The best open world games allow you to weave a path through the world and create your own adventure. The stories you create become the lore of the game. These experiences are what you tell your friends about and often eclipse even the game's own narrative. Anyone that's played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim surely has their own tales to tell.
When I think back on Skyrim, I am flooded with memories of my time in Barcelona as I was working to finish my masters. Being constrained to a tight budget, along with ample school work, often left me with few opportunities to explore outside of the city. While I was able to sneak in the occasional excursion to visit Roman ruins, castles, and even a Medieval Christmas fair, these opportunities were few are far between. My escape, when I wasn't forced to hit the books, was in Skyrim.
Traveling the northern area of Tamriel was almost lifelike. Each turn of the bend led to another quest or dungeon to explore. Traveling through small towns shimmering in snow reminded me of the festivals held in villages around Catalunya. Skyrim took me to another world while highlighting the small details I was experiencing outside the game. Six years later, well after most games have lost their luster, I find myself as a Dragonborn once again. Only this time it's more real than ever with VR.
Unlike the many "tech demos" out there, Skyrim VR isn't a snippet of the base game built to show off the tech. This is the full game from start to finish. Just like before, you start with your character on a wagon being carted towards your execution. The scene begins with the guy in front of you speaking. Your camera is set on him as he starts to tell his story. A few minutes later another person on the wagon starts to speak. Instinctively I turned my head to directly face the newcomer to the conversation. This subtle difference of using my head to look around instead of the right analog stick on the PlayStation controller brought the conversation to life. I didn't feel like an active observer watching the conversation play out from a distance. In my mind, I was right there, I was a part of it.
The ability to put you right in the middle of Skyrim is where the VR version shines. From reading books to scaling mountains, the entire experience feels fresh again. More than once I was so into the environment that I became startled by Lydia, a housecarl from Dragonsreach, standing a little too close behind me as I turned around. Unfortunately, this level of immersion comes at a steep price graphically.
Don't go in expecting the graphical fidelity of the recently released Special Editions. Instead, the VR build seems to be directly based on the version that released in 2011. With everything now being extremely close up in VR, the jagged edges and a lack of details on textures that we have come to expect from modern games aren't there. These sacrifices keep the game running smoothly even when the action cranks up. The odd part about the graphics is that once you get used to them, prepare to be wowed. From looking out over the top of a mountain into the vastness below to sitting on the balcony of a castle looking into the night sky, Skyrim VR will find ways to amaze you. Nothing beats the dragon fights though. Seeing a dragon swoop down to look you right in the eye is breathtaking.
One minor updated included with the VR version is the map system. You now have a birds-eye view of the entire region. This is an amazing way to swoop over the land to see where you have been and where you still need to go. The dungeon and town maps overlay onto the world map and let you can zoom in and out. Unfortunately, the option to zoom into the map is unavailable on the new world map. In most cases, the menu system fits well into the 3D environments as an overlay on top of the world. The only real trouble you will run into visually is when the menu gets positioned behind another object. So far, this has only happened in the shops and requires moving the character away from the object that is hindering the view. Nothing pulls you out of the game faster than having to adjust your character before you can sell your loot. The more time I spent with the game the more I realized that I started to automatically compensate for this. When I walk up to a vendor I make sure I am front and center without even thinking about it.
Another big change is the control schemes. The game features three main methods that can be tweaked to perfection, or as close as you can get with the controllers we have. The big addition here is the inclusion of Move controllers. When you start the game using Move controllers, you will be in the teleport mode. In this mode, clicking the Move button on the left-hand controller will teleport you to that location. The X and O buttons on the opposite hand allow you to rotate your character. This becomes a ballad of constant adjustments. While this method is adequate for those with weary stomachs, but you will quickly want to move to another method if you can.
A slight variation of this control scheme allows you to hold the Move button to move your character back and forth. This minor change makes controlling your character much more fluid and easier to handle in battle. When turning with the X and O buttons, like with the other method, you can fine-tune the setting to adjust how quickly you turn. Think of it in terms of moving in a modern-day game to moving in the original Resident Evil with tank controls. While these methods do help reduce motion sickness, the option to blur edges while turning seemed to be enough for me. This focuses your vision on what's directly in front of you, reducing abrupt changes just outside your main field of vision.
The Move controllers give an added sense of realism to combat and the environment around you. Picking up items and swinging a sword feel natural with this control scheme. Pulling back a bow and looking down the shaft to send the arrow flying towards its destination is empowering. Combat with the move controllers takes one of the game's weaknesses, combat, and makes it so much more fun. The only downside to this control scheme is the lack of a thumbstick to move around or to move through menus. I was never completely comfortable turning my character's body with this method when the intensity cranked up.
Playing with the DualShock 4 makes up for this shortcoming, but lacks the added immersion from the other methods. The DualShock allows the character to move much more naturally. This comes at a risk though. The only time I felt motion sickness at all with the game was in one play session early on where I was running back through a cave I had already cleared to pick up some loot. I was traveling through the cave at a breakneck speed rushing back to where I was before. With the twist and turn of each curve, I started feeling ill. By the time I made it back to town, I knew I had to put the game up for a while before I lost my own loot. Thankfully this only happened that one time very early on. I have played for over 25 hours past that point and I have not felt anything remotely like that again. This includes multiple play sessions lasting 4-5 hours at a time.
The games largest strength no matter which version you choose is its vastness. Everywhere you turn there is a new area to explore with quests to complete and loot to discover. While the main quest line can technically be completed in 2:16:10, it generally takes around 30 hours to finish. For most people, this only a start to their journey through Skyrim. A simple quest you pick up in town can ultimately take you all over the map and even shape the very fabric of the land itself. Will you choose to side with the Stormcloaks or the Imperials? This choice may ultimately dictate not only Skyrim's but all of Tamriel's sovereignty in the ongoing war. Beyond that, you can even align yourself with a guild and work your way up its ranks. Each guild offers hours of quests to complete with many surprises along the way.
While much of your time will be spent questing or exploring new areas, that's not all that Skyrim has to offer. You can purchase your own house or plots of land then decorate and expand on them through vendors or items you find in the world. If you desire companionship in your VR life you can even get married and adopt kids. While this isn't Animal Crossing or the Sims, it's just another aspect that adds to this already mighty game.
Skyrim VR is the perfect endcap to VR in 2017. Between this and Resident Evil 7 in January we have seen a glimpse of exactly what VR can become. For me, this is now the definitive way to play Skyrim. The only thing holding it back if the outdated PS Move controllers. This would have been the perfect game to roll out an updated model with analog sticks. At the very least, Sony could have brought back the PS Move Navigation Controller that hasn't been seen since the PS3 era. Even with this misstep, I can't help but keep jumping back into Skyrim. For a game that I've spent countless hours on multiple platforms with before that's incredible. I never expected to be sucked back in, but the level of immersion while exploring this epic world is almost unbelievable. For anyone that's dreamed of a virtual world while reading Ready Player One or watching Sword Art Online, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR takes us a major leap forward into that reality.
This is Skyrim, the same epic adventure you remember from 2011. What VR adds is a total level of immersion. From the fierce battles with trolls to close encounters with spiders, fights have never felt more engaging. If you have a PSVR you owe it to yourself to dive back into the land of Tamriel.
- Realistic Immersion
- Stunning Vistas and Grand Scenery
- Epic Dragon Battles
- Outdated Move Controllers
- PS3 Level Graphics
- Glitches Including the Menu Overlay