When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released in November of 2011, I was lost in a world of rugged, snow-capped mountains, giants, stormcloaks, dark brotherhoods, lots of shouting and of course, dragons. I spent an entire holiday walking from one mountain peak to another and back again – finding all of the secrets that this slice of Tamriel had to offer.
In the years since, Skyrim has found its way to just about every platform imaginable, with re-releases of the game seemingly an annual occurrence. Now, that unimaginably large world has been given a renewed vigour in its move to virtual reality. Given Bethesda’s recent proclivity for porting, I hadn’t expected very much from Skyrim VR, beyond a modest retooling of the game to work with a headset.
I was wrong. While I don’t believe that VR is the best way to experience Skyrim, it’s an incredibly immersive one. Strapping on the headset and booting into the game for the first time was a surreal experience. There I was, a cart-bound Imperial prisoner on my way to Helgen to face certain execution. As the cart rolled down the hill, I looked into the faces of my fellow prisoners, hearing them recount their tales – and I felt doomed. There’s such an immediacy to VR that helps it elevate things you may already be familiar with – and here, though I’d ridden down this very mountain, in this very same cart many times before, doing it in VR with full 360-degree vision and movement made me giddy.
There’s a moment, not much later on, where I had my first encounter with a dragon, and in VR, it was terrifying; I recoiled in fear to avoid its flames. Later, once I had a sword in one hand and a shield in another, I remembered just how terrible Skyrim’s combat was – and that hasn’t really changed in VR. In fact very little has changed as it’s the same Skyrim you remember, for better or worse, just now in VR. There’s still no real visceral impact to melee combat, and that’s made more apparent in VR when played with a pair of PlayStation Move controllers. They offer 1:1 movement, so your weapon swings in the game in relation to your physical movement, and the lack of feedback when your blade meets its target highlights Skyrim’s perpetually dismal combat.
That changes a little with other forms of action. Blocking sword swings and arrows with a shield by physically holding it out in front of you will never not be fun, and letting arrows loose by mimicking the real-life action adds a thrill I’ve never had from Skyrim’s digital toxophily before. It’s even better when it comes to spellcasting, allowing you to hold different spells in each hand, and hurl them – accurately – at enemies independent of each other.
The game has some fantastic locomotion options too. The default option, if you have a set of Move controllers, is for locomotion by teleportation. Look where you want to go, tap a button and you’re instantly whisked there. Depending on how you play, it can pull you out of Skyrim, breaking the immersion. I pretended I was a high-level mage, blinking about everywhere and it worked for me, but that’s because I get a little green when playing games with full locomotion. If you’ve got sturdier VR legs than I, that’s an option too. By holding down a button and looking in a direction, you’ll float where you need to be. The last option is to use a Dualshock 4 to play the game as you would in the regular version, only with the afforded ability to look about a VR world.
There are some great comfort options as well, allowing players to change between smooth or incremental motion, as well as options for changing the FOV to keep the vomit bucket at bay. Some other worthwhile tweaks were implemented to make the Skyrim VR experience better, like floating menus that hover in the air. The UI has been scaled back to aid immersion, though the new map which gives players a birds-eye view of Skyrim demonstrates the game’s still impressive scale.
Of course, there were a few necessary concessions to get a game of this scale running on PlayStation VR. It doesn’t quite look as crisp as the relatively recently released Special Edition of the game, resembling the original Ps3 and Xbox 360 release. It may actually be worse, with lower draw distances. And because it is Skyrim, there are still instances of wonky physics, floating characters and other little oddities. A bigger issue for me is the lack of proper positional audio. One of the best things about PlayStation VR is the 3D audio enabled by the processor in the breakout box. Different from virtual surround sound, it does a spectacular job of using the headset’s position to triangulate where sound should come from. It’s astounding for immersion but wholly absent in Skyrim VR. All sound sent to the headset is just pure stereo, though there’s still a surround signal sent through to any attached surround speakers. It’s a minor quibble and something I suspect will be fixed with a patch.
And while it’s genuinely liberating to feel like you’re inside of Skyrim, it’s not something you can do for very long. While I’m happy to while away the hours playing immense games like this, doing so with headset strapped to your face becomes needlessly tiring. PlayStation VR may be the most balanced and arguably the most comfortable of the main VR headsets, but it’s still not ideal for lengthy play sessions.
For a game that wasn’t originally designed with VR in mind, Bethesda has done an incredible job of bringing Skyrim into a new world. That they’ve done it on the least powerful of the connected VR platforms on the market today, is impressive in and of itself.
Last Updated: November 28, 2017