PlayStation VR’s first AAA title: Skyrim VR
Bethesda commences its assault into the VR space with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the most ported games in recent years. It was over six years ago that the game was first released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Since then the game has been rereleased, in remastered form, on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Most recently the game was also released on Nintendo Switch, an incredible feat that put a huge fantasy open-world adventure in a portable console.
Now the game returns to the PlayStation 4 as a PlayStation VR game.
Fresh from playing Skyrim on the Switch, I wasn’t looking forward to having to endure the overly long intro sequence once again. As is the tradition with Elder Scrolls games, you start as a prisoner- this time tied up on the back of a cart in the company of a talkative warrior, a thief and a finely garbed, gagged man.
Unlike having to relive an uneventful game intro, for the VR version I was actually there, sitting on a cart, with snow-capped mountains all around me. To my left a deer darted off into the snowy bushes. Around me two of my fellow prisoners conversed with one another. But I was too busy taking in a landscape that I knew very well in 2D, but was a completely different experience in VR.
Up close, my companions looked a bit of a mess, the compounded problem of six-year-old visuals and the limitations of the PSVR. VR veterans know that some visual compromises are inevitable in order to preserve that all-important framerate with VR. The sense of presence that you get in Skyrim VR more than makes up to the visuals.
The story in the VR game is identical to the 2D version in that it tells the tale of your player’s trek across the land to unlock your latent powers of the dragonborn in order to defeat the evil threatening the land. With multiple factions and a civil war brewing against a backdrop of snow and magic, I think a comparison with Game of Thrones is pretty reasonable.
Skyrim VR supports two Move controllers, each representing one hand. You can have a sword in one hand and shield in the other, or hold a bow in one hand and arrow draw back you arrow with the other. Two-handed weapons don’t work so well. As you can fail about a dirty great axe with just the one Move controller.
I didn’t get on with the Move controllers at all. I don’t find that the PSVR’s tracking capabilities are really up to the job of tracking the Move controllers with any level of accuracy, and I hate watching the in-game VR avatar of a Move controller float past my face because its lost line of sight with the PS camera.
Also, hitting things with a virtual sword just feels weird. I have the same issue wall all VR games that require me to hit things. Only Gorn on SteamVR works for me, and that’s because the swords are all rubbery and bend when you hit your opponent rather than weirdly pass through them. That being said, magic effects are pretty good. Tossing a fireball from your actual hands makes you feel like an actual wizard!
The game has a variety of different control settings aimed as providing the player with the most comfortable method of movement. The default is a one press teleportation system and stepped rotations. This is easy on the stomach for VR newbies.
Teleporting and motion controls are OK for throwaway VR experiences, but something like Skyrim isn’t a five-minute game. You need to be as comfortable as possible for extending play and failing around trying to hit things with a Move controller and getting little or no feedback will make extended sessions a bit of a chore.
After about half an hour struggling with the Move controllers and getting frustrated with the teleportation, I abandoned the Move controllers and swapped over to the Dualshock. At the same time, I switched over to smooth horizontal movement. Thankfully over the past year I’ve developed a bit of an immunity to the dreaded VR sickness.
Bethesda helps by including a mode that applies a vignette effect around your view that apparently reduces the likelihood of getting sick with smooth motion in VR. Also, any cut-scenes that would ordinarily switch to a third-person view and/or take control of the camera away from you, fade out to black for the transition and keep the camera in first person, and under your control, at all times.
The realm of Skyrim is fantastic in 2D and still fills me with awe. In VR the land is incredible. I spent hours just exploring, taking in all the detail that I’d easily overlook in 2D.
Skyrim VR is a huge step forward for VR games. To have such a massive world available to explore at your leisure is astounding. There’s literally hundreds of hours of gameplay in Skyrim VR, making it the biggest VR title by a huge margin.
I really can’t stress enough just how amazing Skyrim is in VR. This is a true triple-A VR game and one that every PSVR owner needs in their library.