It’s been 6 years since Bethesda’s fantasy epic The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim wowed us with its intricate world, immense storyline and time stealing content. In that time we’ve played it, earned the platinum whilst still not getting anywhere near 100% completion, sold it, bought it again for the DLC, then bought the remastered version on the next generation of consoles. You’d be forgiven for thinking we were done with it, but no, we’ve been sucked back into the winter wonderland that makes up the north of Tamriel. Why? It’s Skyrim VR… we couldn’t not visit again.
For anyone who hasn’t played the game in one form or another, Skyrim VR is an action RPG that casts you in the role of the Dragonborn (or “Dovahkiin”) who discovers they have the ability to command the language of dragons, just as the ancient beasts are making a return to the province of Skyrim. Long thought to have died out, dragons are laying waste to the people of the region at the same time as a civil war is breaking out between the natives (Nords) and the ruling party (the Empire). Your job is to investigate the world and choose whether you want to help and become a mighty adventurer and saviour of the realm, or just pick up an axe and chop wood for your house. It’s an open ended game where the quests are there if you want them, though you’re not obligated to actually do anything at all. Bethesda give you a set of tools and a large open world to explore to your hearts content, it’s really up to you how things play out. Praised for the scale and scope on its original release, it’s a monster of a game that eats up the hours and really draws you in with character and charm. Consider that… because it’s now even more immersive.
Skyrim VR offers up the entire game again (including all DLC) only it’s in full virtual reality. This isn’t a demo or a sample to show off the tech, this is the full 200+ hour game with everything you know and love about it. From your first brush with death to your last fight with a dragon, you are in the world experiencing it all from a new perspective. Flat screenshots can never do VR justice, and it’s a cliche to say that you have to try it to believe it, but it’s justified here. You are in that snowy, barren land, trekking between settlements and dealing with the dangers every step of the way. It might be because this is the first open world title to appear on Sony’s PSVR that it really does impress on you the scale and grandeur of what the development team delivered originally. The high, intricately carved ceilings of Dragonreach tower above you as you walk through the main hall; the waterfalls surge off the cliffs and plummet hundreds of meters below your feet; and any time you encounter a giant you pause and consider just how puny you feel in comparison… then run away. It is quite frankly astounding, especially if you’re a fan of it on the last generation of hardware because graphically it’s fairly similar.
Those looking for all the bells and whistles that came with the special edition that released a year ago will probably want to stick with that version, they’re not in here because we’re all aware of the hardware limitations and resolution of Sony’s device. It still looks pretty, just things get a little blocky the further they are away, and there’s some object pop in at distance – more than there was originally. None of this detracts from the gameplay though as it’s exceptionally smooth and responsive, and it comes with two control methods depending on you preference. First up is dual motion controllers with one to manage each of your onscreen hands. Wielding sword and shield is so intuitive you’ll think you could face off against the best Game of Thrones has to offer, and hurling sparks or flames from your palms is a blast. Archery is more of a skill to acquire as you get used to using both controllers to nock and release arrows, yet becomes the most satisfying when you start to master it over long distances. The immersion the Move controls give is almost a reason on its own to get the game, though they’ve got a drawback in the actual in-game ambulation. Using them means the only movement is though teleportation and staggered rotation, and it’s not the most convenient when in the middle of combat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s works well and you find you can get to out of reach areas quite easily, it’s just a bit clumsy because it lacks the fine control of the DualShock.
Thankfully then you can select a standard controller and head out on your travels. It’s bog standard FPS controls with a small but important twist. Motion sickness is a massive issue in FPS games due to the disconnect between eyes, brain and inner ear, so Bethesda have got around this by limiting the field of view each time you step or turn. By blacking out the peripheral vision it reduces that disorientation and pretty much eliminates nausea, something sorely needed in Skyrim VR which begs you to spend a lot of time in it. There’s also the option to switch between smooth turning and the “jump” approach that other titles take, as well as the configuring your FOV restriction to find the most comfortable combination. It’s a great solution that doesn’t impact on the gameplay or your experience significantly and should mean this becomes more accessible to those that really struggle with VR movement. Just because you’re using a pad doesn’t mean things get static either, head movement is needed for aiming and picking out interactive objects and even steers when you’re walking around.
Nailing the comfort factor and the controls lets you simply get on with the game and enjoy all those little details that you might have missed otherwise. I put an awful lot of time into the original release and never noticed the sky above, the cloud formations or the detail on the different moons – I simply didn’t look up on a 2D display. In VR you’re forever looking everywhere with a childish delight and stopping to just revel in the world and listen to the sounds manifest all around in glorious 3D audio. I found myself expecting to taste snowflakes as they were driven into my face during a blizzard; ended up holding my breath jumping in a lake; and just stood in awe as a dragon landed with a thud and engulfed me in flames. It’s a fantastic example of how easily your mind can be fooled, and that brings a certain amount of surprise and joy with it. It also brings some intense moments as well when you’re fighting off multiple Draugr and can’t see how your health is doing because you’re focussing on blocking a greatsword instead of peering into the bottom right hand corner of your HUD.
If there’s one thing that hasn’t transitioned that well in Skyrim VR it’s probably the menus and compass. Firstly, the compass is too low and you have to look down quite a way to see it clearly. Not an issue if you’re stood up with a couple of Move controllers flying around in your hands, problematic if you’re reclined with a DualShock. Then there’s the standard interface that can become obscured by items in the environment if you’re too close which might end up with you not seeing the cost of items from merchants, or how much cash you’ve got. It’s not a deal breaker, but quitting out to move position then strike up the trade again so you can read can get a tad grating. On the flipside, the skill tree and world map are impressive for positioning you front and centre and making you feel small. I particularly like flying around the map and being able to peer through the clouds to spot the structures on the ground in unexplored regions – it gives a sense of purpose that wasn’t there in the semi-fixed camera angles of the original map and promotes that exploration factor further. All these little touches just keep pulling you deeper in and make you want to try out everything just to see what happens. Try taking a horse ride for a completely different take on how those feel.
There’s little doubt here that Skyrim VR is superb. Who cares if it’s a few years old and not up to the graphical standards of today. It’s an excellent game that just suits being a VR title, providing hours and hours of entertainment whether you’re a veteran or newcomer. It’s rekindled my excitement for the PSVR too. I’ve spent short amounts of time with lots of games over the last year and wondered if the device was just going to end up gathering dust. I’ve been convinced otherwise, and that’s even if I never pick up another game for it. If you have a PSVR, you must get a copy of this.
A PS4 copy of Skyrim VR was provided by Bethesda’s PR team and the game is available exclusively on Sony’s PSVR for around £44.99.