Published on December 3rd, 2017 | by Hugh Mitchell
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Switch Review
Summary: Despite being over six years old, the Nintendo Switch breathes new life into one of the best RPG's around.
Do you remember the Nintendo Switch Announcement trailer? Remember the montage of smiling faces on rooftops, couches and basketball courts playing Splatoon, Mario and Zelda? And for just a few seconds, there was a clip of a joyful businessman on an airplane playing what was undoubtedly The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I remember this moment clearly, and I remember a few thoughts that popped into my head when I saw it. First, that can’t be the full Skyrim. Second, that must run terribly. Third, I don’t want to play Skyrim on a handheld device. Now that the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is finally here and I’ve been able to spend some time with it, I’m happy to admit that my snap judgements couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you don’t know what Skyrim is (which seems almost impossible), the quick summary is that it’s the most recent traditional instalment in what is arguably the most revered open-world RPG series of all time, The Elder Scrolls. It may be over six years old and has seen a multitude of releases, but it remains one of the most critically acclaimed RPG’s ever produced and is as much fun today as it was in 2011. I won’t get into specific details as to what makes Skyrim such a phenomenon (you can read our original review here), so instead I’ll focus on how this gigantic clockwork world fares on the Nintendo Switch.
My first concern when seeing that clip of Skyrim on the Switch during the announcement trailer was that this was going to be a compromised version of the game, either in terms of content or mechanics. In reality, the Switch version is the opposite of a compromised version of Skyrim – it has all the additional content from the Hearthfire, Dragonborn and Dawnguard DLC, plus added motion control mechanics and Amiibo support. Granted, the motion controls feel gimmicky and the Amiibo support is lacklustre (I don’t particularly need to have the Master Sword in my Skyrim game), but the included DLC is fantastic and adds a tonne of content to the base game.
The next concern I had for the Switch version of Skyrim was that it must be riddled with technical issues – I mean, how could they possibly cram such a sprawling, technical world onto a game cartridge? Again I was proven wrong, as the Switch version runs at an impressively steady framerate in both docked and undocked mode. I even tried to seek out scenarios that would force the console versions to stutter to a crawl, such as outdoor fights with multiple enemies, yet the game held up surprisingly well. That being said, it seems broken NPC scripting and physics issues didn’t get much attention, as I saw plenty of both in my time with the game – though admittedly, it wasn’t anything beyond what I have experienced with other versions of the game. You’ll also notice plenty of texture pop-in (particularly in outdoor areas), yet this didn’t bother me too much.
I held onto the conviction that I didn’t want to play Skyrim on a portable device up until about several hours of playing the game on the Switch. Skyrim had always been an immersive experience for me and I was concerned the small screen wouldn’t be able to draw me into the world. Yet after a few hours you adapt to the tiny text and the seemingly smaller field of view, and Skyrim becomes as immersive as it does on the PC or television. Couple this with the game’s quick save feature and the Switch’s rest mode, and I’ve come around to the idea that Skyrim actually works really well as a pick-up-and-play type game and feels quite at home on the Switch.
A few other things to note about the Switch version of the game, the entire install size is a sizeable 15GB, which takes up a significant portion of the Switch’s 32GB internal memory. Also worth noting is that the Switch’s screen makes dark areas of the game like caves and dungeons almost impossible to see when played outdoors in moderately sunny areas – a problem that I’ve only really noticed recently. It isn’t a big issue for most people, however if you enjoy playing your Switch away from the couch, it’s important to remember that a lot of Skyrim takes place in low-lit areas.
The Nintendo Switch version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a technical marvel. How Bethesda managed to cram such a huge, intricate game world onto a tiny little game cartridge blows my mind. Yet what impresses me most is just how well Skyrim works on the Nintendo Switch, both in terms of graphics and gameplay. The Switch version runs well and looks comparable to the console versions, but the inherent pick-up-and-play nature of the Switch perfectly suits the distractible, open-world gameplay of Skyrim. The tacked on motion-controls and Amiibo support is disappointing, yet easy to ignore, as is the texture pop-in and typical Bethesda-game scripting issues. It may be showing its age a bit, but if for some reason you are yet to play Skyrim, or you’re simply looking to replay one of the best RPG’s of all time, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on Switch is a great package.