Skyrim's World Is Still Gorgeous on a Handheld

By Heather Alexandra on at

Skyrim offers one of the most beautiful worlds in video games. The game’s Switch version adds some minor changes and lets you carry that world in your purse.

The idea of having an adventure in your pocket has been a cornerstone of Nintendo’s success over the years. From The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy to Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS, Nintendo’s always offered highly portable and exciting experiences. Skyrim, which isn’t developed by Nintendo but came to a Nintendo platform for the first time earlier this month, is a natural fit into this mould. While the Switch doesn’t exactly fit into your pocket, being able to sit down on the train and get transported away to its fantasy realm helps highlight what made the game a success: the game’s beautiful world.

Skyrim lives and dies by the quality of its world. The eponymous land of Skyrim has always felt a bit like a tourist destination, with a host of distractions to delight and entice anyone that would set foot in it, but the game’s true strength doesn’t come from the density of potential experiences and quests. It comes from the intoxicating splendour of the world itself. Skyrim remains gorgeous. Snowy mountaintops give way to valleys packed with winding rivers. Dense forests hide quaint fishing hamlets and impressive forts. It’s wonderful to curl up in bed and explore the great, wide open.

The Switch port invigorates things with a little Nintendo magic and the effort is appreciated. This mostly comes in the form of some light amiibo functionality that allows players to acquire some Zelda-themed gear. Tap an amiibo and a wonderfully cartoonish treasure chest will pop into the world alongside the familiar “puzzle solved” jingle. These chests contain special goodies like the Master Sword, Hylian Shield, and Link’s outfit from Breath of the Wild. It’s not much but there’s a lot of charm to be had from running around dressed like Link while pulling off deadly assassinations.

The Switch version is a straight port of the original game, with only a few new audio issues showing up to mix in with Skyrim’s infamous glitches. Some of the smaller technical limitations haven’t aged well. The Switch port lacks many of the upgrades from last year’s Playstation 4 and Xbox One remaster and can look a bit plain by comparison. The docked version plays at 900p and the lower resolution sometimes makes the game feel a bit blurry. At long distances, Skyrim’s majestic mountains feel less like a place you can reach and more like a matte painting. Handheld mode is the way to go. It doesn’t change too much but the smaller screen hides some of the visual shortcomings.

The game looks better in handheld mode, but the Switch’s tiny analog sticks make it less comfortable to hold. In handheld mode, I found it difficult to perform finer actions like shooting a bow. The addition of motion control aiming helps fix this, even if you might look a bit silly jerking your console around on the bus.

It’s novel to play Skyrim on a park bench. Amiibo features and motion control are fun but they don’t drastically change the experience. The Switch port adds a few fun touches but most of the magic comes from having such a massive world in the palm of your hands.