Skyrim Nintendo Switch Review

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: November 17th, 2017

Price as of Article: $59.99 , £49.99

Story

 

Elder Scrolls V is a beautiful, open world adventure game which takes place in Skyrim, the northernmost province on the continent of Tamriel.  Skyrim is home to the nords; the fair-skinned, hardy warriors who are resistant to the cold.  In Skyrim, there are old legends of dragons and the dragonborn.  The dragonborn are divinely blessed individuals with the body of a mortal and soul of a dragon who have the ability to absorb the power of the dragons they killed.  They also have the innate ability to learn the language of the dragons.  The words of this language are known as Power Words, and these words grant special abilities to the one shouting them.  Many of the dragonborn from history had gone on to become kings.  However, dragons had supposedly been long since extinct, and a dragonborn had not been conceived in centuries.

Tamriel is a continent controlled by a group of people known as the Imperials.  The Imperials hail from the south central province of Cyrodiil and follow the rule of the emperor.  The entire continent of Tamriel is currently controlled by Emperor Titus Mede II.  The nords of Skyrim are a proud, noble race who closely follow and respect their ancient traditions, and they wish to be ruled by their own.  A group of nords have begun a rebellion to drive the Imperials from their borders and place a Skyrim native into absolute power over the province.  This group is known as the Stormcloaks.  The civil war they started is ravaging Skyrim, and the Imperials strove to capture their leader and put an end to the rebellion.  As such does the story begin.

You initially find yourself being transported on a horse cart as a prisoner.  You quickly learn that you were arrested because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time as an Imperial raid was being performed on the leader of the rebellion’s party.  You were captured along with them and slated for execution.  Just as it seems you are about to meet your fate, an intimidating roar is heard in the distance.  The loud sound of flapping wings approach as an ominous shadow envelopes the execution courtyard.  Within moments, a massive dragon lands atop a nearby tower who immediately proceeds to lay waste to the town you were transported to.  As the dragon attacks the imperial soldiers in the city, you make your way through the tunnels under the town to escape.

It is from this point that the world of Skyrim opens up.  You are free to follow the story or get completely and utterly lost in the absolutely fantastic world designed by the incredibly talented teams at Bethesda.  If you do choose to follow the story, you quickly learn that you are in fact a dragonborn.  You must use the powers granted to you to learn words of power and save Skyrim from an impending evil.

If you do not wish to follow the story, that is also a valid choice in Skyrim.  In fact, from this point on, you could play the game for hundreds of hours, completing side quests and just exploring in general without even doing a single main story quest.  The story is not the main focus of this game.  It is not particularly engrossing.  However, the lore to be found within this world is incredibly deep.  There are hundreds of books scattered throughout the country which are all very well written and will strengthen your knowledge of the history and culture of Skyrim and Tamriel.

Hundreds of interesting side stories exist in Skyrim.  There are an incredible number of situations that you will encounter simply by exploring the world and interacting with Skyrim’s inhabitants.  All of these citizens have their own lives which they follow as well as their own stories.  As you speak with them, you will find that you have an extensive variety of dialogue options to choose from.  These options will not have a major impact on the overarching story of Skyrim; however, they will allow you to approach individual situations in your own way.  You may be able to avoid fights, bribe or persuade people or even join certain factions in a certain civil war.

For a good look at the story, please check out the official Skyrim trailer below.

Audio

From the moment you access the title screen, you are immediately met with one of the most magnificent compositions ever written for a video game.  The music of Skyrim is absolutely phenomenal.

As you explore the overworld, the music is soft, slow and contemplative.  The music utilizes violins beautifully.  There is something spiritually moving about it.  It almost sounds like angelic singing which is perfectly suited to a game with religious overtones such as this.  The worship of the gods is very important in the world of Skyrim.  The sounds of your footsteps carry on while the music conveys the story of the land.  The song wells up emotions in the player’s chest as they see a countryside desolated by ancient wars, and yet feel hope as dwellings of current inhabitants show that the country still thrives.  This is just an absolutely wonderful composition that is great to sit back and listen to with a good pair of headphones.  And that was only one of the songs in the game.

