With Capcom enjoying great success with Resident Evil 7 earlier this year, virtual reality showed signs of beginning to mature into a thoroughly immersive and enjoyable medium following a tentative and rocky start. Taking on the terrifying horrors of the Baker family home in rural America in first-person was an utterly terrifying yet wonderfully captivating experience; it was clear then that the future of VR was beginning to take shape following arguably more misses than hits. Looking to continue the trend of big name IPs looking to transition itself into an immersive virtual reality experience is the breathtakingly expansive world of everyone’s favourite role-playing game, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as publisher Bethesda digs deep into its back catalogue of wonders to deliver 3 separate VR experiences in quick succession before the close of 2017.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR: PSVR [Reviewed]
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Skyrim is the gift that keeps on giving. Bethesda’s epic nordic inspired RPG has been released and remastered on every available platform since 2011. Hitting Nintendo Switch and PSVR this month, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just another cash grab but I can assure you, putting on the VR headset and loading into the game will probably be one of the best things you experience in gaming this year.
I admit I’m biased. I’m simply in love with Skyrim and everything it has to offer, from the beautifully designed, awe-inspiring landscapes I spent hours trudging across eager to explore every nook and cranny, to the slight excitement and fear I felt the first time a dragon swooped in the sky above me, raining fire and ice down on everything in its path. Every quest was an adventure, every area a joy to explore. Even after playing the game multiple times across all of its releases, I still find areas and NPC’s I never had the pleasure of stumbling into before.
This time I knew it would be a completely different experience. This time I wouldn’t have to be a passenger in this heroic tale, I’m the main star, actually inside a world I know better than my hometown, my immersion of Skyrim now fully complete. Upon loading in I found myself sitting in the back of the cart, on my way to be executed, for what though, even the people holding me captive aren’t sure. But despite my dismal circumstances I can’t help but gaze in wonder at my surroundings, brought to life by VR.
I now get to watch the opening scene in all its horror, a man being executed right in front of me, his head falling down to the ground, the lovely sight of blood spurting out, an image which made me recoil in my chair but also made me excited to think about the future of VR games and how things can only improve. Luckily before my turn arrived, as I’m gazing up at the executioner, now quite a scary sight, a roar can be heard and the first dragon appears in all its glory, people are running around getting barbequed everywhere, and I’m just looking up with a stupid smile on my face knowing I was in for an adventure I’d never forget.
Running away to find my escape, even more terrifying than the last few times I’d encountered this dragon, jumping back in fright when it smashes the tower I’m cowering in, and flames pour through the gap desperately trying to end my journey before it’s even begun. My first attempt at combat wasn’t bad either. Skyrim can be played using the traditional Dualshock 4 controller or for a more immersive feel, the PlayStation Move Motion sticks which can be swung to emulate the feeling of swinging a sword or a huge axe, whatever takes your fancy. Having enemies right in your face can be a daunting experience as blood splatters with every hit, Skyrim practically turns into the horror game you never knew it could be as giant spiders descend from the ceiling amongst a cavern of webs, I found myself swinging away with my eyes closed, those huge hairy legs up close *shudder*.
Each combat scenario now has a level of tension that couldn’t be achieved any other way, and some of Skryim‘s residents are terrifying up close. From draugrs and skeletons in dark dungeons to giants accompanied by mammoths that have no trouble showing you the front end of their clubs, pummeling you to death in just a few hits. Dragons are where the game truly shines though, hearing that roar and looking up at the sky to see a huge dragon circling ready to strike. I jumped on many occasions as I was attacked from behind by all sorts of creatures, or loaded up a save with a companion right in front of me and jumped back in horror as their eyes stared at me upon starting up. It certainly made the journey from point A to B a lot more interesting.
What I loved the most about the VR aspect, was the ease of use. The ability to just take the headset on and off and continue with my adventure whereas many games have a drawn-out setup process where you have to stand in an outline and mess around with settings until you get it just right. With Skyrim, just put the headset on and hold down the options button to re-centre the screen, it was so easy and didn’t take away any of my enjoyment of the game. Although I’m not going to ignore the dragon in the room, a problem many will face when playing these types of games is motion sickness and while I suffered from this, Bethesda has added in a range of options to hopefully alleviate full locomotion or feelings of nausea in a game where playing for long periods of time is the only way to truly enjoy the experience.
Adjusting options such as FOV encloses the screen when moving and turning with a black circle, only showing what’s right in front of you. The change of speed at which you turn can also be altered to suit player preference while the UI has been scaled back to keep the player immersed and the map appears almost at your feet to give you some idea of the immense scale of Skyrim. Traversing can be performed causally by walking from place to place or by a teleportation mechanic that has you warp to a nearby area with the simple tap of a button. Though it might appear to be a fun way to get about the landscape, using teleportation to traverse the wondrous lands of Skyrim largely serves to break the immersion. No matter what your preference though, it’s definitely worth the patience to get the settings right so that you minimalise sickness whenever possible.
To compensate for a huge transition into a VR experience, Skyrim loses much of its graphical quality. Because of this, and the need for a better framerate on PS4, the spectacularly spacious landscape and its vast populace of NPC’s and creatures look more eerily similar to that of the games original release on Xbox 360 and PS3 6 years ago than the recently released Special Edition. Lighting, textures and shadows suffer greatly to accommodate the immersive experience, all of which is put into greater perspective by a short draw distance that has you face to face with those low textures frequently. That’s not to say that the wide and wonderful world of Skyrim isn’t captivating though, it is. Despite a significant loss in visual quality, there has always been an abundance of beauty to be enjoyed throughout Skyrim and no greater appeal than when standing atop the precipice of a snow-capped mountain as snowflakes drop around you or when soaking in some of Skyrim‘s better scenery such as waterfalls, dungeons or grassy fields.
In spite of its downgraded graphics, Skyrim is a great example of a virtual reality experience done right. Donning the headset for lengthy periods of time will undoubtedly not be to everyone’s taste, but those looking for an immersive experience in one of the best-developed RPG’s in video game history won’t go wrong here. For a game that wasn’t designed with VR in mind, Skyrim transitions well to VR with an ease of movement and plenty of settings options to alleviate the dreaded motion sickness, there’s much to enjoy. Having plunged literally hundreds of hours into the world, to return to it in this fashion 6 years on is definitely eye-catching, jaw-dropping and an experience I won’t soon forget.