Note: All of the screenshots for this Skyrim Switch review were taken by the reviewer in handheld mode.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was one of the first games unveiled for the Nintendo Switch, and despite it being a six-year-old game, it’s been one of the platform’s most anticipated releases. Skyrim is a game that has a tremendous amount of replay-ability; its fantasy world is so fleshed-out that you can do just about anything, making for an engaging and immersive experience — even though the writing is consistently dreadful. I loved Skyrim when I played it on PlayStation 3 in 2011 and I loved it even more on Nintendo Switch.
The province of Skyrim is in the midst of a civil war; the Nordic Stormcloaks are in an open rebellion against the Empire, but that’s merely a backdrop to the main questline in Skyrim which features the return of dragons to the land. Like every other Elder Scrolls game, the main quest is an afterthought — you can instead become a thief and forget all about the dragon menace if you want to.
Skyrim is at its best when you take roleplaying seriously. You can play as just about any fantasy character with any moral guidelines you want. You can be an honorable, law-abiding cleric or a cunning assassin — or anything in between. There are enough quests and stories within Skyrim to suit any character, and Skyrim‘s mechanics allow for all of these different styles.
Your character will increase their proficiency in certain tasks as you carry them out. For example, selling goods to merchants will increase your character’s speechcraft, using a sword and shield will increase their one-handed and block skills, using healing magic will increase their restoration skill, and so on. Your character’s overall level will slowly increase as these skills increase, and each new level grants one perk to add to the skill. The perks are what make the skills more powerful: at one-handed level 20 you can increase damage by 40%, but once you get one-handed to level 60 you can unlock a perk that increases damage by 80%. You have to be aware of what’s most important for your character so that you don’t have perks that are useless.
For this playthrough, which was my fourth counting every other version of Skyrim, I began as an honorable thief and slowly succumbed to the darkness of the Dark Brotherhood and eventually became a vampire. My main skills were one-handed, block, destruction magic, restoration magic, speechcraft, sneak, and lockpicking.
The province of Skyrim is incredibly gorgeous and sometimes hideous. The southern areas have colorful and vibrant forests that are fun to get lost in, while the northern areas are covered in snow and look beautiful at night. The north-east, where the Stormcloak capital is, is constantly assaulted by snow storms and looks dreary — that area is less fun to explore simply because of how ugly it is. Overall, Skyrim look incredible — the Switch version seems to be based on the Special Edition that came out for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Skyrim is a very different type of open-world game than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The latter is filled with charm and iconic landmarks, while Skyrim lacks identifiable landmarks and takes itself way too seriously. Skyrim would be almost impossible to play without its generous waypoints because almost everything you can interact with — books, buildings, characters — look so similar to one another.
Ore veins are the most egregious example of this because mining ore is essential to crafting armor but the deposits look like regular rocks. I usually just steal my armor and weapons, though.
There are a handful of holds in the province of Skyrim and they all have a capital city and a bunch of smaller villages, farms, and mines. The game’s cities, each of which are marked on your map from the start, have their own unique problems and stories that will give you more than enough reason to ignore the main quest.
Some of these quests are pretty basic — like fetch quests or kill quests that require you to slaughter a group of bandits at a certain location. Others, like the murder-mystery in the Stormcloak capital Windhelm, are far more involved. The best sidequests are for the game’s factions, which include the two warring parties as well as the Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood Assassins, Dawnguard vampire-hunters, and more. The least interesting of the factions, unfortunately, are the Stormcloaks and the Empire. Neither side is particularly compelling — the Stormcloaks are blatantly racist and the Empire is just bland — and even worse, you don’t get to actually see any battles unfold as you explore Skyrim. You’re constantly reminded that there’s a civil war, and characters are happy to tell you about which side they’e on, but the most you’ll stumble across is a Stormcloak prisoner being escorted or a group of Stormcloaks walking around. Dragons, on the other hand, will randomly attack cities after you’ve completed the first couple quests in the main questline.
Still, you can try to make the most of this with roleplaying a character. I killed every Stormcloak I came across on the road, and my bounty in their capital city is so high that guards will try to kill me on sight.
Skyrim is also littered with dungeons, caves, and abandoned temples to explore. These are dark, linear in design, and are filled with enemies and traps. I appreciate that the dungeons in Skyrim aren’t these large labyrinthian puzzles that we get in Zelda — the waypoints would cancel out virtually any of the challenge. Linear dungeons don’t work for all games, but they work in Skyrim. They’re a nice change of pace from the huge open world.
There are a lot of combat options in Skyrim, so it really boils down to what type of character you want to roleplay. Stealth archery can be lethal but requires a lot of patience. You can choose to wield a sword in your right hand and a shield in your left — or use the quick swap to swiftly swap the shield out for a spell or another blade depending on the situation.
The lore in Skyrim is incredibly rich; every location you discover has its own backstory to varying degrees, to the larger stories found in cities to the final words of a tower guard resting next to his corpse. The quality of the writing, though, is consistently terrible — especially character dialogue and books you’ll find sitting around. There isn’t a single memorable character in Skyrim.
Even worse is the game’s voice acting. Skyrim is completely voice acted, and the best it gets is cheesy — the worst it gets treads into so-bad-it’s-good territory. My favorite example of this is a thief that escapes captivity in the game’s opening moments. As he runs away he screams “You can’t catch meeeeee!” in the silliest, most out of place tone imaginable. That pretty much sets the pace for the voice acting the rest of the way.
These would be huge issues for almost any other game, but Skyrim manages to quell them with the amount of freedom the game gives you. It’s more about stamping out your impact on the story rather than losing yourself in the story that’s already there.
Some of the funniest stuff — albeit unintentionally — are the bugs and exploits. It’s really weird going back to Skyrim after 200 hours on Breath of the Wild. I wanted to climb every mountain — and you can! With a horse, that is.
You might also come across men using invisible axes to cut invisible logs of wood. Or your character might suddenly go bald after becoming a vampire.That’s just standard Elder Scrolls. This version of Skyrim doesn’t seem to be any more buggy than the other releases, though.
Skyrim runs wonderfully in handheld mode. It doesn’t have the obvious visual downgrades that DOOM has, and the ability to quick save anywhere or simply put the system into sleep mode makes Skyrim a perfect pick-up and play game.
The Nintendo Switch version of Skyrim includes all of the DLC, which is great for newcomers because each piece works better when you’re in the start or middle of a playthrough instead of at the end of one. The Dawnguard DLC adds two new factions that weren’t in the base game: a clan of vampires and a group dedicated to eradicating vampires. The Hearthfire DLC lets you build a house in three different locations away from cities, and it’s a lot of fun to work on periodically. The Dragonborn DLC adds a new storyline that takes place on an island near Morrowind, which is where the third Elder Scrolls game took place.
There are also three items from The Legend of Zelda exclusive to the Switch version: the Master Sword, the Hylian Shield, and the Champion’s Tunic. Each piece can be unlocked at random by using amiibo or by opening a chest at a certain spot in the world. I felt like the Champion’s Tunic felt a little out of place, but I used the Master Sword and Hylian Shield throughout my adventure.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was provided by Bethesda for this Skyrim Switch review.