As the music cuts out, you are greeted with the sounds of the world.  The howling of the wind immediately becomes more apparent.  All you can hear is the chirping of birds and the buzzing of insects.  These sounds remind you that this is a fully fleshed out world.  These ambient sound effects serve to add to the world in a real way and are well done.  Listening to the sounds of your footsteps or the clatter of your horse’s hooves while being engrossed in the wonderful music transports you into this well-crafted world of unimaginable scenarios and fantastic beasts.

As you encounter these creatures, the combat music builds up through a slow crescendo as it brilliantly brings in drums of war to pump your adrenaline and prepare you for an intense battle.  As your health bar becomes depleted, your heart begins to beat in your ears, and you know it is time to bring out your full efforts or die trying.  The music hastens as your perform your actions, and you feel yourself drawn into the intensity of the conflict.  The music fades slightly in a decrescendo before an intense gong signifies that the battle has yet to be concluded.  As the music builds back up and vocals are added to the mix, you prepare yourself for the next phase.  Your own heart begins racing as by this point most of the more difficult or drawn out enemy encounters will be nearing their end.  You may be running low on supplies, and you must be careful or it will be time to do it all over again.  The song goes through a surprising number of phases.  It is an excellent piece that builds and builds until the final conclusion which you are only likely to hear if you pause the game and simply listen to the exciting soundtrack.

The audio receives a small dock because the game has somewhat questionable and stiff voice acting, and you will notice that there are repeated instances where the same voice actors are used without making a real effort to change the sound of their voice.  Also, at the time of this writing, there is a small audio bug which causes a loud crackling sound.  It doesn’t happen frequently and only lasts for about one second at a time, but it is worth noting as it is immersion breaking.  Other than these points, the audio in Skyrim is simply fantastic.

Visuals and Performance

Let’s face it.  Skyrim is a six-year-old game, and it shows.  The animations are stiff, and the game has some of Bethesda’s trademark bugginess.  This game is no longer a symbol of top-of-the-line visuals as it once was.  However, don’t let that detract from what it is: a beautiful, classic title with a wonderfully constructed open world.  And make no mistake, Skyrim is absolutely gorgeous on the Switch’s compact handheld screen.

At a distance, the scale and scope of this world is clear.  As you explore the fields, mountains loom on the horizon.  You will enter sprawling forests or treacherous, frozen tundras.  As you scale an imposing mountain, you are treated with breathtaking, sprawling vistas.  In the distance, you see a variety of structures.  As is the order of the day with open-world games, these are not just eye candy.  With some tenacity and finding the right path, these structures can be visited.

 

Once you are close enough to these carefully constructed buildings and structures, you can see that they are explicably detailed.  Some walls have murals depicted on them revealing a little of the history of the world.  Scattered about are daily items used by the inhabitants, present or otherwise.  Sometimes you will find ritual circles with a book on a pedestal.  Read the book, and you will find out some more details of what kind of ritual was being performed.  The books are adorned with detailed covers and ornate spines.

 

The NPCs and creatures found in Skyrim are wonderfully detailed.  The humanoid models have a wide variety of facial features thanks to the very detailed face editor in this game.  However, when speaking to them, don’t expect much emotion.  Their faces may be detailed, but the animation leaves much to be desired.  The clothes, armor and weapons sported by these characters have all been lovingly crafted and help to give most of the characters you come across a unique feel.

 

The Nintendo Switch version of Skyrim is graced with almost all of the visual upgrades from the special edition of Skyrim which was recently released on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.  To the naked eye, this version of the game is almost identical to those.  The resolution is displayed at 720p in handheld mode and 900p in docked mode, and the textures have been upgraded to the hi-res textures seen in the special edition.  New grass and fauna has been added as well, although the draw distances on these have been scaled back on the Switch version.  This is a reasonable compromise and doesn’t hinder the experience in any way.  Also, the Switch version of Skyrim has the more realistic water textures added to the special edition. The game runs at a solid 30 FPS.  I experienced slowdown one time while riding a horse and being attacked by three enemies using lightning spells, but aside from that solitary instance, the framerate appears to be locked.

