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Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch is much better than it has any right to be

A classic becomes portable

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

We all have a different mental idea of how The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim should look. You might have played the PC version, with or without mods. You might have played the original console release, or the more recent remastered version of the game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Skyrim has been released a fair number of times, and there’s even a VR version of the title for those of you who wanted to get literally lost inside the game.

So how does the Nintendo Switch port stack up to the long, varied history of Skyrim? Very well, it turns out.

The main draw is the portability

While the game’s visuals had to be hacked down a bit from the newer versions to fit on Nintendo’s somewhat underpowered console, the tradeoff is that you can play Skyrim in your bed, on the subway, in the bathroom or everything in between. While the text can be a bit small and the loading times stretch on long enough to be a drag from time to time, playing the game away from your television or PC is enough of a feature that you’ll be able to overlook the compromises.

There are a few annoyances here, however. Companies that are bringing ports to the Switch need to put a bit more care into making the text legible or at least offer options for increasing the size of the in-game fonts, and the complete lack of in-game brightness settings make some of the darker areas of the game nearly impossible to see. A gamma slider would have gone a long way, although purists may argue that learning to actually fear the dark may just add another layer of immersion.

I found the darkness levels more annoying than enjoyable, but who cares? You can now play Skyrim wherever you’d like! The system’s relatively small screen hides a lot of the game’s graphical sins, and it’s always easy to tell what’s going on, outside of the brightness issue. The game still delivers what seems to be the full-scale world of the original, and that epic scope comes through brilliantly when playing on portable mode. The game never seems completely stable at 30 fps, but it hits the target more often than not, which keeps everything feeling smooth and responsive.

You can even split the Joy-Cons off from the Switch when docked and play around with the included motion controls, which are completely optional but also goofy fun. You swing your hand to swing your sword, and can even use the Joy-Con like a pointing device to enjoy some precision when aiming arrows. Bringing your hand above your waist will either put you into a defensive position with a sword or bring your shield up. It’s not perfect — no waggle control ever is — but it’s enjoyable enough to at least be worth a try.

And of course you can always tap a few amiibo on the your Switch to unlock items and try to get those sweet, sweet Zelda-flavored items if you don’t mind paying for a bit of an advantage.

Link in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim on Nintendo Switch Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

While many seasoned players have fought their way through Skyrim more than once in their gaming careers, watching my children play Skyrim for the first time on a portable system has been a revelation. They’re completely taken by the size of the game and the sense of adventure that Skyrim delivers, and the ability to put the system to sleep instantly only to pick up where you left off an hour later makes the experience even more welcoming than it was at launch.

Bethesda was right to place such a big bet on the Switch for the holiday season, and Skyrim should be held up as an example for what the system can do for your back catalog. This is a classic that has found a second, or maybe third, life on the Switch, and it’s well worth your $60.

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