What the hell even is a video game console without Skyrim now? Despite the fact that the first game finished up its DLC run relatively recently, it is now archived fact that every electronic device since then now can run the latest Elder Scrolls. It’s the new Madden joke.
Bethesda are convinced, balls to bones, that they have the ultimate showstoppers in the Western RPG world. The sales back them up, the world backs them up, and that’s why there will likely never be a time moving forward without a Fallout or Skyrim game present – quality be slightly damned.
I like Skyrim. It’s neat, filled with content, and doesn’t limit you but a few choice times. That was my brain’s summary when I picked it up for the Switch, thinking that it could be time to knock back some dragons with the power of song once again. Of course, the bar that this game once supposedly set has seen a modus operandi shift. The story has to match the gameplay in the vast sums of care given nowadays.
With that in mind, Skyrim does not hold up. Not even for 5 years does it hold up. The “go anywhere, do anything” game style has been picked to death by nearly every game company in the world – twice. The refreshing freedom that Bethesda enjoyed with the first release has been shown as a puppet show with strings. Nothing here feels superior to The Witcher 3 or Breath of the Wild or The Phantom Pain or many other greats Skyrim is slotted against.
The combat does still have a fairly decent array of possibilities, given some extra, if not superficial, life with motion controls. Joy Cons serve to function within arm movement – swinging swords, aiming things, lockpicking etc. They’re not particularly intrusive and offer very little in the way of immersion. Motion controls, as ever, exist behind a very ambiguous curtain.
Skyrim continues an open-world Bethesda tradition for me as having a story completely devoid of peaks or valleys. Everything feels okay. The world’s okay until this person/entity wants to make it not okay, then you have to become okay at taking down their okay-upsetting, listless evil. The details are just missing that would give their stories weight or momentum. I’ve said that about Fallout games in the exact same pitch for years.
Take this story against that of Breath of the Wild, which seems far more barren on the surface. Link is tasked early on with Ganon-defeating from a character that’s been around for the pain of the last 100 years and shows it in his voice. The world is collapsed and you have to end the evil that’s done it to save the remaining world – that’s three forces established: good, evil, and neutral (NPC). Skyrim’s first cutscene slaps you with the entire world’s history alongside destination names, alliances, and your own impending execution. Then a little squeeze of the main plot is in there eventually. Everything feels backwards.
Breath of the Wild showcases a world that needs you in order to keep surviving. In Skyrim, the set up would have you believe that the world’s already happening and you only need discover it. By the very structure of such an insertion into any world, there will never be a push to save anything. You’ll just be constantly asked and pushed to explore with no anchors of emotion to invest into what you’re finding. It’s all context, no payoff.
Dragons are certainly at no higher a peak than in Skyrim. Their encounters are lively and variably difficult depending upon just how far down your pants are caught as they approach. The arsenal at your disposal is always fun thanks to how your strengths can change on the fly, but with my blood washed in Dark Souls, it feels slow and muddy. Even with motion controls, it’s in slow motion as you take seconds to swing a mace at the dragon’s wings or take foreverrrr to reload your bow. Bethesda would’ve done well to update these times to keep the game feeling fresh.
Of all the aspects on Bethesda’s list to possibly update, the undisputed champion is certainly them age-old Skyrim bugs. Perhaps due to Nintendo’s more stringent “game must work” policies, their reign of terror doesn’t feel quite as absolute in the Switch version. Then again, maybe I just lucked out. Regardless, I’m referencing massive, quest-line-snapping critters that were inexcusable and seem to be reduced, not the low-level visual hilarities that happen. The fact that separate levels of Skyrim bugs exists is insane to me. I’ll never accept bugs as promised add-ons in open-world games, and that Skyrim hosts so very many still doesn’t endear me any further towards Bethesda’s lackluster QA.
In the end, Skyrim is Skyrim and is apparently becoming a lifetime guarantee to the level of death and taxes. There’s a bunch of game still, and it’s availability makes one hell of a difference for any looking for that Nintendo Triple-A reinforcement squad. It’s just no longer the droid I’m looking for.