Loading times have been drastically improved over older versions of Skyrim.  This is one of the most important changes made to the special edition.  The original version on the game could take several minutes to load, fast travel or enter buildings and cities.  The special edition completely fixes that problem.  With a physical copy of the game, loading your save file from the main menu or reloading it from within the game requires 22 seconds.  Fast traveling requires 13 seconds.  Entering a building or cave takes 7 seconds.  Best of all, after dying, the game takes just under 7 seconds to load you back in.

I am also pleased to report that after playing the game for 30 hours, I have yet to experience a single random crash or any significant bugs.  The Switch version of Skyrim has thus far proven to be a very stable experience.  There are still some glitches in the game and ways to make it crash such as going through a door which has a tomato dropped in front of it.  Those are mostly crashes that you will not find unless you actively seek them out.  I will note however that a friend of mine who plays Skyrim on the Switch did experience some minor glitches such as dragons flying backwards and floating NPCs.  Most of those glitches can be fixed by fast traveling.

There was one, Switch-specific crash I did encounter, but I was able to replicate it and found that it is extremely easy to avoid.  If you are playing in handheld mode with flight mode turned on but without the controller Bluetooth activated, the system brings up a message telling you to go to the system menu to activate the Bluetooth when you remove the Joycon for tabletop mode.  If you put the system into sleep mode to access the system menu from the touch screen then activate the Bluetooth in that way, you will find the game has locked up upon reentering it.  You will have to exit the game and your unsaved progress will be lost.  However, this is incredibly simple to avoid.  Either always make sure that your Bluetooth is turned on before removing the Joycon, or simply reattach the Joycon without putting the Switch into sleep mode.  This will allow you to resync the controllers so you can enter the system menu and activate the Bluetooth.  When you go back into the game, it will still be working fine.  This bug will only be encountered in one very specific situation, but it is still good to know about so you can avoid it while playing yourself.

Gameplay

This is where the real meat of Skyrim lies.  There are ten races of characters to choose from upon starting the game each with its own special traits and abilities.  There is a massive open world to explore.  Skyrim is absolutely filled with caves and locations to discover and explore.  Around every turn is a new cave, house or fort just waiting to be uncovered.  At these locations you will find a variety of NPCs.  Most will be hostile looking to kill or maim you in whatever ways possible.  You will come across enemies such as wolves, bandits, trolls, vampires and dragons.  You will need to be careful when encountering some enemies because it is possible to contract detrimental diseases from them including vampirism.  Most diseases are simple enough to cure by visiting a shrine to a god, but others require a little more effort to cure.

Getting around the world of Skyrim can be a time consuming task due to its sheer scale.  The easiest way is to travel by foot because you can navigate the world more easily when you have direct control of your character.  Buying a horse is another option.  Naturally, a horse will be much faster than simply running, and an added benefit is that when you have too many items in your inventory and cannot move fast, riding a horse allows you to bypass this limitation.  There are a few issues with buying a horse.  It is a fragile investment.  You must spend your hard-earned gold on an animal which can and often will die.  Wild beasts and monsters have a tendency to attack your horse, and they won’t relent while you dismount to try to defend your animal.  Often times, they will kill your horse before you get a chance to save it.  Another problem with using the horse is that it isn’t as easy or reliable to move around on as it would be simply going about on foot.

There are two other ways to quickly get around Skyrim.  If you play open-world games, then you will be familiar with the fast travel feature.  Once you have discovered a location, you can simply enter the map to select the place and travel there.  Another way to quickly get to places you haven’t yet visited is to rent a horse and buggy.  These are located near many of the main cities in Skyrim.  Simply pay a fee to be immediately transported to a location.  I would recommend limiting your use of these functions, though.  There is so much content packed into the world that you will miss a lot if you fast travel.

