I arrived at the Switch version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with minimal expectations. I wondered whether or not Nintendo’s new, mobile-oriented console could handle a game of Skyrim’s size and scope without holding back its noteworthy visual and technical flair. A lot of what made Skyrim so amazing to play on release was the breadth of activities, stories, locations, and spelunking that I honestly believed might be too much for the Switch. By way of alchemy or fantastical wizardry, however, Bethesda managed to successfully cram every inch of Skyrim’s nordic majesty in a console small enough to be played while sitting on the toilet. Having yet another release of Skyrim might roll some eyes but it’s absolutely worth buying for the absolute pleasure of playing it on the go.
Skyrim continues the Elder Scrolls tradition of letting the player do whatever the hell they want. No matter how many times I’ve played through the game, the sheer amount of content never fails to impress. As the prophesied Last Dragonborn, you’ll intervene on behalf of the native Nords or the encroaching Imperial Legion from the Third Empire in an attempt to halt a civil war. You’ll also be directly responsible for preventing Alduin, the Nordic god of destruction, from obliterating the continent. Men, women, children, and even Tamriel’s omnipotent deities look to you for help to solve a myriad of problems and troubles as a result of the growing unrest. As the player, you’re allowed the opportunity to tackle quests in no particular order and because enemies scale as the character levels, travel to different parts of the world can be done without fear of bumping into over-leveled enemies.
As a role-playing game, you’ll assume the role of a character of your own making. Selecting from a number of different races, which yield different interactions, and physical traits, it’s easy to waste hours perfecting the look of your Orc, Breton, or Argonian. Skills and abilities, such as magic and crafting, evolve as they are performed allowing you to create a truly unique identity. This novel system offers a previously unseen level of freedom in how you play the game. Tired of hacking and slashing monsters to bits? Switch your hand axes for magical spells and visit the College of Winterhold for some magic schoolin’. Bored of being a paragon of virtue? Help a kid murder his caretaker and join the ranks of the Dark Brotherhood. Most open world role-playing games pigeonhole you into specific roles and lock content behind archetype requirements. Skyrim, on the other hand, is the embodiment of the Evil Kermit meme. “It’s been 60 hours, maybe I should start the main quest?” “Go to Solitude and join the Bard’s College.”
When Skyrim was re-released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it shipped with a generous catalog of player created mods. The Nintendo Switch port doesn’t have that, unfortunately, but it’s not like the game is hurting for content as it contains all of Bethesda’s official expansions: Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. If there’s one thing that the Switch has over the special editions, it is how well it runs. I remember running into problems with the special edition, be it open world jank or game breaking bugs. I have yet to run into such problems on the Switch. In fact, the game runs incredibly well. The frame rate is great and consistent and the load times are better than they were on the Xbox One. The graphics on the Switch do take a bit of a dip, which is most noticeable whenever the console docked to the TV. Playing the game undocked is another story as I was consistently shocked at how good it looks. Thick clouds move across sharp, snow-capped peaks, the abandoned ruins are moody and atmospheric, and beautiful sunsets give way to clear, starry night skies. I did see instances of texture loading and pop-up though. To be honest, it didn’t bother me as much as I thought. I’m still in awe that it runs as good as it does. Despite any of the Switch’s technical limitations, Skyrim still finds a way to dazzle.
Because we are talking about a game on a Nintendo console, Skyrim does come with a few console-specific perks. The first is amiibo support. Using toy characters from Breath of the Wild and Smash Brothers, you’ll have a chance at unlocking familiar looking weapons, shields, and armor sets. Purchasing a Zelda amiibo isn’t a requirement as you can find a chest containing these items in the Throat of the World, Skyrim’s tallest mountain. The game also supports motion controls via the Joy-Con. This was a feature that was fun for about the first five minutes or so. In combat, you’ll use both Con to attack, swiping the peripheral in the air for blocking and light and heavy attacks. For magic spells, the controllers merely allow you to free aim the attack without using the analog sticks. The same control mechanic is used for picking locks. Just hold down the ZR button and twist the controllers around until the lock is defeated. Motion controls really don’t add much to the experience of battling dragons and trolls and I quickly developed a preference for playing with the Joy-Con attached to the tablet.
For a game that’s six years old and been ported and re-released about as often as Half-Life, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim still has a strong set of sturdy legs. This is my fourth playthrough of the game and I’m still finding something new, a notion that makes double- or even triple-dipping a sound decision, especially if you love the style of adventure Skyrim has to offer. The fact that a game stuffed with hundreds of hours of content runs so well on a mobile video game console is nothing short of amazing. On its own, Skyrim is a phenomenal game and now I don’t have to be stuck on the couch or on my computer. I can play it wherever and whenever I want. What a time to be alive.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.