It’s been over six year since Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game now widely regarded as one of the best RPG’s of the last generation. The game is so popular that it’s made its way to current generation systems in the form of Skyrim: Special Edition, and now Skyrim VR. Only available on the Playstation VR (for the time being), gamers can finally inhabit the massive world of Skyrim and feel like they’re truly there. This too is the ultimate test, as Skyrim VR is an experience that can last for hundreds of hours. Virtual reality fans have been begging for an expansive world to explore, and it’s time to see if Bethesda has made that a reality.
The Adventurer’s Guide to Skyrim
Since Skyrim has been out for so long, I’ll be brief on an overview. I assume that most people have played Skyrim by now, but the VR version seems to have pulled in a good amount of new players. For those new to the world of Tamriel, Skyrim VR puts you in control of a custom-made character with a larger-than-life destiny. Like any fantasy story, Skyrim is ripe with mystical creatures, giant cities, and tons of lore and backstory. Don’t be fooled; the game will quickly eat up your time with its insane amount of content.
One of the best aspects of Skyrim (both in VR and the standard game) is the level of freedom allotted to the player. You can choose to follow the main quest line, or completely disregard it and forge your own path. There’s numerous “guilds” to join, which offer style specific questing. From assassins and thieves to mages and fighters, there’s plenty of groups and cliques to grab sidequests from. Quests both big and small absolutely litter the massive landscape, ensuring that you’ll have a packed quest log after just a few hours of play. Besides quest content, there are well over a hundred caves and dungeons to explore. Additionally, all of this role playing goodness can be approached as you see fit, thanks to Skyrim‘s dynamic leveling that rewards you for playing your own way.
The Virtual Difference
Content wise, Skyrim VR offers nothing new that seasoned players haven’t seen before. However, it does give an incredible sense of immersion, and control options that fundamentally change the way the game is played. For my first few hours, it was very impressive to live within the world I have come to know over these past six years. As someone who has played hundreds of hours of the game in its various forms, I found no problem sinking well over thirty hours into the experience without blinking an eye. This is a huge win right off the bat, as Skyrim VR quickly proved that it is possible to play virtual reality for hours at a time without issue. The game has a bunch of options which will help those who struggle with VR-induced motion sickness, including custom turn speeds, “blinders” to curb nausea, and much more.
The feeling of immersion that Skyrim VR gives the player is commendable, and breathes unexpected life into old content. There is an undeniable sense of scale that can provide moments of true shock and awe, and it does wonders for the overall entertainment factor. Giants, dragons, and countless other enemies have a newfound sense of intimidation. This goes doubly for the “giant frostbite spiders”, which will send any arachnophobe running for the nearest mountain. That being said, the act of traveling through Skyrim‘s mountainous terrain is quite intense. Whether accidental or intentional, few PSVR experiences measure up to a cliffside plummet.
Be the Dragonborn
The most striking change in Skyrim VR is the combat. With the Playstation Move controls, I found myself favoring playstyles that I had rarely engaged with before. For example, archery and magic feel completely different, becoming intuitive and engaging rather than passive and retreaded. Before, using archery and magic felt like playing any other first-person action game. Now, the feeling of physically knocking the arrow and aiming the bow makes tough shots that much more rewarding when they land. Likewise, magic has become infinitely cooler. Using the move controllers, you can independently aim each hand, something the standard controls don’t allow. This means you can blast someone in the face with frost magic while simultaneously covering your back with a trail of fire. I found swords, shields, and other weapons to be enjoyable as well, but far preferred wackier classes like brawling.
You can play the game with the original Dualshock controls, or with two Playstation move controllers. While the Dualshock offers a more consistent experience, the Move controllers double down on player control in combat. Controls are just as customizable as the anti-motion sickness features, allowing players to fine tune their experience. Whether you prefer smooth movement, teleportation, gradual turning or snap turning, Skyrim VR accommodates. Bethesda has also done a great job listening to early supporters, taking their feedback and applying it in upcoming patches. Although the move controls can take a while to get used to, I firmly believe they’re the best way to experience Skyrim VR.
The Uncanny Valley
Unfortunately, Skyrim VR is not without its faults. Firstly, the game appears slightly blurry on the original Playstation 4, and sees constant texture pop-in. While this isn’t something that can completely pull you out of the experience, it’s something that virtual reality users (especially newcomers) will need to expect. Unlike the cartoony visuals of games like Job Simulator or Rec Room, Skyrim VR can appear grainy and occasionally hard on the eyes. The expansive nature of the environment and its numerous beautiful vistas make it easy to forgive the slightly blurry visuals, but it’s a flaw nonetheless.
The other issues I have with Skyrim VR are more bothersome. Some of these issues may get resolved over time, but throughout my thirty hours of play, I encountered them time and time again. Bringing up the world map gives you a great aerial view of Skyrim, and also displays local maps that help you navigate through interior areas. Since it’s arguably easier to lose your way in VR, you’ll end up checking your map quite often. It’s a shame then, that this can trigger a visual glitch, which washes out the colors of your surroundings and dials the contrast up. You’ll be in a colorful cave, check your map, and back out to find yourself in a bad filtered version of the same place. Only exiting the game or leaving your current area seems to fix this issue. While roaming the wilds, shrubbery and ground details would flicker rapidly, causing a visual effect that was uncomfortably jarring. This also happened to the entire sky at one point, which pulled me out of the experience instantly.
The Bottom Line on Skyrim VR
Skyrim VR deserves recognition, not only due to the technical achievement of fitting a huge RPG world into virtual reality, but for breathing new life into a game that many have already experienced. Occasional visual glitches and standard PSVR tracking issues can mar the experience, but the huge world and grand sense of scale easily outweighs the flaws. Many of the game’s features (such as beast transformation, horse and dragon riding, and others I won’t spoil) are insanely cool in virtual reality, and have been crafted specifically for the VR experience. If you’re someone who has played Skyrim for hundreds and hundreds of hours, Skyrim VR is still worth checking out. For anyone else, Skyrim VR is an instant “must own” for your PSVR library. Whether or not Skyrim VR is the “best” way to experience Skyrim as a whole, that’s going to be up to you. For me, Skyrim VR fits the bill nicely.