While exploring, you will find that there is an innumerable amount of loot stashed about in the world.  There are mountain flowers to be used for alchemy; monsters and animals have parts and meat which can be used for food or crafting; there are an incredible number of weapons and apparel; fully featured and well-written books are commonplace; there is a seemingly infinite number of miscellaneous items everywhere.  You will find yourself searching through barrels, on tables and shelves, looting corpses and opening treasure chests frequently.  Keep in mind though that almost every item has a weight stat, and your character has a limit to how much weight they can carry at any one time.  If you exceed that weight limited, you will become over encumbered.  When this happens, you will move very slowly and cannot fast travel until you drop enough items to move again.  There are a few ways to increase your carrying capacity.  One is to increase your stamina stat.  Every point you invest into your stamina will increase your carrying capacity by 5.  Another way to increase your carrying capacity is to find items with enchantments with such an effect.

You level up by interacting with the world.  The game suits any play style because your character’s skills level up based on how you use them.  Every swing of a one-handed weapon increases your one-handed skill, and every potion you brew increases your alchemy skill.  As your skills level up, you gain experience that goes towards your overall level.  Every level your character gains earns you a point that can be invested in a skill tree.  Each one of the skills in the game has a dedicated skill tree.  As you level up your individual skills, you gain access to sub-skills which you can invest your obtained skill points into.  For example, if you get your archery skill to level 30, you may invest in Eagle Eye.  Eagle Eye allows you to zoom in the camera while aiming your bow if you press the block button.  Also, when you level up, you gain a point which can be invested into your magika, health or stamina.

 

There is theoretically no level cap in Skyrim anymore.  Your skills all max out at level 100, but you can reset those skills to level 15 once you reach the max.  Upon doing so, that skill is classified as legendary, and all of the skill points you invested in that tree are returned to you for reinvestment.  By doing so, you can then level up the skill again which will add to your overall level.  This can be done indefinitely, and the game also tracks how many times a skill has been made legendary.

While exploring, you will come across shrines and standing stones.  These are very valuable because they impart special benefits to the player.  Shrines give temporary effects and cure most diseases you may have contracted.  The effects of the shrines can be viewed in the character menu under magic.  Just scroll down to Active Effects to see what kind of boost the shrine is giving you.  This is also where you can see the effects of diseases you have.  The standing stones are invaluable.  There are a total of 13 in the game, and they provide permanent effects and a special power that can be used once a day.  However, you may only have one active at a time.

 

Combat is mostly performed with the ZL and ZR buttons.  You will have a weapon, shield or magic attached to those two buttons.  If you have a weapon or a shield in your left hand, ZL is used to attack or block and the same goes for the right hand with ZR.  There is not much in terms of combos.  The combos are generally just special finisher animations your character performs when killing an enemy.  It is somewhat difficult to fight enemies while in the third-person camera view.  The game was clearly designed for first-person play.  There is no lock-on targeting system, so it can be somewhat challenging to land attacks while in third person.  If you like playing games in a third-person point of view, this will prove to be a somewhat awkward experience, but it is still possible.  Just prepare yourself to miss your attacks frequently.

 

The most valuable skill for combat is Skyrim is the unique power added to the series specifically for this game: Shouts.  Shouts are power words in the language of the dragons.  As the Dragonborn, you have the innate ability to learn these shouts.  By going into some specific locations, you can find script on the walls.  An aura from the wall envelops you and reveals a new word of power.  However, you cannot simply use these words immediately.  After learning a new word, you must seek out a dragon to kill and absorb its soul.  Only after doing so do you gain access to a new shout.  Shouts give you special skills such as the ability to stun enemies or to briefly move at extremely high speeds.

Dragons are a special addition to the province of Skyrim in the Elder Scrolls series.  This is the first time in the series history where dragons were featured.  Dragons are a powerful and foreboding enemy in Skyrim, but they are extremely satisfying to take down.  Just be careful not to suffer the same fate as poor Link.

