Developer: id Software, Bethesda
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Released: November 10, 2017, November 17, 2017
“Ouch, My Productivity”
The Switch interested me for two reasons. Firstly, to use as a sort of mobile Steam box, a place to play all of the smaller games that I’d likely never get around to playing on my PC or PS4, and second, to be able to play the occasional AAA game on the go. In other words, I bought a Switch for the same reason I bought a Vita. So, a little over a year and a half after the Switch’s launch, I felt compelled to pick one up myself, though circumstances conspiring to take about $100 off of my purchase definitely helped in that decision.
Having already played through Breath of the Wild on a friend’s Switch, much of which was done alternately on a plane or hotel room, I was familiar with how versatile the system is, but I was still a little dubious about buying one for myself, especially after Nintendo made one of their signature, utterly tone-deaf moves, and released the details of their online services. In addition to allowing online play, Nintendo Online grants subscribers access to an ever-expanding, Netflix-style pool of free games, which sounds awesome save for the one tiny caveat that all of the games in the service are going to be NES games, an offering so paltry that any asking price would be a ripoff. I’m fairly confident that Nintendo Online would have incurred less backlash had it offered fewer features, ironically.
Some might prefer to hear about the hardware and games of a system rather than it’s online capabilities, but or better or worse, that functionality is part of the experience of owning a Switch and should absolutely factor into a review of the system. It would be a pretty slippery slope to say that software shouldn’t feature in the review of a console.
On the hardware front, the Switch has an impressive build quality and feels sleek and functional without feeling like I’m going to break it; unlike my iPhone, which I’m afraid to touch, look at or think too hard about before I get it into an Otter Box. The Joycon controllers attach securely to the sides of the system but come off easily enough once a small catch underneath the controllers is released. Slotting the system into it’s dock and switching from handheld to TV mode or vice-versa is easy enough that I don’t expect the novelty to wear off for a while. The dock itself however is another issue, and there have been numerous reports of the Switch’s screen getting scratched on it’s way into or out of the dock. It may indeed be a relatively small number of incidents but, obviously, it shouldn’t be happening at all and countless third parties are already capitalizing on Nintendo’s failings.
I like the concept of the Switch’s kickstand, which doubles as a cover for the systems microSD port. In practice though, the kickstand feels incredibly brittle, like I’m going to accidentally snap it off every time I deploy it, and the angle the Switch sits at is all wrong for most situations I encounter trying to use tabletop mode, in public or at home. I either have the Switch so close to me that I’m looking down at it at an uncomfortably extreme angle, or too far away to see anything properly. A variable stand that let the Switch sit at a forty-five degree angle as well as its existing one would have allowed it to adapt to more situations.
I don’t particularly like the way that the Switch feels to hold in handheld mode either. Navigating menus or even playing slower-paced games is one thing, but when things heat up, I prefer to be able to wrap my hands around a good solid set of controller grips. I’ve always had a problem with essentially gripless controllers like the Wii’s Classic controller all the way up to the Vita. A controller should be shaped to fit your hands rather than make you contort your hands to use it. I actually find that I prefer to play with the joycons detached from the Switch, without even the rails attached to the inside. I like to be able to wrap my fingers entirely around the joycons like the Wii remote or Move controllers. Despite these technical gripes, I do actually think that the Switch is a great system with tons of potential and today, we’re going to look at a few games that make good on one of the Switch’s promises, AAA games on the go.
I’m going to assume you already have a rough idea of what Skyrim and Doom both are, and are interested in reading about the Switch versions specifically. With that in mind, the Switch version of Skyrim is not the same as Skyrim Remastered on the PS4 and Xbox One. It’s a straight port of, presumably, the Game of the Year edition of Skyrim on the PC. So as cool as it is to explore what could be the deepest game world yet on a handheld, don’t expect to be able to count the eyebrow hairs on the many characters who get inappropriately close to you to start a conversation, or marvel at the light reflecting off of a drop of dew in the morning sun as you’re disemboweled by a sabrecat nearby. No, this is just plain-old Skyrim classic, though “just Skyrim” is still Skyrim, and there’s a reason why it ended up at the top of a lot of game of the year lists in 2011. The world of Skyrim is as enthralling as it was seven years ago, with the same “Ok, I’ll just do this one more thing before heading off to bed and…why does my phone say it’s 3am?” immersion you remember if you played it back in the day. And if you didn’t play it back in the day, oh man, I envy you, because you get to experience one of the best fantasy RPGs out there for the first time.
