Short Version: This is a version of Skyrim that I always wanted, but never thought possible. It might as well be a totally different game, because playing the whole thing in VR makes a really big difference to me.Even though the graphics don’t look the best and the controls take some time to get used to, seeing a full-fledged open world game in VR, rather than a short experience, makes this game a potential killer-app for PlayStation VR.
Long Version: Back when I was in high school, I remember waiting anxiously for the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PS3. I had saved up my allowance to be able to afford it and asked my mother to go pick up the game on a Friday while I was in school, which was holding a pep rally at the time. I came back home exhausted, but all that energy came rushing back after I saw the game in my room. I showered, prepared some food and proceeded to get lost within Skyrim for that entire weekend and beyond. That immersive feeling and sense of wonder is a fond memory that I think back on from time to time, mostly because I rarely ever get that feeling anymore. I never thought I would get that exact same feeling a second time with the same game, but it happened. Skyrim VR has pulled me back into its world through the PlayStation VR headset, even after six years of its release.
I’m sure the vast majority of you (especially if you’re looking into the VR version of this 6 year-old game, specifically) know what Skyrim is and what it’s about, but just in case, I’ll give a very brief summary on it. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an open-world RPG by Bethesda where dragons are terrorizing people, even though dragons are not suppose to exist anymore. On top of that, you discover that you are a “Dragonborn,” which gives you special powers in the form of dragon shouts. Knowing this, you can decide to either follow the story or wander around the world and do whatever you want. No matter what you choose, you’ll always end up getting distracted by something and discovering new things. Playing this game will essentially make you time travel as you explore many dungeons, caves and towns, and then realize that it’s two in the morning when last time you checked it was five in the afternoon.
This feeling of immersion is exacerbated by virtue of it being in virtual reality. Usually, I spend around 15-20 minutes, or sometimes even an hour, playing through a very short VR experience of things that could be much bigger, but Bethesda thankfully did not go that route. Just like Capcom’s Resident Evil VII, they go all the way and make the entirety of the game fully playable in VR. Due to this being a large open-world title that encourages you to play it for many hours at a time, there is definitely a concern of motion sickness not allowing for that. Fortunately for me, I’ve almost never had any motion sickness problems with virtual reality games in general, and my time with Skyrim VR was very enjoyable with little to no dizziness. However, it did have a few moments where I felt like I needed to stop.
Potion of Unclear-Vision
For example, if your gear isn’t calibrated well enough, you might get some menu screens swaying back and forth to the point of nausea. It doesn’t happen all the time, and in the middle of the action, you won’t even notice it, but I definitely had times where I got dizzy over it. Another occasion of motion sickness was simply due to wearing the headset for a very long time. Even if you have a stomach of steel like mine, you eventually tire yourself out and you simply can’t continue playing. In addition, I always have my headset on pretty tight, so playing like that for hours will bring headaches and more uncomfortable feelings. My best recommendation is to play for around 30-45 minutes, take a break and make sure you don’t have your headset on too tight. Thanks to the control scheme, you won’t have to move your head all that much, so I wouldn’t worry about the headset being too loose. This leads us to another big question mark: the controls.
One of the biggest questions for this game was how they would implement the movement in this game, especially when adding the Move controllers into the equation. I’m pretty relieved to say that the controls work pretty well and I enjoyed how different it felt to play it with Move controllers. With your right hand, you hold a button to move forward, and then adjust your direction by pointing in the direction you want to go. You can also point somewhere and teleport there, but that’s not the optimal way to play, in my opinion. For turning, you press the left X and circle buttons to turn a few degrees to the side, which will become a lot more useful than you think. No matter where you turn, the HUD will always stay in the same place, so you’ll always know where you need to turn to be facing forward.
Matters Into Your Own Hands
Speaking of the HUD, you still have the same bars and compass as before, but they will all be slightly below your vision. This is done so you can get truly immersed into the world without those menus getting in the way and constantly in front of you. I would’ve like an option to be able to see them a lot easier, rather than have to look down all the time, but you get used to it. The left and right face buttons on each controller all do different things, so it’s a bit overwhelming at first, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.
Let’s say that you don’t want to deal with that and you just want to play Skyrim like you always have. Well, they give you the option to play with a regular Dualshock 4 controller, which I found very comfortable and easy to get into. However, after playing many hours with motion controllers and then suddenly shifting to a regular controller, it didn’t feel right. Sure, it was easier, but not necessarily better. Something felt like it was missing from the experience. Playing with Move controllers was much more interactive and interesting. I missed that awesome feeling of throwing spells, swinging my sword and aiming with a bow with my own hands. When there’s something I wanted to pick up, I naturally stretched my arm out to get it.
Level Up Your Agility
This, among many other small gestures, make the difference between playing this game in VR and just playing it anywhere else. If you play it with a Dualshock 4, you aim and select everything with your head movements and a reticle at the center of your vision. Again, it is something that you’ll be able to understand immediately, and it’s honestly a pretty good way to play the game, but using motion controllers is much more natural and makes the VR experience truly shine.
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect. The first thing you will immediately notice is that the graphics don’t look as good as expected. This version of Skyrim looks like the one from the PS3 launch, rather than the most recent “Special Edition.” Everything looks fairly blocky, grimy and old, but it was something I was able to accept after a bit of time. The weird thing is that I definitely remember the game looking a lot better on PS3 than I do through the headset. I also remember something similar happening with the Japanese game Summer Lesson, in which I thought the game looked blocky, jaggy and pretty subpar through the headset. However, when I looked back to look at the footage on a regular screen, it looked beautiful; a difference between night and day. I’m pretty sure the exact same thing is happening here with Skyrim VR. Through the headset, you are very immersed, but you have to get over the dated graphics and the typical screen door effect before truly enjoying it. As soon as you get over the fact that this is not going to look like real life, you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
Welcome Back to Skyrim
Lastly, this is a Bethesda game, so you’ll naturally come across some bugs here and there, but it’s nothing that is neither game breaking or unexpected. The worst thing that happened to me was a moment where my stamina was constantly being drained, even when I wasn’t doing anything. The solution to that was just quitting to the title screen and reloading my save file, but it was still a bit of a bother and interrupted the great time I was having exploring.
In conclusion, if you liked Skyrim before, you’re going to love it in VR. On the flipside, if you have never played Skyrim before, or you’re simply looking for a good VR game that will give you lots of playtime, now is the best time to get into it. This is especially true when factoring in that this version has all the previous DLC included. The only reason this review came out as late as it did is simply due to the many late nights I have spent playing this game and not wanting to stop. It has its issues, but it could’ve been a lot worse. I am astounded at how well it all works in VR and how natural the controls translated to this new form of play. This does a lot to get me excited as to the possibilities of other games following in Skyrim’s footsteps. It makes me wonder how Fallout 4 will feel like in VR or any other game for that matter. It’s a great achievement and a wonderful proposal for virtual reality games moving forward. Don’t let this game pass you by.