The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Switch) Review
I stumble across a burned-down house in the woods, and can’t help myself but explore the ruins for any potential loot. A sword, maybe a new helmet or even a new set of light armour; hell, I’d settle for an enchanted bow just to sell and line my pockets with a few septims. I find a trapdoor leading to a cellar and jump in without a second thought. A Khajiit never turns down an opportunity to rummage in a dusty cellar. Instead, I find a secret bar specialising in a potent drug known well to Khajiit such as myself — Skooma. I talk to the dealer, and she offers me a free sample. “Find yourself a booth and give it a try.” I sit down, take a swig, and suddenly my vision blurs. Next thing I know, I’m picking the lock of a cell door, fighting my way through a horde of vampires, contracting vampirism (twice) and looting everything I can find. I’ve slaughtered dozens, but I walk out of the bar like nothing ever happened, with septims lining my pockets, donning a new set of enchanted vampiric armour. Yep, this is still Skyrim.
Skyrim first released in November of 2011, almost 6 years ago exactly, to critical acclaim. I mention this because it’s hard to overstate how big of a phenomenon it’s become since then. While previous games in the Elder Scrolls series were moderately popular, Skyrim was the first game to be massively successful. It infiltrated our culture, with memes and references to the game becoming a core part of the internet’s identity. “Let me guess, someone stole your Sweet Roll” is emblazoned on dozens of t-shirts. “I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow to the knee” still pops up on forums and social media with frightening frequency. To say Skyrim is the biggest fantasy game of the decade is an understatement — it’s damn near the biggest fantasy game of all time. There’s only one problem though — despite its massive success, Skyrim has never been on a Nintendo console. Until now.
Skyrim on the Switch is still Skyrim. It’s still just as buggy as you remember, the combat is still just as clunky, and yes, you can still climb up a sheer cliff face on the back of a horse. So what’s so different about this version? Well, for the first time ever, Skyrim is truly portable. Sure, you could play it on a laptop before now, but that experience is nothing compared to holding a console in your own hands and cutting down dragons left and right. And it truly is a magnificent experience to play handheld. Much like Zelda before it, there is nothing quite comparable to having such a large, open world right at your fingertips.
At this point, you probably know the story of Skyrim, but the short of it is that dragons are back and you, the Dragonborn, are tasked with finding out why and stopping the bad ones from wrecking the world. All of the Skyrim DLC is included too, which means you also get to become (or kill) a vampire lord, save a small part of Morrowind from a fake Dragonborn, and adopt some kids. Now that the pesky story is out of the way, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Graphically, the Switch version of Skyrim sits somewhere between the original version of the game and the recently released Special Edition. That means you’ll see updated textures, better lighting effects, and a few other visual upgrades here and there too. That said, the updated lighting is toned down quite a bit, especially in handheld mode, compared to the Special Edition on other platforms. It still looks pretty damn good, but not quite as good as it does on other platforms. That’s not a huge issue though, and anyone considering buying Skyrim on the Switch should know that it’s not going to be quite as pretty as it is elsewhere.
In terms of performance, the Switch version does excellently. It runs at a stable 30fps in both handheld and docked, with frame drops being exceedingly rare. In fact, the only frame drops I experienced were ones that I specifically sought out, by going to a weather – and smoke – heavy area, killing a dragon (to get that cool skin-burning effect) and having the dragon’s soul rush into my character. It was only then that the frame rate suffered, and even then it was back to running flawlessly in under 10 seconds. What’s more is that the game seems to be consistently rendering at 1080p and 720p in docked and handheld modes respectively, and having it run at native resolution on the gorgeous Switch screen is an amazing experience. What Bethesda has done here in terms of optimisation is nothing short of magic. It’s also worth noting that, like the Special Edition, all the controls here are fully customisable.
Bethesda has also baked in a little Switch-exclusive goodness in the form of motion controls. Look, I tried my hardest to play entirely with motion controls, but I just couldn’t do it. The motion controls are cool — you can swipe weapons side-to-side for standard attacks, swipe from above for heavy attacks, sling spells by holding your hands out, and block by holding your shield up close — but they’re also very fiddly. Far too often I found my character permanently stuck in a blocking pose, or using heavy attacks even though I swiped from the side, or getting stuck blasting lightning out of my hand until my magicka ran out. There is a saving grace, however. Even if you have motion controls enabled, you can use standard controls if you wish. And there is one motion activity that is far too cool to give up: lock-picking. You’ve probably seen how lock-picking works in Skyrim, you have a pick and a torsion tool (for twisting the lock) and you have to fiddle the pick into the right position before twisting. In every other version of the game, you have to rely on rumble and some visual clues to know if you’re doing it right, which leads to more broken picks than successful attempts. In comes HD Rumble. HD Rumble lets you feel if your pick is hitting the right spot before you start twisting which, combined with the fine movements afforded by the motion controls, makes you feel like you’re actually picking a lock. It’s a welcome addition to an otherwise frustrating activity.
There’s another Switch-exclusive feature too — amiibo support. At any time, you can go into your magic menu, select the amiibo power, and press the shout button to bring up a magical circle on the ground. Once that circle appears, you have about 30 seconds to tap an amiibo, any amiibo, and a chest will appear right in front of you. Most amiibo will give a stockpile of food, maybe a few crafting materials, and very occasionally, a weapon or piece of armour. The rewards seem to be tuned to the amiibo too; for example, touching a Kirby amiibo will give you a bunch of tomatoes, and touching a Yarn Yoshi will give you some linen wraps. But touch any Zelda-themed amiibo, and there’s a chance of receiving one of three Zelda-themed items — the Master Sword, the Hylian Shield, or the Champions Tunic. These are extremely good items, and they can be upgraded, meaning you could realistically play through the entire game as Link if you wanted to. There are a few issues with this though.
The first is that the Zelda items only have a 20% chance of dropping each time you scan an amiibo, which is extremely frustrating, especially since you can only scan each amiibo once per day. That’s a point of frustration I have too; in Skyrim, effects and limitations on skills are often counted in in-game days. If you use a once-per-day ability, you have to wait 24 hours in-game before you can use it again. amiibo scanning, however, is limited to once per day in real time, not in-game time. The language used in-game is identical to other time-locked events that do use in-game time as a measure, so it’s a bit confusing when three days have passed in-game and you still can’t scan an amiibo.
However, there is an alternative available for those who want the Zelda content but don’t have the Zelda amiibo. If you can progress far enough through the main quest line to get to the Throat of the World, you’ll be able to search around for a very familiar-looking chest. Inside that chest is all of the Zelda gear, ready for the taking. It’s nice of Bethesda to not lock off such content behind amiibo, and since it only takes about 4 hours to get to the Throat of the World, it’s still available pretty early on. I just wish the game was a little clearer about when you can and can’t use amiibo.
If you’ve played Skyrim before, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into here. It’s the same game you know and love, and even after six long years it still holds up amazingly well. Despite suffering from the same issues that have plagued Skyrim since it first launched, the Switch version of Skyrim is an amazing game, filled with lore and adventure and tonnes of dragons. If you haven’t played Skyrim yet, the Switch is the perfect place to start, with portability and exclusive features making this one of the best portable RPG experiences on the market.
Zelda gear is awesome
Looks and plays fantastic in handheld
Motion lock-picking is very neat
It's Skyrim, so it's still buggy
Motion controls can get a bit finnicky
Amiibo usage is overly restrictive