At this point and time, you don’t need me to tell you how absolutely epic Bethesda’s Oblivion follow-up from 2011 is, as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim always exceeds expectations. The expansive land that it sports mixed with the active/live creatures that range from giants to dragons really is a year-to-year treat when looking for a game to get lost in. Its non-linear structure will make that year-to-year trek a new adventure every time, which is the charm of the title’s longevity.
Recently, Skyrim has found itself re-emerging on current platforms. Last year, Skyrim made it to the PlayStation 4/Xbox One in special editions that included the ability to use mods on consoles, a first-time affair for the game, though Sony really wanted to put up a fight against that idea (they eventually gave in). Mods are a blast, as there is nothing quite as thrilling as gaining invincibility and doing whatever it is you want in the game. It’s quite nice and breathtaking. I know, it sounds cheat-y, and it is, but it’s fun.
Anyway, getting back to Skyrim’s encore reappearance on recent systems, rewind back to the Nintendo Switch announcement late last year and one of the brighter spots of the event was Skyrim’s eventual emergence onto Nintendo’s portable baby. Trust me, folks, that was a tall task and a surprising announcement.
Now, if you know anything about Skyrim, then you know that it’s a HUGE game. The first question about the game was how Bethesda intended on bringing such a massive title onto the Switch without requiring every game on the system being wiped to make room. This was a huge mystery. Even if they did manage to somehow bring it to the system, and they did find a way to shrink it a bit, then how well would it actually run? These were the main questions about the game and the focus of this review. Both are driving points to how worthwhile a $60 Skyrim would be that doesn’t include mods and all the things that the rest of the systems received.
On that note, let’s get right into it.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is pretty on the small screen. It’s not NVIDIA 1080 pretty, nor is it PS4/XB1 pretty, but it’s pretty enough to appreciate in its original 2011 form on the Nintendo Switch. The Switch’s small screen does a great job of hiding imperfections. Surprisingly, the environments do carry details with them, and you should give credit to the nice processor underneath the hood of the Switch for that miracle, though there is a good amount of rendering in the textures that appears during the adventuring and a lot of flicking in the faraway scaling of the background (trees, mountains, people/things) when your character moves. The Nintendo Switch does its best to emulate a decent GPU-driven Skyrim experience, but the focus on stability and entertainment seem to overshadow graphical dominance, which is okay in my book. For those looking for an equal to the more recent versions of Skyrim released will probably find a heavy amount of visual disappointment in delivery. If you can look beyond that, then you can find something incredibly special about it.
Before we get into that ‘special’ part of the experience, let’s get that whole frame rate thing out of the way. I know that it’s a big deal to video game snobs out there, so let me reassure you that you’re going to get 30fps out of this experience without too many noticeable dips in frame rate. You certainly won’t be getting anything that is going to hinder the gameplay, so those dips aren’t too bad to get through. I didn’t find any noticeable slowdown with Skyrim on the Switch, at least nothing like say Gradius on the SNES when everything is attacking you, but I didn’t expect such with the hardware running it. It all ran as smooth as you would expect from the game running on the Nintendo Switch, if not a bit better than expected.
A potential downer to the game, though, and something you should have expected upon announcement, is that Skyrim is 900p when it is put on the big screen. What that means is that you’ll have a black box around the picture when you load it up onto a 1080p set. As visually unsatisfying as it may be, that was completely expected when it comes to the Switch trying to handle things when translated via USB-C/HDMI to the big screen. Again, all of it is expected, as playing Skyrim on a large set is NOT the reason you want this game. If you wanted a home-based console experience with Skyrim, then maybe you go the PC/PS4/XB1 route with the game. No, dear readers, your experience with the game and the reason you want it is so you can play Skyrim on the go. The portability of it on the small screen is why this game intrigues you, and in that respect it doesn’t disappoint.
While you get no bells and whistles with this release in the visual category, though there are some cool Legend of Zelda themed material in it you can acquire, you get to play it wherever you want.. That’s the crux of the marketing plan for the Switch and its games and a big reason why everyone purchases the system — when it’s available for purchase. Taking a game like Skyrim and playing it anywhere you want (bus, plane, bathroom, Thanksgiving at the in-laws) is worth its weight in gold. I’m not talking about small amounts of coin, rather I’m talking about massive amounts of Fort Knox-esque gold supply. I never knew how cool it was to play this on the go until now. It’s freaking brilliant and it almost excuses all the game’s shortcomings.
Anyway, the portability is gold, the controls of the game are nicely laid out for the Switch and it’s one of the first games that doesn’t drive my thumbs nuts when playing with the Switch’s teeny-tiny thumbtacks. In short, it’s comfortable to play and the layout is nicely translated to the Switch’s controls. That was actually the other part of Skyrim for the Switch that I was dreading, as I haven’t had a comfortable experience with the controls on many games (my hands are too big).
All of the above said, regardless of frame rate, resolution and the vanilla version of the game you’re getting, you’re still getting a 200+ hour adventure on the go for $60. Even Zelda really can’t compare to this 2011 adventure (yes, I’m serious, Nintendo fanboys). It contains good stories, non-linear storylines for the main character, a world that is alive/dangerous/kicking and plenty to see/do while exploring its lands. Those needing an RPG fix after playing the hell out of Zelda will find more comfort in what Skyrim has to offer up, and maybe even demand more after the Skyrim experience (as you should). Even after six years, Skyrim still is entertaining and contains a massively fun world to explore over and over again.