Review – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Switch/PSVR)

This review is going to be a little unique. We have two new versions of Skyrim, and being the Elder Scrolls fan that I am, I couldn’t stop myself from nabbing both. (Yeah, call me crazy!) Both ports were compelling to me for different reasons, and they are both great in their own ways. Still, they are the same game, so I decided to combine both reviews into one. I will write briefly about the game as a whole, and then I will dive into each version.

Skyrim should be a game that requires no introduction. Even if you’ve never played it, it’s impossible to miss the lasting impression this game left in the collective psyche of gamers everywhere. It was an enchanting experience, carried by the strength of its dense game world and interesting lore. Today, its DNA lives on in many modern games, but there’s still nothing quite like exploring the cold, desolate and wondrous landscape of Skyrim.

Skyrim is the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series, a franchise that pioneered the “open world” RPG genre with games such as Daggerfall and Morrowind. From its inception, this series has always focused on letting you be who you want to be, and go where you want to go. That strategy has resulted in some of my favorite RPGs, and Skyrim is no different.

You play as a hero who finds out that he/she is a Dragonborn, a mortal with the soul of a dragon. This happens at the same time as the return of actual dragons, which were thought to be driven to extinction in the distant past. Throughout the story, you discover why the dragons have returned, and set a plan in motion to rid the world of their menace once and for all. Skyrim‘s story is self-contained and does not require knowledge of the past Elder Scrolls games. However, the game has plenty of references to the old games, and it does wonderful things with the lore of Tamriel.

Like other games in the series, Skyrim feels less like a game and more like a world you inhabit. You are free to complete the game’s main quest at your own pace, or ignore it altogether. There is a massive variety of really compelling storylines in this game, such as the mystery of the Mage’s College and the Thieves’ Guild, as well as the drama of the civil war that is currently ravaging the countryside. The game is fully voice acted, and the various storylines still hold up today as well as they did when this game originally released.

Skyrim (And the island of Soltsheim in the included Dragonborn DLC) is a massive world, and exploration is the name of the game. Even six years later, it’s still just as fun as ever to just wander and explore the cold wilderness of this world. There’s always something interesting to discover, whether it be a bandit camp, a new town, a cave or an old Nord burial ground. There is a surprising amount of visual variety as well, from the vast tundra of Whiterun hold, to the golden forests of The Rift and the icy glaciers of Winterhold.

This game streamlined a lot of the RPG elements of the previous games, and as a result has a more action-adventure bent. Instead of the series of stats you had to level into, in Skyrim you have to improve your skills by actually performing them. For example, you increase your destruction magic skill by using destruction magic, your blocking skill by blocking attacks successfully, and your speech skill by interacting with NPCs. As you level up in each skill, you then can enable perks that improve them. It’s a great system that allows you to try out everything that the game has to offer at your own pace.

As breathtaking as Skyrim was (and still is), the engine that it is built on was showing its age even back in 2011. I’m sure everyone has seen the variety of glitchy moments in this game, and they are still present in both of these versions. Enemies can get stuck or confused, items can float in mid-air, and character models can sometimes exhibit strange animations. Most of the time, it’s can be funny and it doesn’t really affect the experience in a negative way aside from the break in immersion. At worst, certain questlines can break, locking you out of certain rewards and storylines unless you revert to a previous save. It’s a bummer that Bethesda didn’t go out of their way to add more polish to the game in this respect, especially when putting this next to the similar, but far more polished Breath of the Wild.

Skyrim On the Nintendo Switch – 9.0/10

The thing that compelled me to buy Skyrim on the Switch was seeing it in action. This version of Skyrim is clearly based on the remaster that was released last year on current generation consoles, and aside from a slight cutback on draw distance and lighting effects, this version looks wonderful on the Switch. The high-resolution textures look fantastic on the big screen, and the game looks wonderfully sharp and crisp on the Switch’s smaller 720p screen. The game runs at a silky smooth 30 fps, just like it does on other current generation consoles. In other words, you’re getting pretty much the same experience as you would on the PS4 on XBox One.

On top of the base game and its expansions, there are some new additions here. There is amiibo support, which works similarly to Breath of the Wild. The big addition is motion controls, which have mixed results. You can now aim using motion controls, which is pretty awesome, allowing better accuracy. It feels great, especially when playing the game in handheld mode. Less successful are the melee controls, which let you waggle the Joy Cons to attack. There is a significant delay in how your inputs are registered that really don’t make this a viable control option. Thankfully, this is totally optional.

I can’t overstate how awesome it is to have Skyrim on the go. I was recently traveling, and having Skyrim to play on an airplane is insanely awesome. There’s really not much to add besides that–If you’re a Switch owner that likes RPGs and you’ve never played Skyrim, I would definitely give it a shot. If you’re a veteran of Skyrim, playing it on the go is well worth the upgrade.

Skyrim on the PlayStation VR – 8.5/10

When I first got an Oculus Rift way back in the day, one of the first things I tried was to set up a software called VorpX to play Skyrim in VR. Skyrim is such an immersive and atmospheric game that it just felt like a perfect fit for VR. In practice, the game didn’t translate very well into VR. The animations, and the fact that movement was tied to where you look, made the game nauseating. After all, it was not intended for VR. Even though the game was largely unplayable at that state, there was still something so special about standing in the vastness of Whiterun, looking up at the starry sky.

Skyrim VR was created because Bethesda saw that same potential for a really stellar VR experience, and it is largely successful. They have gone out of their way to include a variety of control and comfort options to make Skyrim VR be the best that it can be. While you can play with a standard DualShock controller, it’s the Move controllers that steal the show here. The game defaults to a “teleport” option, but the best way to play is with direct movement. You can hold the left thumb button on the controller to move forward, and then turn using the face buttons. It’s an elegant solution to the lack of a control stick on the Move controllers, and I was pretty happy with it.

The main benefit of the Move controllers is, of course, the hand presence. Being able to shoot fireballs out of your own hands, block a dragon’s fire breath with your shield and aim a perfect shot with your bow just takes the immersion to a whole new level. The combat is what benefits the most here. Combat was never Skyrim‘s selling point, but it’s just such a blast in Skyrim VR. For this reason alone, it’s one of the best examples of a well-done VR game that uses the PS Move Controllers.

For all the effort that went into this version, however, it does miss the mark in some respects. The menus work pretty elegantly with a standard controller, but trying to navigate them using motion controls is unwieldly at best. Finding a way to use the face buttons for navigation would have been much more preferable. This issue is compounded by the fact that Skyrim is, by its nature, a menu-heavy game. You need to access menus to talk to NPCs, loot chests, equip items, select your spells and level up your skills. The fact that the controls are so clumsy here hurts the game really badly.

Visually, the game looks closer to the original 2011 release, rather than the more recent remaster. However, the game still looks beautiful, thanks to the added immersion of the PSVR. Other aspects of the presentation are just as good as they have always been. The music is still amazing, and the voice acting gets the job done well.

Two Excellent New Versions Of One Excellent Game

6 years after its initial release, Skyrim still holds up. Both of these versions are great for their own ways, and are truly new ways to experience Skyrim. Whether it’s playing it on the road, or fully immersing yourself in its world, these are excellent excuses to relive this adventure all over again.

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