In Skyrim, you are ostensibly the legendary Dragonborn, come to save the land of Skyrim from an onslaught of evil dragons by using their own powers against them. I say ostensibly because at the start, you really aren’t anything at all, and that’s Skyrim’s most quietly brilliant feature, because when you start with nothing, everything is possible.
Almost right from the word go, you’re free to go wherever you want and do whatever you want. If you played Oblivion and want to head straight for your guild of choice, you can do that. If you just want to pick a direction and start walking until one of the hundreds of quests, dungeons or landmarks catches your attention, you can do that. And if you never want to do a single quest and spend all your time hunting wild animals and establish yourself as the leather baron of Skyrim, you can do that too. The sheer amount of content in Skyrim means that even returning players will likely find something to do or some new location to explore, and the Switch version includes all of Skyrim’s DLC, including Dragonborn, possibly the best-regarded Elder Scrolls expansion since The Shivering Isles.
I even found myself enjoying Skyrim’s Hearthfire expansion, the add-on that lets you build your own house and even adopt children. I had intended to completely ignore it frankly, but while inquiring about some property to store all of my dragon bones, I was presented with the option to build my own house and decided to give it a try. While I’m still quite a ways away from being able to start a family, I appreciated how easy and straightforward building a house is in general. Skyrim is after all a role-playing game, and letting us gradually building our own house with resources we’ve gathered ourselves is really just adding another layer of depth to an already staggeringly deep game.
However you decide to play, the straightforward controls feel smooth and natural no matter how you have to use them. Whether you’re hurling fireballs, sniping enemies with arrows from the shadows or getting up close and personal with a sword and shield like nature intended, it all feels as intuitive on the Switch as it does on other platforms. Skyrim for the Switch is perhaps the first time since probably Uncharted: Golden Abyss that I found myself stopping periodically to marvel at the fact that I was playing a game like this on a handheld.
If there’s one thing that keeps me from recommending that everyone go out and grab Skyrim on the Switch right now, it’s the game’s price. Yes it’s the complete version of a fantastic game, but it’s a game that came out in 2011. For comparison, Dark Souls Remastered on the Switch will run you $50 compared to Skyrims $80 despite the fact that both games are exactly the same age and unlike Dark Souls, I still can’t play one of these open-world Bethesda games with my friends.
Not that I expected Bethesda to shoehorn a multiplayer function into the Switch port of Skyrim, but it’s about time that one of these games let us explore the world with at least one other person. That said, the just-announced Fallout 76 seems to be promising just that, and I would be very surprised if the teased sixth Elder Scrolls game didn’t also include a similar feature, so we may not be far away from getting what we want; or regretting we ever asked (thinking of you, GTA Online).
The Switch is basically the perfect home for Skyrim as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of those games like Metal Gear Solid 5 or The Witcher 3, where buying it exempts you from having to buy any other game for the foreseeable future, and I think an experience like that is best served when you can take it out of your living room and chip away at it on a long car ride or whenever you have some time to kill while out and about.
Ultimately, whether the Switch version of Skyrim is going to be worth it to you simply comes down to whether or not you need more Skyrim in your life. If the answer is yes, then consider this the definitive version of an already stellar game.
The Switch version of Doom is a little harder to recommend because there’s nothing inherently special about it being on the Switch besides it’s portability and, unlike Skyrim, the Switch port of Doom does come with a few drawbacks. That’s to be expected unfortunately, Skyrim is an impressively huge and complex game, but it’s also seven years old, whereas Doom was made for current-gen systems and therefore has a much harder time contorting itself onto the Switch. It is still Doom though, and anyone who wants to experience the satisfying demon-blasting action they’ve come to expect from that franchise could certainly do worse than checking out the Switch version.
Like Skyrim, the smooth controls and satisfying gameplay make the transition to the Switch perfectly intact. I also know I’m not the first to wonder how many virgins had to be sacrificed to Baal in order to get Doom looking as good on the Switch as it does on superior hardware and keep the framerate from ever dropping, but regardless, running around the game’s huge levels, circle-strafing around demons and filling them with lead before closing in and punching out all their bones feels as good here as it does on any other system.
