Impressions: Skyrim feels right at home on the Switch

I’ve played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim more times than I can count. When it first came out, back in 2011, I remember skipping class and calling in sick to work that Friday so I could play it as much as humanly possible. Across PC, PS3, PS4, and now Switch, I know the land of Skyrim just as well as (and sometimes better than) I do my actual neighborhood.

When Bethesda announced that Skyrim would be coming to the Nintendo Switch, there were many doubts. The original Switch announcement video showed a happy-go-lucky man playing Skyrim on a plane, and it seemed too good to be true. I honestly didn’t think it would really run well and reliably on the device.

In this situation, it’s nice to be proven wrong.

Six Years In The Making

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the most celebrated games of all-time, and for good reason. When it first released back in 2011 it set a new bar with which to measure RPGs and, until The Witcher 3, one could argue no game even came close to touching Skyrim’s brilliance. Since then it’s received three expansions: Hearthfire, Dawnguard, and Dragonborn. These are all included with Skyrim Switch. Skyrim also has a thriving mod community, which is not included with this version.

What makes The Elder Scrolls such a great RPG franchise is the freedom of choice. In Skyrim in particular, you’re not restricted to choosing a specific class that you level up over time where you gain focused, linear abilities. Instead, you can play whatever kind of character you want to play. If you want to get better with spells and become a powerful mage, then you can do that by learning spells and casting them to increase your proficiency with different schools of magic. Want to be a sword and shield warrior? Then pick up a sword and shield to start training. You learn by doing in Skyrim, much like real life, and grow your character accordingly.

The premise of the game is that you’re the last descendant of the Dragonborn, a powerful people with the ability to speak the language of the dragons as thunderous shouts. Over the course of the game you’ll hunt down dragons, devour their souls, and slowly grow in power. With hundreds of hours of content spread out among the various factions, side quests, and main story missions, Skyrim is one of the richest and densest RPGs ever made.

Dragons On The Go

Usually I play my Switch docked. For the most part, I prefer the feel of the Pro Controller (especially for games like Doom, Breath of the Wild, and Mario Odyssey) but when I downloaded Skyrim I decided to experiment a bit and try it in handheld mode first. Seeing the logo appear on the screen as the wagon wheeled us along a bumpy road to Helgen, the promise of the Switch commercial was finally fulfilled.

Visually it’s not quite up to par with the Enhanced Edition found on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. I’d wager it lines up more closely with the PS3/Xbox 360 version, or perhaps slightly better. The game looks great on a smaller screen, and the finer details look much more crisp.

Since Skyrim doesn’t require twitch-style extreme precision, the Joycon nubs are totally passable, making handheld mode all the more enjoyable. Exploring the world and fighting off bandits feels great and the d-pad has just enough buttons to assign a few favorite weapons combos.

When you dock Skyrim it still looks good, but just like with any Switch game, the resolution feels stretched a tiny bit. Performance is great regardless of which mode you play in and other than booting up a save, load times are all around pretty quick.

Meat on the Bones

Chances are you’ve played Skyrim before. It’s one of the most popular games of the past decade and it’s already been released on four game consoles and PC. However, you’ve never played a portable Skyrim and that’s significant.

Not only does it mean being able to pick up and play on your character no matter where you are, but the time it takes to get back in the game is almost non-existent thanks to the Switch’s impressive suspend feature. The battery drain is about as bad as Breath of the Wild, which is to say you can expect to get a solid two-three or so hours out of a full charge if you’re playing non-stop.

The only real issue I’ve got with Skyrim on the Switch, and this is really minor, is that sometimes the lack of fine detail is noticeable when aiming at something in the distance. I found it more difficult to line up long-distance bow shots on Switch than it was on PC or PS4. Screen size likely plays a factor here as do the inferior analog nubs. But with all three expansions included and the entire main game, Skyrim on the Switch is an impressive technical accomplishment. I’m honestly still surprised that it works so well.

People used to tell me that I couldn’t just play Skyrim all day because I had to eat and use the bathroom and go outside, but now, no matter where I am, I can take Skyrim with me.