Chances are if you are reading this article, you have at least heard of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda’s golden child, the game was one of the most celebrated games of 2011, and continues to be played by many people to this day. Having been ported to 6 major systems, there are many options to explore Todd’s dream world of Skyrim. Many would argue that the best way to play Skyrim is to get a decent enough PC, mod it into a completely different game, and use Skyrim not as a game by itself, but as a tool to craft your own. Spoiler alert, I agree with this, I have put hundreds of hours into Skyrim on PC.
But I started my journey into the frigid land of Skyrim not on PC, but on Xbox 360. I still have my copy beside my monitor in case I want to be reminded how barely functional it is! However, there is one version that stands out as doing something absolutely unique to the game that no other console can do, and I’d argue it’s the best way to play Skyrim if you’re unable to play it on PC: The Nintendo Switch!
Portable Skyrim: C’mon!
The major benefit of having Skyrim on Nintendo’s hybrid home/mobile console is of course the fact that for the first time in the game’s life, you can take Todd’s Magic Wonderland with you wherever you go. Whether you just want to take it to your bed, or on your plane trip across the continent. The joy of portable Skyrim is not one to be underestimated. During the COVID pandemic when this is written, I have been spending some time in self-isolation, meaning that while I cannot take Skyrim outside with me at the moment, having it in my bed as I play at 3 AM is a treat 15 year old me could only dream of!
This does of course come with the caveat of power consumption. I have not personally tested this, however it clearly is on the higher list of power consumption lasting me somewhere around 3ish hours or more on the newer Switch model. This is definitely a game where I recommend having your charger with you on longer outings, or a portable battery if need be. This small issue however doesn’t stop me from recommending it!
It genuinely looks good on the console
Now, I know the Switch isn’t a powerhouse in graphical fidelity. I mean, it is built on a mobile chipset. I am not expecting Series X or PS5 performance out of it, and neither should you. But personally, I think the Switch does a really good job of making the game look good on the console, especially in portable mode.
Thankfully, Skyrim on Switch is not ported from the original version released on the 360/PS3. It is actually a slightly downsized version of the Legendary Edition used on Xbox One/PS4. This means there is a good colour palette, decent texture improvements, and thank goodness the water doesn’t look how it did on the 360. While it definitely can seem a little old on the big screen at 1080p, especially on my massive 52’ TV, portable mode looks right at home on the 720p screen of the Switch.
Obviously, sacrifices had to be made in some regard in order to ensure the game could play on the console. From what I can tell, there are no god rays, foliage is lessened, and the draw distance is pulled back. I would argue these are reasonable sacrifices. Like I said previously, the Switch is a mobile console in its design, and the fact we are seeing a game of this scale on such a device would be called a miracle when Skyrim first released a decade ago.
Why the lack of mods is a good thing
I know, I know. What I am about to argue here is sacrilege to many a gamer who has played Skyrim. And with even me saying that PC Skyrim is the superior version, with mods being a major reason why, the question is why am I calling the Switch port the second best? How does a game that lacks a feature that the PS4 and Xbox One have become the superior version? You don’t have to deal with pesky mod limits, Sony’s silly restrictions on external assets, and you get to play what has so far after 40 hours of play been a stable version of the game in it’s most Toddly form.
Starting with mod limits. In order to make mods work on the Xbox One, Microsoft and Bethesda implemented a 5GB mod limit on the game. Modest, but understandable. Sony however, placed more strict limits on modding, having only a 1GB limit, and not allowing external assets to be uploaded on Sony’s system. With those specific choices, PS4 modding is incredibly limited compared to it’s Xbox counterparts, but even then Microsoft still imposes limits on your modding capacity which as a modder, isn’t something I personally jive with.
There is also of course, the more obvious limit to modding on these consoles: Their power. Consoles are delicate and precise machines, and games built on them are usually built to utilize every flop and hertz of power available to them. PC’s are much more agile devices, which gives mods more room to take up space and processing power. In contrast, the console ports may have little to nothing to offer if you’re looking to really modify your experience. To put it simply, modding on consoles is neat, but it is at best a half-implemented measure that is hindered by a console’s lack of flexibility and raw power.
It appears that this is nowhere more obvious than the Switch. To put mods on it would likely be an impossible feat, and that is more than ok! Accepting the limitations allows Bethesda to ensure that the game on Switch is as optimized as possible. With no need to account for mods, all the power of the system is available and gives us the impressive feat of porting we have today. And to be honest, playing Skyrim vanilla for the first time in years felt like a nostalgic breath of fresh air.
In conclusion, I propose to you a port of Skyrim with a unique ability that cannot be matched. Your PC, nor your Xbox or Playstation, can play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim portably. And while it may not be as graphically powerful as any modern port, this game looks stunning when you’re playing it at 3AM while walking through Blackreach, or the northern tundra. And if I can be frank, the gameplay is still a joy to me. Maybe that’s my nostalgia playing tricks on me, but I still encourage anyone curious enough with a Switch to pick it up, especially if that is your main console of play!