The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (Switch)

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

An Elder Scrolls game on a portable Nintendo console. What a world. Skyrim launched six years ago (six years!?) and since then millions of us have played it on a variety of platforms. But now you’re able to play it on the go, and in the case of those who have stuck to Nintendo consoles throughout the years they can experience it all for the first time. Skyrim’s an interesting case because it’s the kind of game that you can be lost to forever and yet it doesn’t do one thing exceptionally. ‘Good Enough’ is a phrase that can be used to describe a lot of Skyrim – not great, but good enough to make you keep playing. Good enough to push you from one side of its big world to the other. Good enough to explore so many similar-looking caves to grab the treasure at the end. Good enough to just slog on through so much content even when your heart’s not fully in it anymore. It’s a game that’s really hard to describe without sounding too negative or too positive because it’s so easy to spot its flaws and yet it can be so enjoyable in spite of that. While it’s a weaker RPG than Elder Scrolls fans would like, you can definitely do worse in terms of open world games. Playing through the game again on the Switch has reminded me of what I loved about this game the first time, but also what came to push me away from it.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

For the sake of this review I’m going to assume that you haven’t played Skyrim before. If you already have, then good news and bad news. Good news – it’s Skyrim, with no reason to deter you if you liked it. The port performs well and being able to take Skyrim on the go with you is simply mind-blowing. There’s been no content cuts, and in fact not only does it feature all the DLC content for the game but there’s also a few Switch exclusive features. And the bad news? It’s Skyrim, with no reason to play it if you didn’t like it. There’s some new features, sure, but while they freshen things up they don’t radically change the game at its core, so Skyrim still wouldn’t be for you. Also, unlike the PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game you unfortunately can’t download mods on the Switch version.

But if you haven’t played Skyrim? Oh boy. It’s an impressively large game in its own right, but having it on a portable console makes it even moreso. It’s a game that sets out to make you feel good, and feel powerful, and it succeeds at that for a while. After an exciting introductory sequence you’re thrown into a beautiful world and set free to explore. You can follow the main quest and save the world if you want, or you can take things slower and bask in the sights and sounds. There’s some stunning vistas in the world of Skyrim and if you don’t have your sights set on fortune and glory then there’s plenty of busywork you can engage in while admiring them, like running errands for villagers or building your own house. It’s interesting revisiting this world after Breath of the Wild and The Witcher III because what was once an overwhelmingly massive space now feels comfy and manageable. While it does have some generic fantasy leanings, its Nordic inspirations are enough to give it a unique identity.The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

For those after something more adventurous then you’re able to take on more dangerous activities like tomb-raiding or dragon hunting. The game’s always throwing things at you, whether that’s a quest to find a valuable item in a cave or a random encounter with thieves while traveling to your destination. You can also stumble upon things during your own exploration, unprompted, leading to fun discoveries like a mine that has been overrun by bandits. There’s a number of different playstyles available like being a heavy armour brute, a necromancer or a stealthy archer. You can mix and match different skills (like archery or offensive magic) to be more versatile because skills aren’t tied to a class system or anything similar – your character’s race will determine the starting level for each of your skills and then you level them up simply by using them. This system replaces the traditional experience system – instead of earning experience points, increasing your skills will edge you towards the next level. Once you hit the threshold you’ll get a perk point that will let you unlock a new ability. One of the benefits of this system is that you can feel like you’re making progress even if you’re avoiding the combat-focused aspects of the game. If you want to roleplay a blacksmith you could do that, focusing all your experience and perks on the Smithing skill and still levelling up and unlocking perks

Regardless of how you decide to play you’ll be able to find questlines suited towards your character’s skillset, whether that’s studying magic at the Mage’s College or joining a shadowy organisation of assassins. There’s some really interesting stories waiting to be told, including some especially grim and haunting ones. This version also includes all the content from Skyrim’s DLC packs, which means you’ve got even more questlines and locations to experience. You’ll be able to decide between becoming a vampire hunter or a vampire lord, and head back to the land of Morrowind in an exciting adventure to hunt down an evil priest with a dragon under their control.

It sounds great, right? A big game with plenty to do and something for everyone? It aims to make you feel good and important, but it goes so far with this that the experience ends up being shallow. You’re able to become the best at everything and there’s not enough depth to the mechanics or quest design to push you to see all there is. Your enjoyment with the game will depend on how quickly the exciting veneer fades away and reveals the rather lacking core of it. There comes a moment where something just clicks and you can never enjoy the game as much as you used to and still want to.

The world loses its lustre once you’ve spent enough time in it to realise how same-y everything is. This dwarven ruin is just like all the others, this cave is yet another one filled with Norse zombies, the bandits in this hideout look identical to those in all the others. You find yourself exploring simply because the mechanics and the rewards are ‘good enough’. You’re not necessarily excited by the prospect of crawling through another dungeon for loot, but the experience isn’t bad enough for you to stop. That being said, there are some great new environments added through the DLC that stand out from the base game and some of these are incorporated well into the existing game world.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo SwitchThe activities available to you will start to get dull as well because they become pure busywork or too predictable. You’ll stumble onto so many fetch quests it’s not funny, and the lack of agency in a lot of quests is disappointing in such an open RPG. The game wants you to live a power fantasy and allows you to succeed at everything, but it lessens your achievements. Just follow main questlines that the game ushers you into and you’ll stumble into all sorts of positions of power without feeling as if you’ve really earned it. When you can accomplish so much that it makes each achievement feel so much less important, and in spite of the heights you progress to the world never feels different because of it. You can be the leader of every faction and yet the world will move on without a care. You’re told you’re special but you’re really not.

