VR gaming enthusiasts have been bombarded with the same sorts of experiences since the tech hit over a year ago. Wave shooters and arcade style games dominate the VR space, with many wondering if long form, AAA games can have a place. Now we finally get a chance to find out as Bethesda pushes into VR gaming in a huge way. Their first title is Skyrim VR, and while it finally offers a full-fledged gaming experience in VR, it also shows why that’s not necessarily such a great idea.
Without all the VR bells and whistles, Skyrim VR is the same game that millions enjoyed six years ago (or last week if you own a Nintendo Switch). Players are dropped into the massive world of Tamriel, given a general idea of the situation, and then left to decide what to do for the next few hundred hours. You can follow the main quest and become the Dragonborn, slaying dragons as you travel across the vast landmass of Skyrim. Or you can get caught up in the dozens of side quests available, joining and then becoming the leader of various guilds, befriending townsfolk, or slaughtering innocents as you see fit.
The freedom found in Skyrim was a revelation six years ago, and while its luster has certainly diminished over the years, there’s a lot to love about this game even today. Taking that comfortable experience and putting it into VR was a great idea, allowing for a bit of a middle ground in the jump to long form VR gaming. Can you put hundreds of hours into Skyrim VR? Sure, but likely most players who are picking this game up have done that already in the original release.
Skyrim VR is a true revolution in gaming, but it’s one that doesn’t hit all its goals perfectly
So what will players do here? Have a ton of fun. There’s something magical about stepping into the world of Skyrim VR, this time in a very literal sense. Those mountains that felt so tall and majestic before are even more so in VR. Even little things, such as the map screen, can be mind blowing in this game, as they open up a huge world for exploration and discovery, while offering a sense of immersion that is deeper than almost any non-VR game out there.
Immersion is the key to making a fantastic VR experience and Skyrim VR nearly nails it perfectly. The sense of scale is epic, and actually standing in the middle of these vast, open fields can be breathtaking. Where it falters is where so many revolutionary games have: controls and technicals. The only times I am taken out of the magical spell that Skyrim VR can cast so well are when I have to fiddle with the controls or the menus and the whole concept falls apart.
That’s not to say Bethesda did a poor job in implementing these things, in fact they’ve been quite clever about a lot of it. However, this is like when twin-stick controls were introduced to shooters, while it makes sense and will likely work once more players have spent more time with it, for now it feels clumsy and awkward. This is almost exclusively while playing with the Move motion controllers though, as a standard Dual Shock controls like usual. You’ll want to play with the Move controllers however, because that’s where the true immersion comes from.
Firing off spells has never felt this cool, and you will catch yourself smiling or even shouting at the game as you take on some bandits with your fiery death hands. You’ll notice I’m talking mostly about magic though, and that’s because the swordplay is kind of rough, and that’s being a bit generous. Sure, it all works well enough in concept. You can place a sword, ax, shield, or whatever into either hand and then just use them like they were real. The problem is in how it feels and how enemies work.
Not enough has been done to reshape the melee experience for VR, as enemies still saunter around you and away from you, causing you to either teleport or walk to them (I strongly suggest using the regular movement instead of teleport). It’s awkward and weird, and the end result is what I’ve come to refer to as the “Ginsu Method” of combat, where I pretty much just get close to enemies and swing wildly until they’re dead. Magic and bows work so much better, so players will definitely want to switch their play style to fit.
The only other major flaw here comes from the usual suspects. Playing on PSVR (which is the exclusive platform for now), the game works surprisingly well, but there is still a big downgrade happening. The world is more dull and the graphics are choppier. It’s a marvel that this is even working, but it’s clear that the PS4 is struggling to keep everything running well. It succeeds, but at the cost of a more visually robust experience.
Skyrim VR – Your First Steps Through Tamriel with PlayStation VR
The PSVR is limiting in other ways as well, with room scale clearly being a better option for Skyrim VR. I found myself moving outside the PSVR sensor range often, especially while moving my hands a lot or trying to position myself properly within the world. However long this exclusivity window is, it is too long, as this game just begs to be played on Oculus or Vive.
The final point about Skyrim VR, and it’s not a knock against the game per se, is that this kind of shows the flaws in taking a non-VR experience and putting it into VR. Skyrim was made to be played sitting down for long stretches of time, which is just not that comfortable in VR. The PSVR headset is one of the more comfortable options out there, but even so, once you hit the 45 minute to an hour mark you’ll probably be dying to take the headset off. VR games have stuck to arcade style experiences for a reason, and while Skyrim VR shows the power in a full-fledged AAA VR title, it also shows that less might be better until the headsets get more enjoyable to wear.
Skyrim VR is a true revolution in gaming, but it’s one that doesn’t hit all its goals perfectly. AAA VR gaming is finally here, and it’s a real marvel to behold, but it’s also doubtful that many players will play this game from start to finish. As a tech demo, this is one of the best out there, but actually playing the game can only sustain the fun for so long. It’s worth getting if you’re a VR or Elder Scrolls enthusiast, and you’ll use this game to show off VR to all your friends, but few will enjoy actually playing this like a full gaming experience.