It’s one of the most celebrated games of all time yet, six years later, there are plenty who have had their fill of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Following on from a barrage of amazing (and occasionally smutty) PC mods, we had 2016’s Special Edition upgrade that was in turn shrunk back down to make a triumphant debut on the Nintendo Switch earlier this month. Cramming such a dense yet sprawling open-world RPG into one of those tiny cartridges is a marvel, though one arguably overshadowed by Skyrim VR.
Since Sony launched its PlayStation VR headset just over a year ago, I’ve always maintained that smaller-sized games work best. Although Farpoint, Arizona Sunshine, and Resident Evil VII rank among some of the best experiences I’ve had in VR, it’s usually the more bite-sized titles that have really drawn me in. Games like Superhot VR, Dino Frontier, and Job Simulator.
With that in mind, I was pretty hesitant coming into Skyrim. Strapping my headset on and watching the intro play out for the umpteenth time, I was worrying about its finicky menus and systems. I wasn’t looking forward to trying to loot chests or select specific items, wrestling with the Move controllers, let alone potentially staving off the gradual motion sickness.
None of those things came to pass, however. Bethesda doesn’t do slapdash ports and Skyrim VR is testament to that, capturing that same degree of depth and quality fans have come to expect. Nothing has been cut or dramatically scaled back – this is The Elder Scrolls in all its glory, completely reworked for Sony’s VR tech.
To that effect, those who are already familiar with Skyrim won’t take long to adjust. From alchemy and enchanting to Fus Ro Dah-ing a goat off a mountain, you can do anything here that you would in the vanilla version of the game.
The biggest change, of course, is an entire new level of immersion. Skyrim VR isn’t quite as pretty as its Special Edition counterpart, but it packs in an astounding amount of detail. What’s more impressive is Skyrim’s enormity – a breathtaking sense of scale that will have you rooted to spot, soaking in its many vistas.
Optimising the game for motion controls was never going to be easy. Sony PlayStation Move “wands” have been around for the best part of a decade now, but are still more than up to the task. The tracking is surprisingly fluid, whether swinging a warhammer, shooting a bow, or slinging a menagerie of spells. As someone who rarely dabbled in magic when playing the original, retracing my steps in Skyrim VR really brought out my inner spellcaster. Being able to aim both hands freely or channel them together, Super Saiyan style, feels truly empowering.
Actions such as crouching, picking up objects, and sheathing weapons are assigned to the controllers’ face buttons, as are the menus. It’s fiddly at first, but doesn’t take long to remember which button does what.
Movement can also take some getting used. You do have the option of free movement, but Skyrim VR uses the same slingshot technique we’ve seen in most first person VR games by default, allowing players to zip from point to point instead of moving freely. To someone who has yet to experience virtual reality it may seem daft, but it dramatically reduces the chances of getting motion sickness. That’s another thing that surprised me – as someone who’s been prone to headaches and bouts of nausea in the past, Skyrim VR never triggered a reaction despite playing for more than a hour at a time.
The only issue I had with motion controls was not being able to recalibrate in game. Most VR titles have a menu option to do so – either that or simple, two-second press of the start button will usually set you right. Instead, I had to manually switch off both controllers and reconnect them. Thankfully, this problem only occurred at the very beginning of each session as neither of the Move controllers ever lost sync during play.
Alternatively, you can opt for a DualShock 4 but – as with most VR games – it doesn’t offer any way near the same degree of immersion. The trade-off, of course, is that familiarity you get with wielding a gamepad and a control scheme you know like the back of your hand.
It’s not something I had really considered, but for some gamers, Skyrim VR may be their first foray into the game, the series, or perhaps the entire genre. I envy them. Although we often think of Skyrim as a deeply complex RPG, its crowning achievement has always been that unbeatable sense of discovery and that’s something that VR manages to improve.
Deep into yet another playthrough, I’m eager to explore Skyrim now than I have ever been before. Bethesda has proven yet again that there’s still more life in its fantasy flagship. More importantly, it’s proven that traditional games, no matter how big, can work in VR.