 

If you are a fan of the Legend of Zelda series, you will be happy to know that it is possible to obtain the Master Sword, Hylian Shield and Link’s Champion’s Tunic from Breath of the Wild.  These items can be obtained from a special chest hidden in Skyrim, but it is also possible to obtain them from Amiibo.  That is correct: Amiibo are functional in this game.  To use Amiibo, simply access your powers under magic in the character menu.  Once you have equipped the Amiibo power, aim at the ground and cast it.  Scan an Amiibo, and a chest containing loot will spawn in that location.  If you can an Amiibo from the Legend of Zelda series, a jingle from Zelda will play as a Zelda-styled chest appears.  Within the Zelda chests, there is a 20% chance of one of the three Zelda items being contained within.  These items are powerful, so they are worth obtaining.  Each Amiibo can be scanned only once per day, but you can scan multiple Amiibo every day.

 

The Switch version of Skyrim has a few other features which make use of the Switch’s unique features.  If you played Zelda Breath of the Wild and enjoyed the gyro aiming for bows in that game, you will be pleased to know that aiming in Skyrim is handled in exactly the same fashion.  Also, motion controls for attacking and blocking have been implemented as well.  They are surprisingly well done and responsive.  In fact, for much of the time I have spent with Skyrim, I have been using the motion controls.  To block with a shield if your shield is in your left hand, you simply orient the left joycon vertically and raise it up.  Keep it raised to hold your block and move it forward quickly to perform a shield bash.  If your sword is in your right hand, swing it softly to perform a regular attack.  A power attack is performed by swinging hard.  Also, if you hold the analog stick forward, a vertical power attack will be done, and if you hold the analog stick to the left or right while swinging hard, your character will perform a horizontal power attack.  Another point to note is that when riding a horse, swinging the left joycon will make your character attack to the left side of the horse and vice versa for the right side.

One of the best uses of Switch specific features is the HD rumble for lock picking as well as the gyro to move the lock picks.  If you enter the lock picking screen and hold ZL, you can rotate the left controller to move the lock pick around, and the same goes for the right Joycon.  This feels very intuitive and works well.  However, the real brilliance with lock picking on the Switch version is thanks to the HD rumble feature.  While you move the left lock pick around the lock, you will notice the controller lightly vibrating in intervals as it rotates.  It feels like the pins on the inside of the lock are clicking as the pick moves around it.  Then, you will notice that there will always be one spot where the controller will vibrate a little more strongly.  This is where you should begin turning the right controller to open the lock.  This is just brilliant and shows the kind of potential that HD rumble has, especially for puzzle solving.

Unfortunately, the touch screen has not been utilized in any way in the Switch version of Skyrim.  This would be been very useful for navigating the menus, equipment screen, skill trees and map.  It is a function that would have been very handy to have in handheld mode, but it isn’t a deal breaker by any means.

I could go on and on about the massive amount of content in this game.  There is just so much else in this game that it would be impossible to convey it all in a single review.  From hunting wild game to smithing and enchantments to joining guilds, there is just an incredible amount you can do in Skyrim.

 

value

Whether you like first-person games or third person, collecting loot or just gathering important quest items, getting lost or staying on track, there is a little bit of something for everyone in this game.  The wide variety of character races and skill customability guarantee that each time you play this game will be a different experience.  The amount of replayability in Skyrim is absolutely staggering.  With such a massive world to get lost in and innumerable side quests, you will never really run out of things to do in Skyrim.  This is a game that can take you 20 hours to complete if you just fast travel and use the horse and buggy to travel to important destinations.  But it can also envelope you for hundreds upon hundreds of hours as you delve into its meaty content.  All of the DLC is included within the price of the package as well.

There is no question to the value of this game.  However, whether or not the premium price of the Switch version is worth it is up to you.  There is certainly a nice amount of Switch-exclusive content with Link’s weapon and armor set, the motion controls are fun to use and well implemented, and of course the portability is an irreplaceable option.  On top of that, Bethesda did a spectacular job of porting this game to the Switch, and it runs very stably on Nintendo’s handheld console.  However, the Special Edition on the PS4 and Xbox One supports mods, has slightly better visuals and costs $20 less than it does on the Switch.  The added features and portability option on the Switch makes that $60 price tag feel worthwhile, though.  It is an irreplaceable experience on the Switch if you don’t have the option to play it on another system or have never played it before.