From the moment Bethesda announced the seemingly immortal Skyrim would be getting a VR version, there have been a lot of questions. Building a game for VR and building a game for 2D screens require a lot of very different tools and design concepts, but the folks at Bethesda are no strangers to VR concepts. This is the first of several huge VR titles planned over the next couple of months, and with the addition of multiple DLC from the original game included in this version the amount of time players could spend in this game is orders of magnitude greater than your average VR game.
So is it better to have a ton of content to play with or flawless immersion in VR? This is an important question to ask yourself when considering Skyrim VR for your library, because in this situation you are not going to get both.
Skyrim as you know and love it, for better or worse
Lets get this out of the way quickly - if you've played Skyrim before there are no surprises here. The world is not changed in any way, aside of course from your perspective in this world. Being able to look around and explore Skyrim with your own head movements is incredible. My heart skipped a beat the first time a dragon burst through a castle wall and belched fire everywhere. I actually yelled in surprise the first time a giant slammed its club down and sent me flying. That fully immersed feel is amazing, especially in a world as vast as Skyrim. It's worth it just to stare up at that stunning night sky. I found myself on more than one occasion gazing up at the two moons over the Throat of the World and being completely taken aback by how great it looked.
The whole experience is both familiar for Skyrim fans and immersive for VR fans.
But for every stunning vista in Skyrim VR, you also get thatched roofing that looks like an MSPaint drawing or tall grass that looks like a prop from an elementary school play. Some of this is because this game isn't running any of the HD texture packs you can get on the PC version, but some of this is because Skyrim is not a new game by any stretch and simply wasn't built for VR. These visual artifacts plain and simple don't exist in modern VR games because they break that immersive experience, and Skyrim was not built with VR in mind initially.
Fortunately, one thing Bethesda did very well was modify the Skyrim menu system so it fit the VR world as smoothly as possible. The menu floats in front of you for quick access, and all of the Skyrim menu functions are still there, but the game is careful to not completely pull you out of the world or make you stare off in a different direction in the process. Activity commands show up on your wrist as you point, and generally speaking the whole experience is both familiar for Skyrim fans and immersive for VR fans. This isn't an easy balance to strike, and there's nothing about this particular part of the Skyrim VR experience I would change.
Choose your controller carefully
Skyrim VR gives you a choice between traditional gamepad play and motion controller play with the PlayStation Move controllers, and as you might expect there are pros and cons for both. But the choice is great, and you can switch back and forth at any point in the gameplay with no real effort.
Using the gamepad in Skyrim VR will give you an experience very close to what you would get playing normal Skyrim. Use the joystick to move around, buttons to interact with the world, and triggers for your weapons and spells. The only real difference you'll notice here is in body rotation. Instead of smooth rotation like you'd get out of VR, your rotation is limited to small jumpy turns. This mechanic is commonly used to help defeat nausea in VR, which is super important when you're throwing your body down the side of a mountain to escape a dragon. It can also be a little disorienting though, so it's important to be very comfortable with this body rotation mechanic before you throw yourself into combat or you can become easily frustrated.
Using the PlayStation Move controllers in Skyrim VR is basically cheat codes.
Using the PlayStation Move controllers in Skyrim VR is basically cheat codes. The teleport mechanic lets you move down mountains with zero chance of taking fall damage, and you can easily defeat the stamina meter by rapidly pressing the teleport button while pointing the controller at your feet. Dodging enemies is effortless, and if you're careful the sneak mechanic will get you out of just about anything now. You can shield bash by waving your arm, and weapon-based stamina drain seems to basically not exist in this gameplay mode. Combining all of these things radically changes a lot of gameplay tactics to your advantage. It's also way easy to accidentally hit someone you didn't meant to hit by pointing with your controller, and on more than one occasion the game would equip my weapon in the middle of a village without my having pressed that particular button.
But at the same time, playing with these controller is super clumsy. Teleporting combined with that jumpy rotation mechanic basically means you're stuttering your way through this world and clumsily wiggling your weapon hand when you want to attack. Spells frequently need you to point the controller directly at your enemy but never actually tell you this anywhere, which can occasionally leave you vulnerable to attack. None of this renders th game unplayable, but there's something about pointing your controller over your shoulder and mashing the move button repeatedly to back up from an enemy that just feels awkward.
Both versions of gameplay are a lot of fun, but for the most part the real action is with the PlayStation Move controllers. You have to deal with occasional drift, and it is real confusing to see your weapon slowly float away from you, but it's otherwise a great way to play. And totally an official way to cheat in this game.
Should you buy it? That depends.
If you're a huge Skyrim fan and you have always wondered what it would be like to look around in that world and see everything as though you were there, this is great. And if you are looking for a VR game you can really sink your teeth into and enjoy for a long time, Skyrim VR is going to soak up a lot of your time.
But this isn't a VR game, and there are tons of constant little reminders of that fact all around you. It's very distracting, and feels terribly unpolished compared to so many other VR games. On a standard PlayStation 4, it's clear the console struggles to make the game look playable in places. It's better on a PS4 Pro, but those distracting artifacts aren't ever going away.
More than anything, Skyrim VR sets some baseline expectations for the other titles coming from Bethesda soon. These games weren't originally made for VR, and it's important to remember that as you compare these experiences to what you've already been playing in PlayStation VR.
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