The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Nintendo Switch Edition Review
In the world of video games and technology a year can feel like an age - and six years can feel like a lifetime. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is that old this year - and while many of its peers released that year now feel like relics, Bethesda's open-world magnum opus feels as compelling as ever.
The world has moved on a little, of course - just earlier this year Nintendo released what felt like a new template for open worlds with Zelda: Breath of the Wild - but crucially, Skyrim still feels awfully relevant. It's a classic, but one that doesn't yet feel all that dated thanks to strong design - even in the face of stiff-moving NPCs and the usual buggy open world shenanigans. It's a game every RPG fan should give a shot.
It feels right, then, that Bethesda is bringing it over to the Nintendo Switch. Skyrim skipped out on Nintendo's consoles at the time, but here on the Switch it feels absolutely at home. It's a grand adventure, but it's also one that can be tackled in bite-sized chunks that are perfect for the Switch and its uniquely portable aspect.
So, yes, Skyrim is a little old and a little rough around the edges, but none of that really matters. After the opening set piece you're turned loose on this massive world, and it all runs on Switch... pretty much perfectly, so long as you can accept the occasional very rare frame dropped and the natural stiffness and awkwardness around Skyrim's characters and movement that's present in every version.
Skyrim isn't as mind-boggling as the recently released Switch port of Doom in that it doesn't quite dazzle as much that this runs on Switch at all, but the game still manages to impress. The character models look a little like their age, but the land of Skyrim itself is the real star of the show and can still throw up plenty of impressive vistas in front of you - and it's there that Skyrim really starts to work its magic, so rarely replicated since, on you proper.
As steep mountains, nestled villages and the entrances to darkened crypts stretch out before you it's difficult to not let curiosity take hold. After spending many hours on previous versions of the game, I'm nonetheless dragged in again, discovering new quests, new NPCs and new zones, meandering from place to place. Suddenly, the game clock is at ten hours. Then twenty. It's not mechanically the deepest RPG, and Bethesda's modern RPGs have come in for a lot of criticism of that - but damn if it isn't engaging.
For me, most of this has been done away from a big screen with the Switch undocked. The nature of Skyrim's open, meandering structure makes it perfect for short handheld bursts, and I've been turning Skyrim on for very short periods of time a few times a day since I got my hands on it.
It runs at a generally very consistent 30 frames per second in 720p when undocked. On that screen 720p looks crisp and pleasing, and the performance on the big screen is nothing to sniff at either, though of course isn't anywhere near the PS4 or Xbox One versions of Skyrim we got last year.
This Switch release is a halfway house between that high-end HD version and the 360/PS3 original, featuring many of the features added to Skyrim Special Edition such as all of the DLC, quick save, improved lighting, nicer water and crucially much shorter load times. Other features such as an increased depth of foliage are missing, the most prominent absence being support for mods.
Given the footprint of the Switch these concessions ultimately feel fair and properly earned. This isn't the best version of Skyrim - but that's fine.
In some places the Switch actually gets some unique bonuses of its own to make up for it. Most prominent of these is the addition of three new Zelda-themed loot items (The Master Sword, the Hylian Shield and the Champion's Tunic), found in a late-game area or unlocked with amiibo.
This is a nice little nod for Nintendo fans, but the best addition of all comes in the subtle form of motion controlled aiming for ranged weapons. Anybody who's played Zelda knows exactly how useful this is, and Skyrim is no exception.
There are less successful but cool little motion options for swords and shields and the like, too, but honestly I think this port is at its best when treated as a way of having Skyrim on the go. Dock those Joy-cons into the Switch and take Skyrim on the go - it makes it even more easy for this incredibly compelling game to sink its claws into you once again.
The fact that one of the largest and most impressive RPGs of the last generation can now be played on the go is honestly a bit of a revelation, and that's the selling point here. You probably already know how much you like Skyrim, and if you don't you can go check out our original Skyrim review - it'll tell you what the game is all about. This Switch version is a good, quality release of that game, and it feels tailor-made for handheld action.