Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 07/09/2019 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of those games that even people who never play games have heard of. It took the gaming scene by storm when it released, and it’s one of the most famous and well-received games of the past two decades and for good reason. Many of us probably own multiple copies of the game; I personally own it on every system except Xbox One though I’m still not entirely clear how I reached that point in my sad, depressing little life…But regardless, Skyrim is a veritable juggernaut in the open-world RPG arena even eight years after its original release.
I’ve played through Skyrim before, but this was my first time playing through the various side questlines as well as my first time playing through the three DLC packs – Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. I had it on PS4 before I got it on Switch, but I just never felt like devoting the time to it there. Getting it on Switch, though, added the factor of portability. Suddenly I could play Skyrim during my lunch breaks at work, while selling tickets at school soccer games, or while lying in bed at night. For such a seemingly minor factor, that portability really helped engross me in the game. I was blown away by having such a massive and deep fantasy world to explore right in the palm of my hands with no compromises or cuts made. In terms of official content, it’s 100% identical to its PS4 and XB1 counterparts. All the Switch version lacks is the community mods which, while cool, I don’t really care too much about on console anyway.
As most are familiar with Skyrim, I won’t spend much time on the story, but the short short short version is that ancient dragons have suddenly returned to enslave the world, and your character awakens to his or her (in my case, an Imperial woman named Ke$ha) gift as the Dragonborn, one born with the blood and soul of a dragon and able to slay dragons and absorb their souls. You then set off on a quest to save the world of the dragon king Alduin and learn the ways of the Thu’um, the ancient dragon language of power. In the Dragonborn DLC, you investigate a nearby island that’s not actually in Skyrim but in northwestern Morrowind and why people are falling under a mysterious spell and being forced to labor at building cryptic monuments of some kind. In Dawnguard, you assume the role of a vampire hunter to stop an ancient prophecy from coming to fruition and turning the world into a vampires’ playground. In Hearthfire…you don’t actually do much questing. All that DLC pack really added was the ability to buy land, build a house, and adopt children who pester you endlessly for money, toys, and to play with them. Cool to build a mansion, yes, but not really a deep and compelling bit of added content.
What most people are probably most curious about are the visuals. How does the Switch port stand up graphically considering that, at the end of the day, the Switch is really just a gaming tablet. Truthfully, it holds up much better than I expected. While it doesn’t look as good as its PS4 or Xbox One counterparts, obviously, it does use the “Special Edition” assets from those versions albeit at a lower resolution, so it’s a significant graphical improvement over the original PS3 and Xbox 360 releases. As for PC, that’s a mixed bag with the wide array of graphical options and computer builds, but in general, I’d say it offers a slight improvement over the original PC release while obviously falling far short of the Special Edition PC version (as do the PS4 and XB1 versions as well). Again, though, considering the hardware it’s on and its portability, the game looks remarkable. What you don’t get on any of those versions, however, is the Master Sword, Hylian Shield, and Hero’s Tunic. BEWARE THOUGH – only one Master Sword can exist in the game, and it’s tied to your level at acquisition, so if you’re an idiot like me and get the Master Sword at level 3 from an amiibo, it’s pretty much useless throughout 90% of the game, but if you wait until you’re like level 50, you’ll have a beefy ass sword there. The same principle applies to the Hylian Shield and the tunic, although I *think* those can be reacquired through rare amiibo drops. Being a Bethesda game, it obviously has a variety of interesting bugs and glitches, but considering that I only experienced five or six crashes during my roughly 150 hours with the game, I’d say it’s pretty damn stable for a Bethesda release.
Given the portable nature of the Switch, one aspect of the game that warrants discussion here that isn’t usually a consideration with other consoles is power use. Nintendo’s official line is that the Switch boasts a battery life of between 2.5 and 6 hours depending on the demands of the game being played and other settings used (brightness, wifi, etc). I played with my brightness set somewhere between 10% and 15% and wifi on, and I got between two and two and a half hours out of it before needing to recharge. Granted, I didn’t play from 100% to straight 0% dead, but I ran it until about 5% battery. With that said, I definitely wouldn’t recommend having handheld mode as THE way to play Skyrim unless you have a beefy external power pack to use, but the battery is robust enough to allow handheld gameplay to supplement the docked experience with no issues. Given that this is a pretty taxing game on the Switch’s hardware, though, it runs pretty hotly after a while, so if you’re worried about physically warping the system from overheating, that’s something to consider. For what it’s worth, though, it looks fantastic handheld with the small HD screen, and the fact that you can play something like this while you’re pooping in a public restroom is like friggin’ sci-fi stuff, man.
I don’t think I need to tell anyone that Skyrim is one of the greatest open-world games of all time, but in case I do, here it is plain as day – Skyrim is one of the greatest open-world games of all time. Even next to open-world fantasy games that I absolutely ADORE like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, no open-world fantasy game has ever engrossed me and kept me saying “one more quest” or “one more dungeon” the way that The Elder Scrolls V did. It doesn’t matter if this is your first time playing it or your 10th time playing it, Skyrim holds a once-in-a-generation adventure that every gamer owes it to himself or herself to experience at least once, and with the newer releases including all of the DLC for the game, there’s never been a better time to explore Tamriel’s frozen north. The Switch version holds up far better than I expected both graphically and in terms of performance, and having the ability to play the game on the go takes it to a whole new level. It may be almost a decade old by this point, but Skyrim remains a must-play for any gamer.