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.

Review by Mike Williams, .

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.

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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Comments 17

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  • Avatar for Toelkki #1 Toelkki A year ago
    I haven't played a TES game since Morrowind, but I'd think mod support counts as a pretty big thing to give up for going portable. But at least that was mentioned in the review.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #2 Godots17thCup A year ago
    Have you had a chance to try out any of the Dawnguard questline, Mike? Even for Skyrim, I remember that DLC being particularly buggy.
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  • Avatar for jago81 #3 jago81 A year ago
    What gets me is it's between $20- $40 everywhere else and in better form but $60 here. A 6 year old game with nothing added shouldn't be $60. ESPECIALLY when it's cheaper on every other platform with additional features. Bad move. I played the hell out of it 6 years ago. I would buy for the Switch for $30 day one. Never for $60.

    And that saddens me because I want it to sell well for the chances of more 3rd party support.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #4 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @jago81 Then wait for a price drop. The reason your complaint is not valid is because every time this game gets re-released on whatever platform, they charge full price.

    I paid 60 dollars a year ago when it was re-released on the PS4. Thee months later it started dropping in price. Like all third party games. So just wait.

    A company usually charges full price when doing a new release on a different platform.
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  • Avatar for DaveLong #5 DaveLong A year ago
    @jago81 Portability is a huge thing. Being a third party release, it's possible the price will drop faster, but $60 seems reasonable for the first portable console version of Skyrim.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #6 MetManMas A year ago
    @Modern-Clix@jago81 Yeah, they still charge $60 for Skyrim because 1) it comes packed with all the DLC now, 2) there are plenty of people willing to pay $60 for it, especially if it offers something new. (See also Skyrim VR) And another thing to keep in mind for the Switch in particular is that those li'l cards cost devs more money than printing games on DVDs do.

    Anyway, I'm sure it'll be on sale eventually if price is an issue for you. Skyrim SE had multiple 1/2 off sales on PS4 before dropping to $40 permanently.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #7 MetManMas A year ago
    I knew Skyrim would fare better than the other Bethesda releases on the Switch! The game was originally made with last gen consoles in mind, after all. When I can get a Switch I'm definitely buying this one.
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  • Avatar for moochan #8 moochan A year ago
    Sadly Skyrim was the game that stopped me from caring about Bethesda's open world games. Feels with each game they scaled more back for better play experience but in doing so I feel they lost a lot of stupidly fun experimentation. The magic system in Morrowind is insane in how you can create spells while in Oblivion had much less customization while in Skyrim they just had books. Also the bigger the world the more empty it felt. Feel Skyrim is a great game but feel with them scaling customization down they lost a lot of what I loved about Morrowind.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas A year ago
    @moochan I still really like Skyrim for what it is, but I can certainly relate. Morrowind lacks the (comparative) polish of its successors, but it was also super breakable. There's tons of powerful goodies you can get early if you know where to look and are willing to take a few risks, you can accomplish some crazy feats with levitation magic, and you can kill almost everybody in the game and still beat it if you know what to do.

    Also Morrowind was weird. Really weird. Like, Oblivion had the Shivering Isles and Skyrim had various elaborate underground ruins and a fan servicey return trip to Solstheim, but Morrowind was an ashen landscape with giant mushrooms, flying jellyfish, oversized bugs, and elaborate Asian inspired architecture.
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  • Avatar for jago81 #10 jago81 A year ago
    @Modern-Clix I hate when people say that. My complaint is my complaint. Therefore it's valid. You don't have to agree with it. I think it's a mistake since they need to sell copies. People like me won't buy it for $60. And I'm not alone at all. And that will hurt sales. I (like tons of gamers) have better ways to access the game if needed. No mods, worse graphics, more expensive is not the preferred way to do this. $40 is the sweet spot for a 6 year old game that is on 40 other systems.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #11 NiceGuyNeon A year ago
    I put 7 hours into Skyrim on PC. I've always wanted to get back into it. Now I have to figure out if I want to use a modded PC version or a portable version. I don't typically install mods but I hear they alter Skyrim fundamentally. This might be a reason to revisit.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #12 MetManMas A year ago
    @jago81 I don't think your complaint's invalid, it's fine if you don't want to pay $60 for the game. But that doesn't change that there will still be plenty of people out there that are fine with the initial price tag. Not everybody cares about mods or having the best graphics, and for some people being able to play Skyrim portably, or at all,* will be enough.

    Six years old or no, ports still cost money to make. Especially ports of enormous games where a million little things can go wrong.

    * I know this might sound crazy, but there are people out there who own a Nintendo Switch that don't have any last or current gen consoles or even a PC.Edited November 2017 by MetManMas
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  • Avatar for moochan #13 moochan A year ago
    @MetManMas What's funny is Morrowind and FF2 had a lot in common. Like how the leveling system works and the key words and how weird and breakable the magic system is. Yeah I found Morrowind a harder game to go back to because it's so unpolished but feel Oblivion and more so Skyrim polished it so much it removed a lot of the fun parts I love about Morrowind. They scaled things back to make it more acceptable which I 100% understand but while doing it they removed a lot of the weird fun customization and some of the freedom (like killing every NPC). While I liked Oblivion I had hoped they would bring back a lot of the weird/dumb things I could do in Morrowind in the next game. But instead they decided to par it back even more. Sadly with how successful it is I'm guessing TES 6 is going to be even more "accessible" which as I said isn't bad just not as interesting to me.
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  • Avatar for docexe #14 docexe A year ago
    Good to know the port turned out well. I might be one of the only two people in the world who has not played Skyrim in spite of owning a console capable of running it (a PS3, then again, as far as I understand it, that one was the worst version of the game). I might finally play it once I get my Switch. Frankly, given my current work load, playing it in a portable console might be the only way I will ever be able to finish it.
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  • Avatar for camchow #15 camchow A year ago
    @NiceGuyNeon there are mods that fix bugs and improve stuff that isn't lore or game breaking. If you have a PC that can run it might as well get the PC version. As much as portability is nice I can't imagine playing Skyrim without a few essential mods that clean up some broken stuff in the base game.
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  • Avatar for apoc_reg #16 apoc_reg A year ago
    I massively regret buying it, nothing to do with the port. The game just feels janky and out dated in a post Witcher and Zelda world
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  • Avatar for SandyExtreme #17 SandyExtreme 9 months ago
    We at Dollhouse Escorts Amsterdam absolutely love this game. We taken turns between bookings. You can only imagine what 6 beautiful girls huddled around our screen looks like, not to mention the ever flow of comments on how to play and what to do next.
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