Doom is one of those brilliantly straightforward games that mainlines catharsis directly into the reward center of the brain. There is a story in Doom, a pretty good one in fact, cleverly relegated to your logbook where those who care about such things will find it, but if all you want to do is cut a bloody swathe through an army of demons while backed by a pumping metal soundtrack, Doom provides. Every part of Doom’s design ensures that the pace of its action never lets up for long, with your grenades on a fairly generous cooldown, and like earlier iterations of Doom and Quake, all of your weapons draw from your supply of ammo without you ever needing to stop and reload. The Glory Kill system lets you execute sufficiently weakened demons with brutal, God of War-esque finishing moves, which not only conserves ammo, but executed enemies drop health pickups that scale with how badly damaged you are.
The sound design and animation deserve particular mention here because like everything else, they’re in service to making every moment of a fight feel awesome. From the simple CLAK! sound from racking of the shotgun to the harsh digital blare of the quad-damage powerup to the crunching of bones as the Doom marine stomps skulls and bats demons with their own torn-off limbs. The blasts from your grenades and rockets scatter gore across the battlefield with lovingly created splashing sounds, as lumbering Cacodemons blasted out of the sky with a railgun in siege mode fall to the earth in hyper-real pieces.
If all that sounds excessively, ridiculously violent then…well, it is. Obviously. But where lesser games like Hatred or the recently released Agony either struggle to keep a consistent tone or prioritize violence over fun, the violence in Doom is so non-stop and over the top that is becomes cartoonish rather than unsettling. Though it does seem strange to be saying that Doom doesn’t feel all that violent.
I guess we’ll leave that to the philosophers.
Much has already been made of the characterization of the Doom marine through simple, first-person animation that never leaves his perspective, but it really is amazing that a character who might as well be nothing but a pair of arms can entertain and compel to the degree that he does. Minutes after starting the game, the Doom marine receives a call from a Doctor Samuel Hayden, who accepts responsibility for the demonic incursion and tries to enlist the Doom marine, who instead grabs the monitor and shoves it away with an unmistakable contempt for Hayden and anyone like him. Nearly every action the Doom marine takes throughout the entire game seems to convey his thoughts in that moment, whether he’s smashing sensitive equipment to the indignation of Doctor Hayden or looking over a new gun with a sense of reverence. This characterization even extends into the glory kill system. The Doom marine doesn’t brutalize individual demons so much as he simply breaks them and moves on, tossing the body of demon aside like an empty soda can once he’s finished revoking it’s head privileges.
The Switch versions of both Doom and Skyrim include the option to enable motion controls for aiming your various weaponry, which is a cute feature to enable for five minutes before switching off to never use again. At no point though did the developers of either game think to include an option to make the text bigger for when you’re playing in handheld mode. The text in Skyrim is legible enough as long as you’re not playing in tabletop mode, but the UI in Doom is downright insulting when playing in handheld. I refuse to believe that the game couldn’t be made to tell when the Switch is and isn’t docked and change it’s text size accordingly.
Reaching down for the Switch’s D-pad is also a little awkward without completely disengaging my hand from the rest of the left joycon, which isn’t a big deal in Skyrim because opening the favorites menu pauses the game, but trying to switch grenade types on the fly in Doom never stopped being a tiny bit awkward.
What with Doom being one of the best games of the year of it’s release, and Skyrim one of the best games of it’s entire generation, Nintendo has done well to get both games on it’s system in it’s debut year. The trend appears to be continuing, at least in the short term with Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and hopefully, with Bethesda’s help, Nintendo has demonstrated to other developers that porting games to the Switch can be worth their while, because if they don’t then the Switch could be in serious danger of becoming another Wii U. I do think that Nintendo have learned their lesson on that front, or their investors have learned it for them, and the Switch does seem to drawing more interest from third party developers. My concern now is whether or not Nintendo will be able to keep up the same momentum.
Nintendo’s problem going forward might not be with their resolve but their system’s power. Realistically, not every developer is going to decide that it’s worth their time to port their games over to the Switch. And as good as Bethesda has been with their Switch ports, I’m a little dubious that the recently announced Doom: Eternal will make it to the Switch. If Nintendo wants to make the Switch as attractive as possible to consumers and developers alike, they need to be courting the developer of pretty much every upcoming game that the Switch can handle. If they can do that, then the Switch may be able to avoid becoming a true successor to the Vita.
Recommendation: Buy It, If You Have Another Primary Gaming Machine
Time To Complete: All Of It
Best Advice: Buy A House To Store All Of Your Stuff
Also Try: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Dark Souls
Time To Complete: 13 Hours
Best Advice: Do The Challenge Maps
Also Try: Painkiller, Hard Reset, Quake 3 Arena