Review: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch is an impressive feat
Playing Skyrim on the go is as novel at it sounds
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Code provided for review)
Almost exactly 6 years ago, I had the pleasure of stepping into the world that Bethesda meticulously created, and living an entirely alternate life as a Dragonborn. In a world where dragons existed, magic spells spewed from my hands, and way too many guards took arrows to their knees. I loved every minute of it, regardless of the bugs and jank that's commonly associated with Bethesda games.
The grand series is something I never really expected to play on the go, given that the PSP game The Elder Scrolls Travels: Oblivion was canceled. Outside of playing on a laptop, it seemed like a fleeting fantasy. And yet, here we are, an expertly ported Skyrim in its entirety to the Nintendo Switch.
That fantasy is now a reality.
What was, still remains
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is probably one of Bethesda's most ported games ever. With each port, nothing drastic ever changes, and the core of the game remains intact. It's the same Skyrim I played in 2011. But don't misread that as a fault. Despite the game not getting any sort of QOL upgrades or gameplay enhancements, it's a testament to Bethesda's craft that they've created a game that's still as much fun to play six years after its initial release. Well, except for maybe that entire intro sequence.
It's impressive that this version of Skyrim is based on the Special Edition that came out for Xbox One and PS4. It might not be as pretty as either of those versions, but you can spot the Special Edition upgrades in the color palette, as everything is more bright and colorful, and the water looks a lot more impressive than it did in the base game. It also includes all three of the DLC packs, Hearthfire, Dragonborn, and Dawnguard.
However, as this section's name indicates, whatever you disliked about Skyrim, whether we're talking about the launch edition or the latest Special Edition, that's still there. The combat is still the game's weakest part, with magic being able to somewhat save it from mediocrity. Facial animations, though serviceable, certainly look dated by today's standards, and the jank that's associated with the Elder Scrolls series as a whole, such as being able to jump glitch your way up a mountain, is still very much there. Some will find this stuff endearing, like me, and others will scoff at them and won't give Skyrim another chance.
The Switch factor
DOOM's port to the Switch was impressive for numerous reasons, but mostly because it's a current gen title that I'd honestly never thought I'd see in portable form. Sure, compromises were necessary, as the game didn't look nearly as good as it did on PC or either current-gen console, but the end result was still impressive, given the Switch's relatively lower specs.
Skyrim, on the other hand, is impressive for different reasons. We still have to acknowledge that even with a few minor visual upgrades over its initial release, it's still a six-year-old game. What is impressive is that the Switch manages to handle this like a boss with a locked framerate (30) that never lets up, even despite the game's gigantic size. It exceeded my expectations when it came to performance. And given that neither of the Special Edition ports ran at 60fps on PS4 and Xbox One, I can say that this version is on par with both of those, at least performance wise.
Like DOOM, some compromises had to be made, such as draw distance when you're exploring in wide open fields, and items like foliage and rocks will pop up much closer to your character. But these compromises, if I can even call them that, come with some amazing trade-offs. For example, load times are extremely short. Booting the game up from the main menu takes around 30 - 40 seconds. After dying and reloading, it's a mere 6-8 seconds to get back into the action. Extremely impressive and needed, especially when precious battery life is at stake when playing this game on the go.
The game also supports motion controls that I have a love and hate relationship with. Thankfully, the game has two different settings for it: motion controls and gesture attacks. Motion controls are appreciated, as you can aim your bow or any sort of projectile, like a magic spell, by aiming with your switch or your individual JoyCon if you're playing with them detached. This is especially helpful with the bow since, like in DOOM, the JoyCon joysticks are so small, getting a precision hit on a moving target can feel impossible. The motion controls certainly help.
Gesture attacks, on the other hand, are everything I hated about the Wii era, brought back to haunt me all over again. In theory, these should be a fun way to hack and slash your way through enemies, but the problem is that the response time is delayed, and attack animations are different for each weapon. So while you'll be swinging your JoyCon the same no matter what you're holding, the weapons will have different animation speeds and you'll always feel a huge disconnect. The same goes for blocking. You can raise your left JoyCon and your character will either raise their shield or block with their two-handed weapon. But the disconnect is that sometimes that animation persists, even though I've already lowered my JoyCon. It's just not responsive enough to be enjoyable.
On the topic of amiibo and the content you get from using them, you'll be pleased to know that all of the Zelda items can still be found in the game at a certain location. So don't worry, that content is not locked behind an amiibo paywall.
Just a week ago, Bethesda already wowed us with DOOM on the Switch, an impressive port by all accounts, even with a whole bunch of necessary compromises. And now here we are, the grand scale of Skyrim, ready to be simply picked up and played anywhere and everywhere. If somehow you never managed to play Skyrim in any of its previous iterations over the past six years, and Nintendo was always your console of choice, then what a time to hop into this fantastic yet flawed adventure. Likewise, if the prospect of playing Skyrim on the toilet, in the passenger's seat of a car, on the bus, or even 40,000 feet in the sky while flying to another country, then you're probably already sold on this port of the game.
For double dippers, you'll have to weigh the novelty of playing Skyrim on the go versus paying $60 again for a six-year-old game. If you've been around the block in the world of Skyrim more than a few times over the past six years, then chances are, you might not be enticed enough, especially at full price, and that's understandable. However, it's undeniable that Bethesda crafted something special, and the fact that it holds up six years later, and retains its fun factor, is a testament to their incredible worldbuilding.