Developer: Ghost Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Now I’ll be one of the first to admit that when I saw The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR’s reveal at E3 earlier this year that I was a little dubious of how good it’d actually be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge supporter of virtual reality and the Playstation VR headset, but given the sheer size of the world of Skyrim and the grand adventure it hosts, I just wasn’t sure if it’d be technically possible.
Boy, was I wrong. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR has proven to be one of the Playstation VR’s most impressive releases, with it offering the full experience (plus all of the DLC) in a way that is simply mind-blowing. The game has seen multiple releases over the years, and sure, this might not be the prettiest version of the game you’re going to play, but it is definitely the most immersive. I’ve spent a ton of hours with the game already and now I’m not sure if I could go back to playing it any other way.
I don’t really think it’s necessary to talk about what exactly The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is; I mean, everyone has heard of it by this point and I’m sure the majority of gamers have even played it. I personally have put over one-hundred hours into the game in the past, got the platinum trophy in it, and even completed all of the DLC quests. In a nutshell, it’s an epic adventure that sees you taking on countless monsters, get involved in a political battle between factions, and take on huge dragons.
Of course, whilst I’ve been on this adventure before, I haven’t done so in virtual reality.
It’s clear from the start of your adventure that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is going to be something special. Remember that wagon ride you take down to your ‘execution’ at the start of the game? Just sitting in that felt completely different, with the world whistling past you as you make the dreaded journey down the hill and into the Imperial camp. Even seeing the executioner raise his axe above your head felt a lot more daunting, but not quite as much as the dragon that then swoops in and unleashes a ferocious attack. Again, this is a scene that was impressive to witness in the game anyway, but when seen in virtual reality is utterly outstanding – despite knowing it was going to happen, I jumped out of my skin when the dragon burst through the tower walls as I was trying to escape from it.
This showdown with a dragon is witnessed in the opening alone, and since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is full to the brim with epic encounters against a myriad of different beasts, it’s clear that you’re simply going to be in awe from the start until the very end. Even simple things like hearing strange noises in a cave, watching butterflies glide around you, or walking through cobwebs feels a lot more immersive and really demonstrates the extra level of realism that virtual reality actually brings to the game.
One of the hiccups that has come with first-person Playstation VR games is how to get them to control properly, especially when using dual Move controllers. Now whilst The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR offers the entire experience players have known and loved over the years, the fact you can play with Move controllers gives you a whole new way to enjoy it.
You’re able to equip a sword and shield with each hand and actually have to reach out and strike your opponents in front of you, or alternatively raise your shield to protect yourself from incoming attacks. Consider yourself more of an archer? That’s fine; you can also use a bow and arrow, where you have to manually pull back on the string of your bow as you carefully line up your shot. Or do you prefer to use magic? The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR lets you unleash different magic attacks from each hand, with the player having full manual control of where exactly they want to aim each blast.
It’s so much fun and actually gives The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR an almost arcade-like way to play, plus it helps make you feel like you’re really there in the middle of the action – it certainly compliments the immersiveness of the Playstation VR headset. It might sound like something where the novelty of attacking would wear off over time, but I’ve sunk a good few hours into the game so far and still find hacking away at enemies to feel incredibly satisfying…
Even moving when using the Move controllers felt simple enough, with the player able to aim and teleport ahead of themselves when they want to move. In honesty though, I’ve never actually been a huge fan of the teleportation mode of locomotion in virtual reality games, so I instead played with smooth traversal. When doing this, you press the main button on the Move controller to move forward, and the smaller buttons on the Move controller to turn left and right. Whilst I’ll admit it can be a little awkward to get on top of initially, after a couple of hours of play you’ll find it works naturally. The only action I ever found particularly awkward to perform was moving backwards, which required you to aim the Move controller up when pressing the main button; it might sound simple enough, but in the heat of battle felt a little uncomfortable.
If you don’t own Move controllers or just don’t get on with them, you’re in luck – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR can also be played with a Dual-Shock controller. I wouldn’t really recommend it over the Move controllers (honestly, when you get used to them you won’t be able to imagine playing the game any other way), but having the option there will definitely make some players happy.
With virtual reality comes a few issues though, with certain players not being able to move around freely or play for too long without feeling sick – this is an absolute monster of an RPG that’ll easily last well over a hundred hours, so if you’ve got a low tolerance for virtual reality, you might find yourself feeling a lot of discomfort. Fortunately, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR has plenty of comfort options in place to make it as easy for players as possible. There’s the aforementioned teleportation mode of travel, a variety of different rotation angles when turning, the option to make each turn an instant turn or a gradual one – there’re certainly plenty of different settings you can toy around with to get the experience that best suits you.
If you want to get the absolute best one though, you’ll want to turn all comfort settings off; I know it won’t be possible for everyone, but in honesty it’s simply the best way to play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR and take in the vastness of its world.
Visually, you can see that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR has had a bit of a downgrade, especially when compared to the more recently released ‘Special Edition’. The most obvious comparison would be to compare it to the last-gen release of the game, which itself looked pretty but featured a few sketchy textures here and there. You’ll notice plenty of pop-in in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR too, yet the actual draw distance wasn’t all that bad; you can see plenty of what’s ahead of you, but it won’t necessarily have its textures loaded in until you reach it. I never thought anything in the game was ever ugly though, even when you’re up close to an enemy that feels like it’s literally jumping into your face. It’s by no means the prettiest thing you’re ever going to play in virtual reality, but it doesn’t stop it being impressive nonetheless.
Whilst I’ve been blown away by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR and could easily sing its praises all day long, there were a few issues that I noticed. The aforementioned tricky nature of walking backwards is an obvious one, but also the fact that attacking could feel a little awkward when too close to an enemy. Now this hasn’t been too common of an issue for me, but I’ve found that getting too close to an enemy in combat would often make my weapon disappear until I took a step back, meaning I wasn’t able to hit them. I don’t know if this is intentional, but it did feel a little awkward and unnatural when running into battle to take down a foe.
Then there’re the little bugs that have plagued The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim since the start. Floating remains of enemies? Present. Characters seemingly gliding just above the ground? Yup, they’re here. Stupid NPCs that do ridiculous stuff and end up in absurd places? Wouldn’t be Skyrim without them. At least none of these issues will ever really hinder your experience when playing the game, and maybe (just maybe) seeing them again six years on might feel endearing for some players… or maybe not.
I said at the start of this review that I couldn’t go back to playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim any other way after experiencing it in virtual reality, and it’s the truth. Whether you’re scaling one of the many snowy mountains of the world, battling an enormous dragon and unleashing your shouts upon it, wandering across the fields of the world and trying to avoid giants, breaking into someone’s home at night to steal their vegetables (shut up, we’ve all done it), taking part in an assassination plot, or simply raising a family in your own home – it just feels so much better when done in VR.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is simply a fantastic game and could seriously be one of the first definitive system sellers for Playstation VR. It has its flaws, and sure, there’s no doubting that you’ll appreciate it more if you’re experienced with virtual reality and locomotion in-game. Those who play it though will find that it brings a new life to an adventure that players have known and loved over the years, and, with all the DLC included too, will keep you happily exploring Skyrim for just another couple of hundred hours.