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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Platform(s): Board Game, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Bethesda
Release Date: Nov. 17, 2017

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Switch Review - 'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 16, 2017 @ 3:01 a.m. PST

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim re-imagines the open-world fantasy RPG epic, bringing to life a complete virtual world for you to explore any way you choose.

Buy The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

Owners of a Nintendo Switch can't complain about the plethora of titles on the system within the first nine months. The system may have started off with quality first-party titles, but we're seeing a shift to major third-party titles. One of the older titles in the lineup is Bethesda's action-RPG, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. The concept is exciting, as Skyrim is one of the highest-rated, open-world RPGs ever released, and it's no small feat to have that playable on the go. Skyrim has also turned six years old, an age that even the best games cannot hide. Like Doom, the question is performance and if the novelty of portable Skyrim can justify shelling out $60 for what could be a PS3 port.

Skyrim has been released on so many platforms that it's almost impossible to miss, even if RPGs aren't your forte. As the fifth installment of The Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim is not a direct sequel to previous games, but knowledge of them helps players understand the story details. We begin as an imperial prisoner in Helgen. Our head is placed on a chopping block, and seconds prior to losing our customized facial features to a sharp blade, a huge dragon attacks the town and provides us with an opportunity to flee. While the opening scene is underwhelming, we quickly find ourselves in a big, open world with a singular mission marker that we can either follow or ignore.

While that may sound similar to the approach in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Skyrim is its own beast. While Zelda kept its story as open as its world, Skyrim focuses heavily on the lore. The world we encounter is filled with many stories that we experience in the missions and quests, hear from NPCs, and read about in books. Many called Zelda "Nintendo's Skyrim" when it launched in March. While Zelda distilled the open world into tightly designed discovery-based gameplay, Skyrim is something else entirely.

This is an RPG in one of its truest forms. As The Elder Scrolls dictates, the game can be played either in first- or third-person view. We can create a character of 10 different races, and from there, how and what we play is our own business. Skyrim expertly stacks several little mechanics on top of each other to build a comprehensive whole, while giving the player the freedom to ignore or embrace most of them as they please.

Following the story, we quickly learn that dragons appeared across the land, terrorizing its inhabitants. Within the first main quest, we are identified as the one true Dragonborn, pretty much a being with a dragon's soul, who's capable of understanding and using the ancient dragon language to our benefits. The only hope for the land of Skyrim is that we identify the source of the threat and save the realm. The main story quest is likely not the best story in Skyrim, though it's an interesting setup to send us across the land to square off against dragons.

The essence of Skyrim usually lies outside of these missions, the stories we write ourselves by investigating the game world, wandering off paths, and taking on side-quests. The game profits from its extensive lore, and some quests evolve into their own storylines. Some quests are arguably better than the main one and engage you for hours. If it's not the story that captures you, it's the gameplay and the amazing world.

Dense forests, high mountains, and wide fields keep it varied, and the world still holds up nicely to today's standards. There is always something hidden or new to discover, and it's breathtaking to see the sheer number of things and dungeons Skyrim offers. Between the animal attacks, bandit camps, the odd vampire hunters, and the aforementioned dragons, there is rarely time to focus on a singular task.  That is one of the bigger drawbacks of Skyrim's design: It is so vast that it can be truly overwhelming.

When broken down to a singular task, most of the experiences feel polished and well designed, but the sheer number of things can make it difficult to enjoy a single task in peace. That's nitpicking, though. This is not a game for people with short attention spans. Skyrim is exciting to play because of the dragons, but the dragon encounters can quickly get annoying because they don't vary much. It's essential to slay the dragon because they're required to develop our dragon shout abilities. The variety of enemies is plentiful and exciting, and it enhances the player's sense of wonder. Since the creatures usually level up with you, there is always enough challenge to be had.

