Let’s start at the end of this article; Skyrim on Switch is a fantastic port of a game that is deservedly considered a classic. If you want to feel old, consider the fact that it’s been six years since Skyrim originally launched, and six years since “an arrow in the knee” was a meme before we knew what memes were. A continuation of the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim’s huge open-world, compelling gameplay and ridiculously expansive high fantasy lore meant that this was a game you could literally become lost in for hundreds of hours. All of that has made it intact across to the Nintendo Switch, and now, amazingly, you can take it on the go with you.
That being said, there are some caveats – aren’t there always? – to how Bethesda have crammed the Special Edition version of the game onto Nintendo’s trusty hybrid, but they do little to diminish the game’s action or atmosphere. To be honest, all of the concessions are graphical, meaning that every piece of content, including the original game’s subsequent DLC, have made it into this release. In fact, playing it in handheld mode and delving into the huge repository of stories and historical documents makes more sense here than it ever has. If they’d implemented touchscreen page turning, it would have been nigh on perfect.
The visual concessions are clear if you put the Switch version and last year’s PS4 version side by side. When outdoors, there is clear texture and item pop-in on the less powerful hardware, though it’s mostly at a fairly acceptable distance, the effect of which is lessened by moving to indoor areas or more densely populated areas of forest or mountain. There’s also been a definite paring-back of trees and other foliage detail.
There’s also been a reduction in some graphical effects, with magic, smoke and shadows all clearly looking less detailed, or in some cases having been removed entirely. It’s not the case though that everything has been dialled down, as the cascading watercourse in the game’s first major settlement of Whiterun still looks quite lovely and you can still see as far into the distance as in other versions, losing none of the world’s immense scale.
What’s most remarkable though is how well it runs, both in docked and handheld mode. The resolution is obviously set at a lower bar – it’s been pegged at 900p by Digital Foundry – and compared with the Special Edition running on a PlayStation 4 Pro everything is much fuzzier, but the game’s performance is a match across both, with the majority of the game running at a steady 30fps. There are some shared drops in the introduction where both the Switch and PS4 version struggle a touch, but this seems to have more to do with the engine than the hardware it’s running on, and beyond the odd hitch here and there performance is good.
Ultimately the Nintendo Switch version of Skyrim sits somewhere graphically between the original console releases from six years ago and last year’s Special Edition which arrived on PS4 and Xbox One, having gained some of the improved textures that came with it. That in itself is hugely impressive, but you really can’t prepare yourself for just how good it looks in handheld mode. Being able to take a fully featured version of Skyrim on the train or bus, or squeezing in a few of the ever-increasing quests while you’re on a lunch break is absolutely brilliant, and while the Joy-con’s right thumbstick isn’t in the best place, Skyrim’s slower overall pace makes it much less of an issue than the recent Doom port.
The Switch edition even has a few tricks of its own, including the ability to play with motion controls. They’re not the worst out there by any means, and if anything they add something entirely new to the experience, though the sword and shield controls are much slower than simply pressing a button. The lock picking works incredibly well though, and can make you feel like you could actually pick a lock – side note: this is probably not equivalent to a real world skill. Bethesda have also added in amiibo support, which will gift you different loot each day, though Zelda ones can give you access to Link’s weaponry and clothing. If you’ve finally tired of Breath of the Wild, but can’t bear to be separated from Link, Skyrim has you covered.
The key question then is whether returning to Skyrim could feel tired, especially if you’ve played the original release and its subsequent remaster. Due to its very nature only the absolute hardcore can have possibly bled it dry and given the different character builds, you can take any number of approaches and fashion a completely new adventurer – I went with a Redguard warrior this time out. The immense world is here in its entirety, as well as all of the voicework and haunting soundtrack, and it manages to feel both welcoming and daunting stepping into it once more, even having spent many hours here in the past. Visiting Whiterun for the first time was like coming home, and the familiarity of places like Winterhold or Windhelm is testament to Bethesda’s art direction. It still never failed to excite.
Admittedly, this is a full priced release, and for some that may rankle, especially when you can pick up the Special Edition for less than twenty quid, but this is arguably aimed at a different market. It’s also still Skyrim, and therefore showcases some of the foibles of a Bethesda Softworks release, though hopefully not those that plagued the PS3 version. If you want to just play at home, the mod-enabled Xbox One, PS4, or PC release are technically superior, but as all Switch owners will tell you, that’s not the be-all and end-all of gaming. Being able to take this huge adventure with you everywhere you go is fantastic, and, if you thought that Skyrim took over your life before, now it actually can.