Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR
No matter how many times you’ve experienced Skyrim, you’ve never felt it like this.
The re-re-re-release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a topic that has been discussed at length since the reveal of the PlayStation VR exclusive virtual reality (VR) adaptation back in this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Los Angeles, back in June of this year. Now that the videogame has arrived for all to play however, it’s easy to see why Bethesda Softworks chose The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR to launch the company’s push into the new medium.
For the uninitiated, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is the same high fantasy adventure as the original base videogame, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, including all three downloadable content (DLC) packs: Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. The videogame begins with the player creating their character – choosing from race, discipline faith and more, as well as cosmetic details – before being set on a path for greatness. Or, if they so choose, despicableness.
See, while The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR features a main questline which revolves around the player saving the world, the The Elder Scrolls is fundamentally about the freedom of choice within that virtual world. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR allows the player to completely ignore their assigned crusade and instead behave as they choose. Become a thief and risk being locked-up; harness the powers of darkness in a murderous cult; become rich and buy land en masse. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is the first step into a high fantasy world that many have dreamed of since before modern VR even became a consumer product.
And therein lies some of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR’s biggest problems. As that first step there are undeniably issues with the videogame, mainly with regards to the available control systems. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR can be played with either a DualShock 4 controller or PlayStation Move motion controllers, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses.
PlayStation Move arguably increases immersion in the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR ten-fold. The realism of interaction and combat is a huge part of VR, and this is no different here; reaching out to grab an item, swing your sword, draw an arrow to your bow, or cast your spells. It all simply makes much more sense when it’s your hands doing the work. However, movement is certainly an issue.
With the default control settings for PlayStation Move, teleportation is the only locomotion option available. This results in an occasionally frustrating lack of world coherency, especially in times of hectic combat. There’s little more annoying than perfectly positioning yourself for a sneak attack, only to be foiled when one guard begins flanking you and your attempt to retaliate is too slow or imprecise to effectively engage, resulting in the failure of whatever keen played you had laid out.
Conversely, using the DualShock 4 controller evades any concerns regarding movement using a tried-and-tested left/right analog stick division. However, the above mentioned detail in interaction is of course curtailed by the lack of any direct involvement from the player beyond a button press.
Exactly how these issues can be circumvented on modern VR hardware is not currently known. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR does follow the expected route for delivering controls – a series of options that has been devised through the last four years of modern VR development – but it’s highly likely that a better system will be devised within the next year.
In terms of the world that is offered by the videogame once players have chosen their desired input system however, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is second-to-none. The snowy, mountainous landscapes of northern Tamriel may have technically looked better, regardless of whether you play on a standard PlayStation 4 or a PlayStation 4 Pro, but they have never felt better to roam through. A huge adventure lies in every direction and the player is free to go about whatever business they choose, however they choose to do so. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the closest VR has yet come to a truly free role-playing experience.
The achievement made by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is one by way of both hardware and design to capitalise upon this. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR’s level of immersion is simply fantastic, and while Bethesda Softworks could well have gone the route of DOOM VFR and created a shorter spin-off experience, developing a brand new The Elder Scrolls instalment specifically for VR would have taken many years and far too much in the way of resources for what is still a nascent audience. As it stands some may find the price point of the videogame a bitter pill to swallow, but for those who dreamed of a truly immersive role-playing experience, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is simply the best opportunity available today.
Addendum: While the review accurately states that teleportation is the default locomotion option when using PlayStation Move, a smooth locomotion option is also available within the menu system wherein direction is dictated by the player’s left hand.