Unsurprisingly, Skyrim offers just as much choice in the gameplay mechanics. Skyrim follows a "hands-on" approach, so if you do or use something, you'll eventually get better at it. Throw flames from your hands, and your destruction spells increase; block an attack with your shield and bash in someone's head with your sword, and you may increase your rank in blocking and single-handed attacks. With enough experience, your overall level increases, and you can level up your favorite skills. Be a sword-swinging, fire-throwing mage warrior; a sneaky thief with incredible bow abilities; or an all-out warrior machine. As we can equip items on individual hands, we can mix and match anything. With the addition of dragon shouts, our arsenal is packed. We start with a basic shout that pushes enemies away, but we learn more shouts by consuming the souls of slain dragons. Even then, we've only scratched the surface of Skyrim.

We can create our own armor and weapons if we are inclined to do so, and we can enchant them and improve them. There is rarely anything we can't do. This is sounding very one-sided thus far, and unfortunately, Skyrim is has its flaws.

The game certainly hasn't aged well. The world is pretty immersive considering its age, but there are a multitude of things that don't hold up. While the environments are still somewhat beautiful (more on graphics later), they do lack variety, especially when we're not roaming the outside vistas. Many assets get reused regularly, which is noticeable in the first 10 hours. For a game spanning hundreds of hours, that's not a good sign.

The animations and facial features weren't top-notch back when Skyrim launched, and they certainly aren't now. The same goes for the sometimes horrible and similar-sounding voice acting for some of the NPCs. There are a number of NPCs, but the world doesn't feel as alive by today's standards. That also hinders your character's progress because NPCs don't change how they react to you, but having progress mirrored in the world is a requirement nowadays. Fans may disagree with this critique because Skyrim is an older title. That may be, but it costs full price like any game being released at the moment, so it has to be subject to the same level of scrutiny.

The gameplay in Skyrim is mostly doing its job, although the combat doesn't feel as impactful as it should. In the beginning, it constantly feels like you're missing your shots, and you can't tell if you actually hit enemies. This gets better as you advance, but since it's the focal point of the gameplay, it doesn't feel incredibly polished — and neither does the game.

Skyrim is a very open game, and polishing it all is borderline impossible, but there are certain things that pull you out of the experience. It's painful to watch NPC's "jitter" up a flight of stairs or to see doors swing through them. Most will be happy to know that the Switch version of the game runs incredibly well; it may even be the most stable version of Skyrim I have seen on any platform.

Visually, the game looks like an improvement upon the original but seems far from reaching the visually more impressive Skyrim: Special Edition on PS4 and Xbox One. There may be some additional effects, like lighting and prettier foliage, but the changes are minimal if you're familiar with the original game. There is a significant amount of pop-ups, which are especially visible in open areas. Comparing the game to previous iterations, it looks like the number of environmental objects was slightly reduced. There's currently no mod support, and it's unlikely to be added in the future. Load times of the digital version were decent and sometimes faster than expected, especially when entering and leaving houses or shops.

There are some exclusive additions to the Switch iteration, such as exclusive Legend of Zelda items that can be unlocked through Amiibo figures or found in the world. The developers also felt the need to include motion controls, like physically swinging your sword, a lock-picking minigame, and gyro aiming for the bow and arrow. For most of these activities, the motion controls feel slightly forced and will unlikely be used by most gamers. Even smart ideas on paper, like using the Joy-Cons to pick locks, become tedious and don't add enough value to the gameplay to be used more often. If you have the choice, it's best to play Skyrim on Switch with the Pro Controller. The option of gyro aiming is nice, though it doesn't feel as refined and accurate as it did in Zelda.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is an addictive game, but it shows its age in several ways. It's the full Skyrim experience, and all three additional DLC packs are unlocked from the beginning. It's a game-changer that players can play a game as time-consuming as Skyrim while they're out and about. However, you have to ask yourself if a solid port of a six-year-old game, portable or not, is worth the $60 price tag.

Score: 8.4/10

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