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Elder Scrolls: Skyrim for Switch Preserves That Dragonborn Feeling on a Small Screen

You don't have to give up much to enjoy Skyrim on the go.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

I've played a number of Nintendo Switch games over the past few months, including those made natively for the system and ports from other platforms. In the latter case, especially for games that feature on platforms like the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, the question is, "What are you willing to give up to play this in portable mode on the Switch?"

It's good to be back. [Screenshot taken from docked Skyrim via Elgato HD60]

This isn't a new question, stretching all the way back to the original Game Boy. Being an owner of the PlayStation Vita meant constantly asking this question, given Japanese developers trend of supporting Sony's home and portable platforms at the same time. We're back in the same territory with the Switch, with the caveat that it can also be played on your television.

In some cases, the cuts have been noticeable. Doom 2016 halved the frame rate and smeared a layer of vaseline over most of the game to achieve its portable playability. FIFA 18 is a custom-built version of the game that plays well, but misses features like The Journey and Ultimate Team Squad Battles. NBA 2K18 keeps the overall feeling of its home console counterparts, but is marred by technical issues, especially in the MyCareer mode. Rocket League, which I'm currently playing, drops most of the visual bells and whistles to sustain the 60 fps that fans want.

For all side-by-side comparision shots: Portable mode shots (left) taken via native system capture. Docked mode shot (right) taken via Elgato HD60.

That's not a knock on the Switch, that's just the truth about what's needed to fit some of these games on a portable platform. In some cases, tweaks are necessary.

Not with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim though.

I'm pleased to report that this is pretty much the Skyrim you remember on other platforms. It might not stand up to the game on a PC or the Special Edition release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but this version brings across everything that made Skyrim great (and horrible) in its original release back in 2011. It even comes complete with all of the expansion content: Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn.

Presentation-wise, Skyrim on Switch looks a lot like the version that launched on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 back in the day. In portable mode, it runs at a native 720p and it feels like the game holds onto a solid 30 fps, hitching only occasionally in the hottest of battles. In docked mode, performance stays the same, though pop-in becomes much more noticeable and the image quality is softer. Draw distance could stand to be a bit better, especially when you're looking down into a lower region from on high. Load times from a save were around 20 seconds, which doesn't feel all that bad. I also found the game to be rather dark, forcing me to kick up the overall brightness on my Switch.

Oddly enough, this must be custom-made, because while the general presentation looks like the original release, the Switch version seems to share the post-processing effects of the Special Edition, like improved lighting. (For a deeper dive on the performance side, check out Digital Foundry's look into the game.) Despite this, it doesn't seem to have some of the pure performance issues that hit Special Edition and brings across some of its new features, like the Quicksave. No mod support either, but that's less surprising.

[Screenshot taken from docked Skyrim via Elgato HD60]

Skyrim for Switch also brings over the bugs and glitches of previous versions. Followers and other AI characters still sometimes get tripped up on scenery. Two characters teleported at different times within my first ten minutes of play. One of our guides writers, Tom Orry, reported at least one hard crash during his time with the game. In may be an odd mix of the original and Special Edition, but it still carries forward that unfortunate aspect of both versions. On the bright side, so far I've found nothing like the memory leak issue in the original release on PlayStation 3 or the save game crashes of the Special Edition's early patch. This isn't bug-free, but to my knowledge, it's not as bad as some of the worst of Skyrim's releases.

You do get a few new additions just for Nintendo's platform. For one, there are Joy-Con motion controls for using your melee weapons, picking locks, or aiming your bow. Melee weapon slashing I found to be completely useless and gimmicky. Lock picking was a little better, as moving the picks doesn't control quite right on the standard analog sticks, but it only works with detached Joy-Cons. Motion-assisted aiming is the winner of the bunch and works in docked or portable modes, allowing you to fine-tune your shots. You can leave them all off if you so desire.

[Screenshot taken via native Switch capture in portable mode.]

Skyrim for Switch also includes additional costumes for your hero based on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can snag the Master Sword, Hylian Shield, and Champion's Tunic if you have a compatible Zelda Amiibo. All you have to do is head to the Magic Menu and tap your Amiibo to get a daily shot at a chest that might have one of the three items and a bunch of other goodies. (Very much like Amiibo support in Breath of the Wild itself.) You can also unlock all three items in game through another method, but I'll keep quiet on that.

The best part of this port of Skyrim is you're not really losing anything. Sure, it's not running in as high fidelity as it can on other platforms, but unlike other Switch ports, you're not really moving down from a set baseline. It's the Skyrim you remember from countless hours of play in 2011 and beyond, with a few tweaks and additions. More importantly, it's a Skyrim that can be played on-the-go, with very little in the way of real compromise.

When I ask myself what I'm willing give up to play this on a portable, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim on Nintendo Switch allows me to answer "I don't have to give up much of anything." That's pretty solid in my book and I'd say if you're a fan of Skyrim, this version is probably worth your time.

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About the Author
Mike Williams avatar

Mike Williams

Reviews Editor, USgamer

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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