Roughly six years after its original release, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim gets a VR release, exclusive (for now) to the Playstation VR platform. Is it the AAA experience we’ve been waiting for?
We’ve reviewed dozens of Playstation VR games over the past year, and for many of them we had to point out that they felt more like VR experiences than full blown games, no matter how cool or fun they were. Looking at the Playstation VR lineup, it’s games like Robinson, Resident Evil 7 and Farpoint that have used VR in ways that bridge the traditional experience and VR experience in effective ways – and our hope was aimed at Bethesda after their announcements regarding Doom VFR and Skyrim VR. Skyrim’s up first, and it’s incredibly impressive although not without its drawbacks.
Of course, Skyrim is still the last “proper” Elder Scrolls title for those not interested in MMO gameplay, and it’s a modern classic. After its release, it received several expansions and bundles all of them in a “Game Of The Year” edition – and all of that content has made it into the VR version of Skyrim. With literally dozens of hours’ worth of gameplay – and more than a hundred hours if you’re keen on exploring optional content as well – this is truly a game-changing moment for VR gaming. Robinson was excellent in how it convincingly transported you to an alien world filled with dinosaurs, but it was over in a matter of hours and fairly on-rails during that time. Skyrim gives you the freedom to choose your own destiny, with the freedom that made the original version so beloved.
This makes Skyrim a great pick for a VR adaptation, because the massive game world has already been designed and it’s all based on last-generation technology – making the leap to VR more feasible. If it weren’t for the special edition that was released not too long ago, the VR version would have looked almost faithful to the X360/PS3 original – but of course the improved visual quality of the more recent re-release can’t quite be matched in VR. If you never played anything Skyrim past the X360/PS3 era then you’ll be pleasantly surprised, if you grabbed the special edition it’ll seem like a definite step back.
Skyrim VR can be played using traditional (gamepad) controls, which is the most comfortable way of playing but not nearly as immersive as the Move controls are. Those aren’t as consistently good though, as melee combat feels rather clunky compared to firing arrows and spells during ranged combat. Ranged isn’t perfect either though, because when you get really immersed you might end up looking at something that flies overhead – causing you to lose sync with the camera unit that can no longer see you. These issues are rare though, and after about an hour I sank into a comfortable rhythm and play style – starting my combat ranged whenever possible and turning using the controls rather than through head movement. Sure, it’s at the cost of a feeling of immersion, but those are the limitations of present-day VR – especially on Playstation which doesn’t have roomscale abilities. Of course the move controllers weren’t designed with first person VR in mind as well, which can result in less-than-intuitive menu navigation – even though Bethesda did a good job optimizing everything as best as possible.
I’ve loved every minute of Skyrim VR so far, but I have an extremely high tolerance to wearing a VR helmet for hours on end. Others might become slightly overwhelmed with Skyrim and the amount of time it takes to progress, especially in terms of gaming comfort while wearing a headset. This isn’t the kind of experience where you pop on the headset and have fun for a bit – you need to be ready to invest serious amounts of time in the world of Tamriel. I certainly am, and that makes it more than worth it to overlook the limitations that a Playstation VR version of Skyrim brings with it.