This carries over to mechanical character development too. Your character can so easily master multiple skills that it robs them of their uniqueness. Everyone can easily become competent with melee combat, multiple schools of magic, swap between heavy and light armour on a whim and make use of many other skills. There’s no benefits to specialising when you can be a jack-of-all-trades instead (and will likely accidentally do so regardless of your intent).

And yet I’m hesitant to call Skyrim a bad game. Shallow? Most definitely. But if it were bad then I wouldn’t be excitedly pumping hours and hours into the game again after swearing that I’d had more than enough of it on PC. It’s ‘good enough’, right? It doesn’t actively dissuade you from playing it, it manages to hold onto you while the flaws gradually let you slip away over time. And there’s charm in its faults, too. While I thankfully haven’t encountered any game-breaking bugs that other platforms have suffered from, there’s a lot of jankiness on show here. Not an hour into the game I saw all the food and cutlery on a nearby table suddenly jolt through the air in the middle of an important story conversation. Another time an innkeeper said to follow them so they could direct me to my room and they walked into a wall and stopped for a few seconds. They’re the kind of bug that makes you chuckle and say “Oh, Skyrim” rather than get mad.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo SwitchAs mentioned previously, there’s a few exclusive features in the Switch version of Skyrim (including the portability, of course). You can use motion controls to perform a number of actions, with varying success. Swinging your arms around to trigger melee attacks is great when it works – the feel of beating an enemy in the face with your shield is top-notch – but you can probably tell by the way I phrased that sentence that they don’t work often, which is disappointing. More impressive is the use of gyro controls for aiming bows and spells. Much like Breath of the Wild this gives you much better control over your shots, and directing your shiny spells with your own hands makes you feel like a god mad with power. One of the uses that you’d expect to be super gimmicky but actually works is in the game’s lockpicking. You twist the left Joy Con to scrape the tumblers of the lock and try to find vulnerabilities. You’ll feel the rumble in your controller as you touch each tumbler, each one indicating a possible vulnerable spot. There’ll be a subtle difference in some spots indicating that you’re close to the optimal position, which is easy to spot on weaker locks but more secure ones will have so many rumbling spots that it still remains a challenge. Then it’s just a matter of slowly twisting the right JoyCon to put some pressure on the lock and see if you’ve cracked it. It’s a much more engaging minigame this way than it is in the base versions.

Then there’s the amiibo functionality. Scanning amiibo will drop a chest full of random loot into the world. Nothing game-breaking, but there can be some items of decent value in there occasionally. The coolest part of the amiibo support though can occur when you scan an amiibo figure of a Zelda character. This will drop a special chest straight out of Breath of the Wild that has a 20% chance of including the Master Sword, Hylian Shield or Champion’s Tunic. These items are levelled appropriately for your character when you first pick them up. You can find these items in-game without amiibo, too, and to be honest this is probably the much easier way of getting them. I was scanning amiibo for hours and hours trying to get them that way and I’m not sure it was really worth it. The process took longer than it should have too since you can’t save scum. In Breath of the Wild if you didn’t get the amiibo item you wanted you could reload a previous save and try again, but in Skyrim that amiibo is locked out for 24 hours once it’s scanned even if you reload. It means you have to go through the hassle of changing your system’s clock to rescan your amiibo. The items are very cool though, being able to slay dragons with the Master Sword is fantastic although there’s something equally hilarious and unnerving about seeing it used in violent finishing moves like decapitations. For more info on the amiibo functions of Skyrim, keep an eye out for our amiibo guide that is coming soon.

If you’re coming out of this review feeling totally confused as to whether I enjoyed Skyrim or not, then great – that’s exactly how I feel myself. It’s a game that will always have a place in my heart and the greater gaming consciousness despite its evident failings because there’s just something about it that keeps you in its grasp. Everyone has their own stories of things they’ve encountered in the game that made their day; some of these highlighting the game’s strengths while others will be a good laugh at the game’s jankiness. It’s something you definitely have to experience once, because while you will eventually see through its facade you’ll have a heck of a journey up to that point.

 

This review was written based off a game or game content provided by the publisher. We don’t assign review scores to game reviews.

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Summary
If you’re coming out of this review feeling totally confused as to whether I enjoyed Skyrim or not, then great - that’s exactly how I feel myself. It’s a game that will always have a place in my heart and the greater gaming consciousness despite its evident failings because there’s just something about it that keeps you in its grasp. Everyone has their own stories of things they’ve encountered in the game that made their day; some of these highlighting the game’s strengths while others will be a good laugh at the game’s jankiness. It’s something you definitely have to experience once, because while you will eventually see through its facade you’ll have a heck of a journey up to that point.
Pros
Beautiful world
Varied playstyles
Switch exclusive features are great
Cons
Janky and buggy
Gameplay reveals itself to be very shallow before long
Only mod-less current gen version of Skyrim
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