get the chance to customise your character deciding things such as sex, race and appearance. Crouching allows you to sneak and pickpocket or surprise your foes and as you use skills they will level up. When your character levels up you can then spend points you’re awarded on perks. The path you choose with these will determine just what sort of adventurer you are. For us, the allure and attraction of a game like Skyrim is, if you choose to, delaying the main questline for as long as you like. Out of all the gameworlds invented, for us, the world of Skyrim is one of the best so of all the places one could choose to invest time in there are very few that can top it.
As this is a Nintendo console, the Switch version of Skyrim also comes with amiibo and motion control support. The former mostly consists of granting you random loot drops, however, if you have Zelda-themed amiibo you have the chance of acquiring Link’s outfit, shield and sword, allowing your character to cosplay their way to glory. Thankfully, you don’t need amiibo to acquire the armour so if you’re not one for collecting them you can still get the set. As for motion controls we mainly found them fun but not worth using on a full-time basis. Aiming with the bow and arrow was probably the only instance where the motion controls won out over the traditional controlset due to faster aiming. We found melee combat was sluggish and often lagged behind our inputs. The result of which found us blocking when we wanted to strike. It’s this hit and miss, if you’ll pardon the expression, relation to inputs that made us steer clear which is a shame but unsurprising.
With the Switch’s ability to become a handheld console it’s worth noting that we got about two and a half hours of game time before we had to put it back on the dock to charge. So you can do plenty of adventuring if you’ve got a long trip coming up or more if you take a battery pack with you. If you do play it docked, things scale up nicely though, likely due to the smaller screen size, we found things looked better when we were playing it in handheld mode. We would also strongly recommended using the Pro controller for Skyrim when docked unless you’re determined to use the motion controls. Whilst the Joy-Cons work just fine in their accompanying grip it can’t quite match the Pro controller for comfort which is crucial for long gaming sessions.
Six years on from its original release the world of Skyrim and the story it tells is still as intriguing, engaging and absorbing as it ever was. This port on to Nintendo’s little console that can, brings the adventure to a whole new wave of gamers who have yet to take an arrow to the knee. Whilst there are compromises here and there graphically, it doesn’t do so in a way that diminishes the experience. In fact, the only real issue we have with the Switch version is the motion controls and they can be safely ignored. Whilst it’s not the definitive version of Skyrim, this port is a fantastic achievement and is another highlight in a glittering year for for Nintendo.