PC players finally get to play the eight-year-old Skyrim in virtual reality. Is one of the most ported games of all time worth another go?
Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls titles are some of the most revered fantasy role-playing games ever made. The world-building is second to none, the continent of Tamriel is loaded with history and lore. The first game Arena and the follow-up Daggerfall both broke the mould with their 3D graphics. It was The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, with its use of more modern graphics technology, that became the template for the jaw-dropping visuals that are now the series’ hallmark.
Like Daggerfall, the Morrowind is set in the particular titular region of Tamriel. The next game, Oblivion, shifted the action to the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil, a lush land compared to Morrowind’s alien-like vegetation and inhospitable volcanic areas.
2011 saw the initial release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Since then the game has found it’s way from the original PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms to PS4, Xbox One and even Nintendo’s Switch. And now, you can even play it in VR. It’s a credit to the developers that such a well- made and engrossing game, even seven years later, still garners such attention.
Skyrim is the tale of Dovakin, a Dragonborn, with the power to counter the re-emerging threat of the return of the dragons. If that wasn’t enough, the region is in the middle of a civil war. Skyrim is a fully-realised world packed with towns, cities and dungeons. It’s massive and still one the best game environments I’ve ever played, probably only bested by The Witcher 3.
Playing Skyrim VR when first released on the PlayStation VR last year was rather tantalising. As wonderful as it was to wander the snowy lands of the north, it was pretty clear that compromises had to be made in order to squeeze the VR game into Sony’s capable, but limiting hardware. The PSVR, with it’s solitary camera and so-so tracking made fast movements, especially turning around, sometimes jarring and immersion-breaking. As for waving the move controllers around as proxy swords and shields, forget it.
Despite all this Skyrim on PlayStation VR still allowed players be to take into Tamriel’s northern realm as if it was real. Playing Skyrim VR on high-spec PC via HTC’s Vive VR kit takes that PSVR experience and turns it up to eleven.
Whereas the PlayStation version of the Skyrim VR looks like the original release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the PC VR version seems to draw from the recent remastered special edition of the game. Immediately you can see better textures, improved lighting and just more detail and environmental effects.
For the PC version, now forgive me if I just overlooked this on PSVR, the game starts with an introductory area that allows player to get to grips with the controls- to move about and fire off a few arrows. It’s worth spending some time here, as things can get pretty stressful as you fumble with the controls when the game starts proper. As I mentioned, previously, the controls take some getting used to. You can also use this opportunity to choose your movement style- either teleport or smooth. Hopefully you’ve gained your VR legs by know and can switch on the more immersive smooth movement. If you are still prone to VR sickness then the comparatively jarring teleportation will have to do you.
VR is all about immersion. For most this includes the sense of presence, that feeling of being in the game. To do this well, tethering the real you to the VR you is more than just being able to turn your head and have your view of the game turn as well. The HTC Vive is capable of room-scale VR, meaning that if you walk to the left, your in-game avatar walks to the left. You crouch, your avatar crouches.
If you are reading this because you’ve got a Vive, you know this. Playing Skyrim VR on the PlayStation, with its one camera, I quickly game up on 25% of the VR experience, because I was tired of losing tracking and fumbling with the Move controllers. So, I sat down and played in with a controller.
With the PC version of Skyrim VR and the Vive’s impeccable tracking, my head movements matched my view and my sword or bow match that of my hand – even when running from a forty-foot dragon belching fire at me.
The art of twatting something with a virtual sword that gives absolutely no resistance still feels weird (and we will have to put up with this until we get proper haptic feedback a la Ready Player One). The only title, in my mind, to have successfully pulled off virtual pugilistic combat is the gory, but cartoony gladiatorial game, Gorn, with its comedy flexible rubber swords. Such a solution doesn’t really suit Skyrim, so watch you don’t pull your shoulder out of your joint or put your fist though your wall in the midst of heated combat. Basically, Vive controllers = sword + shield = rubbish.
And yes, PlayStation fans, this counts for the PSVR version as well, casting magic using your actual hands is awesome. Same with firing arrows. Tl;dr – magic users and archers are going to have their minds blown, whilst warrior types will not so much.
Skyrim is a huge game. Like with Bethesda’s Fallout VR, I’m not sure that I could handle standing up playing Skyrim in VR for the length of time I did with the flat versions. Fortunately, game does have options that allow you to keep playing with your butt in a chair.
You can adjust your height in game, so you don’t need to choose to either sit on a bar stool or experience Skyrim as a dwarf. You can also pick up a gamepad and play like that. When it comes to playing with the motion controller or a gamepad, I’m torn, as the tracking is so immersive, but for the review, after a couple of hours I did slouch back into my chair and play with a gamepad.
The menus system is identical to the 2D game. Navigating with the Vive controllers is a bit of a mission at first (I’d imagine Rift users with Touch controllers would fair a lot better). Whilst this feels awkward in VR, at least I knew where everything was.
As immersive as the game is, even taking into consideration the overhauled graphics from the recent special edition release, Skyrim is a seven-year-old game. On the plus side, this means that even the more modest VR set-up should be capable of offering a good experience. The downside is that some of the characters faces look a bit awful by today’s standards. I only mention it as I don’t want anyone to thik that I didn’t notice some of the more potoato-esk noggins in the game. For the most part though I think the visuals will blow you away.
Skyrim VR has set the benchmark for what a AAA VR gaming experience should be. No VR gamer should be without this game. If anything, it’s too much of a game for virtual reality, I expect a fair amount of eyestrain from fans who find it difficult to put down this incredible VR experience.