When Skyrim launched on Switch last year, Bethesda was upfront about the fact it had no plans to support mods on Nintendo's machine. "We would love to see it happen," Bethesda's Todd Howard told Eurogamer, "but it's not something we're actively doing."
Twelve months later and official Skyrim mod support for the console is still nowhere to be seen. Yet, in a quiet corner of the internet, an enthusiastic community of Skyrim fans has picked up Bethesda's mantle, and - with a lot of dedication, and a touch of grey-area system circumvention - has managed to establish a burgeoning mod scene on Switch, entirely of its own volition.
Most of this activity currently revolves around the Skyrim NX Modding Hub, run by PC mod author and self-confessed "Nintendo Switch addict", Doodlez (obviously not his real name). "I've always had a fascination with the idea of modding games you aren't meant to mod," Doodlez tells me, explaining that, "There's always been a sort of disconnect between console modders and PC modders since console modding has often been sort of shady". But with a passion for both platforms, "I thought I could attempt to make a bridge between them.”
That sense of 'shadiness' still lingers, of course. Without official support from Bethesda, modding Skyrim on Switch requires circumventing the security of Nintendo's closed system. That, in turn, brings its own complications and risks; While Doodlez (and seemingly Nexus Mods) believes that EU laws are currently on the side of those that hack their Switch - "as long as it's not done with the intent of infringing copyright" - Nintendo can and will ban consoles that go online while using custom firmware, so there are undoubtedly perils involved.
But for those in the fledgling Switch modding scene, the potential rewards far outweigh the risks. And interest in the project has steadily grown since its inception, inspiring Doodlez and company to move from their original home on the Games Chat Network Discord server, and establish a proper space for the burgeoning group. "I wanted to foster a healthy community with room to grow," he explains, "with a zero per cent tolerance to piracy of any kind, including uploading ported mods without the permission of the original authors". It's a move that's proven successful, "with lots of mod authors getting on board”.
And as the pool of talent has grown, modding tools have improved dramatically. At first, explains Doodlez, conversion tools for Switch were limited, "so only basic mods could be converted, and most didn't come out looking right." However, the community's dedicated toil eventually lead to the creation of the Skyrim NX Toolkit by modder Akkrand, an "all-in-one solution to converting and setting up Skyrim mods to work on the Nintendo Switch". This, alongside texture and audio conversion tools (by Abood and Clayson respectively) have made mod conversion from PC a relative breeze - and while voice files still aren't fully supported, hopes are high that kinks will be ironed out soon.
With effective tools now available to all, the scope of Switch's modding scene has ballooned. Inevitably, early media attention has focused on the fact that, yes, boobs are available to download. However, nude mods and titillation are only a small part of what's been achieved - and what's technically possible in the future. The ease in which PC mod authors can convert their projects to Switch - "You pretty much just drag and drop", says Doodlez - means that Nintendo's console is starting to see more substantial efforts from talented creators.
Browse the small but growing selection at the Skyrim NX Modding Hub and, alongside the occasional salacious offering, you'll find mods adding Morrowind-themed weapons, better banners, better eyes, better hair, new homes, more realistic blood, improved weather effects, a fully-voiced new follower with over 1,600 lines of dialogue, new quests, and even a Ja'wa.
There are limitations to what's possible, of course - Doodlez notes that while the Switch "doesn't have a lot of headroom", it's still technically capable of running the same Skyrim mods as the Xbox One - but even at this relatively early stage, the scope is eye opening.
Doodlez is, of course, eager to see the Skyrim mod community for Switch to grow even further, and is hopeful that more and more PC modders will consider converting their work to Switch. To that end, the existing community is always willing to assist the curious - "We have an active Discord with tutorials and help is always at hand", Doodlez tells me - and with the Skyrim NX Toolkit, he notes, modders don't even need a Switch of their own.
As you might imagine, none of this is endorsed by Bethesda - "Please understand we do not support unofficial mods and will not suggest or advice anyone to tamper with any product/console", was the company's only response to Doodlez's inquiries - and it's unlikely that unauthorised modding was quite what Todd Howard had in mind when he told Eurogamer that Bethesda would "love to see" Switch mods happen in the future. One year on though, the tenacity and dedication of the Switch's passionate Skyrim modding scene is delivering results where the publisher is still to tread.
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