Hail and well met, travelers! Come, rest your weary feat at our fire as we regale you with stories of our time spent in the world of Skyrim! You maybe be inclined to ask, “but noble bard, wasn’t Skyrim released over half a decade ago?”, and you wouldn’t be too far off - but this, dear friends, is Skyrim on Nintendo Switch. A version of the classic that can travel just as much as you do!
Early in the morning on the first Friday of PAX, Nintendo spirited us away to its secret room situated high above the show floor. It was here that we were given our first hands-on experience with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch, and it was in this clandestine meeting that we were reminded of how vast and unforgiving the fantasy world truly is. Our time there was brief, but it was long enough to reacquaint ourselves and feel the excitement of a world yet unexplored.
Our journey started in medias res, with a Nintendo rep handing us a controller and basically saying "good luck." Thankfully we had an in-game guide to lead us through the hostile environment and assist in a skirmish against some unfriendly wolves. We found a village, talked to some locals, shot some arrows at unsuspecting bystanders, and even got to test gravity and our ability to take fall damage by jumping off the side of a cliff. All of the usual activities in which one might partake while playing an Elder Scrolls title.
Becoming acquainted with the controls took some time, but they felt natural on the Switch Joy-Con grip controller once we found our bearings. Not unlike The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, your character is capable of quite a bit in Skyrim and there are decidedly complex controls to go along with that, but it felt right once we got into the action.
While still on the big screen, we had a quick chance to try out the motion controls that had been implemented for this latest release. The motion tracking worked well during hand-to-hand combat, and swinging a mace and casting spells by waving our arms was surprisingly fun, no matter how silly we felt doing it in a room full of video game professionals. Aiming arrows with motion controls, on the other hand, felt cumbersome and flawed. No matter how we positioned ourselves we couldn't make sense of the aiming mechanic, but it was unclear whether this was at the fault of the motion tracking, or if it was simply something that we couldn't quite grasp during our short time with the game. We're hoping that this can be chalked up to user error or that it's something that will be sorted out in the final release, but the fact that it wasn't immediately intuitive could be sign enough that the whole mechanic is flawed.
We also had a quick chance to play in handheld mode, this time making use of the Switch's gyroscope to aim our arrows, and we found that this approach worked much better than the full motion controls. It's also worth noting that the game looks great on the small screen as well as the television, with no immediately notable drops in frame rate or resolution.
The other Switch specific feature that we saw in action was amiibo support. After a failed attempt at navigating menus and performing the wrong actions, we eventually found the amiibo spell and tapped Samus Aran to our Joy-Con. Samus was gracious enough to summon a chest into the game, but it was only full of food and other basic supplies rather than the Nintendo-themed goodies that we were hoping to see.
For Switch owners who are still coming down from the high of Breath of the Wild and want to keep the momentum, Skyrim is a solid next step. It shares certain elements with Link's open world adventure, ensuring that you could find common threads between the two, but they are two very different games in essential ways.
Whereas Breath of the Wild feels like a fresh world to explore and make your own, Skyrim revels in the fact that your character is just one of many existing in a world that already abides by an established set of rules. In Breath of the Wild, you could choose to take on quests or ignore them completely depending on your level of interest or the incentive for helping out a stranger, but the environment remains static no matter what stance you take. It's a world set in its predetermined morality with Link remaining the hero no matter who he may or may not decide to help.
In Skyrim, on the other hand, your decisions carry weight to them. Enter a village with your weapons drawn and you may be perceived as a threat; offer to help a pedestrian in need and you could become a town's hero. It encourages exploration and wants its players to make their own decisions, but there are constant reminders that those decisions also carry with them consequences that can alter the way you play. Skyrim may not offer the same freedoms that define Breath of the Wild, but it does a better job of making you feel like your decisions matter.
To be completely honest, there isn't much that we can say about Skyrim that hasn't already been said since it was originally released back in 2011. From what we experienced, not much has changed since the title’s initial release, and this definitely felt like we can expect a full version of the game – not a stripped down port. To that end, it felt really good to play on Nintendo Switch, and who hasn't dreamed of a world in which we can play Skyrim on the go?