PAX Aus 2017: Skyrim for Switch first impressions
None of us were really sure what to expect when we headed over to the Nintendo booth on the first day of PAX. We had a pretty good feeling that we’d see a lot of promotion for Super Mario Odyssey — which released on the same day — but anything else was up in the air. So we wandered towards the Nintendo booth (which was noticeably larger than previous years) and one of the first things we saw was a giant hanging poster above some secretive gameplay booths. And what was that poster for? Skyrim.
So we waited around, stood in line, and finally when it was time to go, a Nintendo rep walks over to us and asks “Who wants to play Skyrim, and who wants to play Doom?”, and so the three of us decided that Skyrim was for us. We were ushered into one of the small gameplay booths and were met with Skyrim already running, along with our choice of Joy-Cons and a Pro Controller. These are our first impressions of the game.
To say I’ve spent a lot of time in the world of Skyrim is a bit of an understatement. Between my initial launch purchase on the Xbox 360, a purchase on Steam a few years later, and yet another purchase — this time of the Special Edition — on PS4 late last year, I have roughly 2000 hours of in-game time. That said, after so much time with the game, I was feeling a little burnt out, and wondered if Skyrim for Switch was just going to be more of the same. And it is… but there’s more to it than that.
See, when I first picked up the pro controller, the system was docked, and it played just like any other version of Skyrim. The frame rate was solid, the combat was as fluid as it was ever going to be, the load times were quick. It was the same old Skyrim, and it looked great using the assets from the Special Edition of the game. I swung at some bad guys, killed a chicken in Riverwood, and ran for my life, before being killed by the townspeople when I ran out of stamina. Yep, it’s Skyrim alright.
But there were two more control schemes to try out, neither of which have really existed before now. The first was motion controls using separated Joy-Cons, and oh boy, what an experience. See, one of the things that happens when you’ve played Skyrim as much as I have is that combat becomes stale. You hit a button, you move the analogue stick a tiny bit, you hit another button, and so on. It’s boring. When I picked up the Joy-Cons, I immediately felt more immersed. Every movement felt more like mine, like the display in front of me was just an extension of my body. It was exciting… but terrifying. See, there are some enemies in Skyrim that you’re so used to seeing and fighting that they never really pose a threat. But when you introduce such a deep level of immersion, even the smallest thing can be a horror experience waiting to happen. Which is exactly what happened when a wolf attacked me from behind and I instinctively swung around to wave my weapons at it. I looked like an idiot, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had looking like an idiot.
Then, of course, we come to the showstopper. The one control scheme that no other console can ever have. That’s right, it’s handheld mode. And my goodness, what an experience. After 6 years of playing the game tethered to a TV or computer monitor, holding the game — the full game, with very few compromises — in my hands made me feel a little bit giddy. After all this time, I could play Skyrim anywhere. There’s a wondrous feeling to suddenly being untethered in a game as big as Skyrim; it really hammers home just how special this tiny little box Nintendo’s made is.
Of course, there are a few stray observations in my roughly 15 minutes with the game. Firstly, as I mentioned above, the Switch version of Skyrim is definitely based on the Special Edition, although of course there are no mods. Load times are much quicker than I expected, with quick travelling being much faster than the several minutes you might be used to. You can also remap any button or function you please, which is a huge plus when you’ve got such varied control schemes. And lastly, HD Rumble is present and does a fine job, especially in motion mode, where you can feel your sword resonate when it clashes with a soldier’s shield.
The Nintendo Switch version of Skyrim might not be the prettiest or even the best version of the game on the market, but it’s certainly the freshest, most interesting experience I’ve had so far. I only spent 15 minutes with the game, but the feeling I got from that short time truly made me feel like it was the first quarter of many more hours I’d be sinking into a world I’m so damn familiar with. And I’m okay with that.
I’m getting increasingly tempted by Skyrim on Switch. I thought I had my fill of it on PC, and the absence of mods like Frostfall would be devastating. But the allure of portability and the new Switch-exclusive gimmicks might prove to be too much. Even though I was playing through the same things I’d already played, the motion controls were making it more engaging.
I started the demo plunked down into the world of Skyrim (which is itself called Skyrim) and took in the sights as I got my bearings. The graphics looked nice, but I’m spoiled by the PC version so it’s hard for me to comment on that aspect. At that point I got distracted and chased after a bunny. It provided a good chance to learn how the motion controls worked because we weren’t given much guidance. The gyro controls made aiming my lightning spells much easier, but unfortunately I didn’t have the range to hit my elusive foe. I continued to chase him off the beaten track through Skyrim’s pretty world.
My hunt was interrupted by a bandit who didn’t like me too much, and I had to defend myself. I tried using the motion controls for melee weapons but it was at this point that I discovered my Joy Cons had connectivity issues. Weak swings trigger regular attacks while harder swings will activate slower, stronger attacks that drain your character’s stamina (and your own when using motion controls, so how’s that for immersion?), but I was having trouble triggering the ones I wanted. I’m not sure whether this was down to my dodgy controllers or not though.
I entered the bandit’s hideout and began to make my way through. I decided to take the stealth archer approach, which is a better experience when using the motion controls over regular analog sticks. I missed a shot and my enemies worked out where I was, so I had to move back into melee. I decided to go with a sword and shield this time since there were a few of them and I’d need to block some attacks. While my controls were still a bit spotty, the motion controls were making Skyrim’s ordinarily shallow combat more engaging. It was super satisfying swiping with my controller and feeling the brunt of my shield hitting my opponent through the controller’s rumble.
At this point I decided to try out handheld mode, and it was mind-blowing seeing a game like this on a portable’s screen. It confirmed my suspicions about my controllers because the gyro controls were a lot smoother now. I felt powerful controlling streams of flames with my own movements. Skyrim will be a game well-suited to the dual-mode nature of the Switch – you can go on long adventures through the world when sitting around at home and then pop through a dungeon on the bus.
Skyrim on Switch is still Skyrim, warts and all, but the motion controls look like they’re going to make things a lot more enjoyable. And, of course, being able to take the game with you wherever you go is a big deal. I think I’m going to find myself jumping into the world of Skyrim once again.
I feel like I’m the only person in the multiverse who hasn’t played more than an hour of Skyrim. Despite buying it on PC when it first came out, to be a part of this massive hype train the game had, after reaching the first village I just paused and went “meh”. Flash forward to now and the game’s on everything — remasters, VR, and even our little portable friend the Switch.
It’s no lie third party games haven’t exactly hit the mark on Switch as of yet, mainly bogged down with frame rate issues, extra downloads, overly expensive ports – you name it. So I was actually shocked when I picked up Skyrim… and it ran probably better than Breath of the Wild.
Motion controls worked, surprisingly well. Environments were clearly based off the Special Edition. All the DLC is included. It even has amiibo support – I don’t know what more people could want in this port… Okay mods aren’t happening yeah yeah but you can play Skyrim on the crapper so you can’t always have it all.
The one thing that did bug me about the game, was the menu system being on one of the face buttons instead of say +, I accidentally brought it up in the heat of battle. Had I started the journey from the opening and learnt the controls instead of being shoved into a dungeon full of skeleton monsters wanting me dead, it might not be an issue. However if that’s the only thing I can think of negatively about the game, I think that says a lot about how impressive this package is.
While I might not be grabbing the game at launch, if you have any interest in losing 300 hours of your life again, the Switch version should definitely be on your radar.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is scheduled to launch worldwide on the 17th of November. You can check out our bargain guide for all the best deals by clicking here.