The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 19.04.2018

Review for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR on PC

Sometimes it is hard to remember that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a game that first debuted on PC in 2011. Where technology and gaming culture has come from it feels like a lifetime. It, of course, was accompanied by a raft of critical acclaim, not unusual to well-trodden veterans of the RPG genre, Bethesda Game Studios. Indeed, The Elder Scrolls sits alongside some of the quintessential staples of gaming royalty as being grand, epic adventures the likes of which it is oh-so-easy to fall very deep into. One of the online jokes surrounding Skyrim's longevity has been the seemingly endless series of ports. From everything to the PS4 to Nintendo Switch; it wouldn't be at all surprising to see a port for the next generation of toaster. With that said, arguably the most logical port could be the VR one, which having initially been exclusive to PSVR is now released on Steam VR and available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and other mixed reality headsets. Cubed3 steps into this mythical world on Oculus.

In many ways it is hard to add anything to the vast libraries of prior critical analysis of Skyrim. Everyone and their mother has had a say on the debate as to whether the title improves upon the much loved Oblivion or, in fact, whether it is a retrograde step in terms of role-playing and creative expression. One thing is for sure, however; even sitting down with a traditional controller, this is a world that is hard to forget and even harder to step away from. A world filled to the brim with memorable allies and the most evil enemies; a story of a hero that has come to save a land from civil war and destruction by roving dragons.

As previously mentioned, considering the multitude of ports, it would be quite easy to scoff at a cash-grab on the back of VR technology and consider that Bethesda is simply jumping on a bandwagon. However, in a lot of ways, far from being a cheap stunt, Skyrim VR feels more like something that deserved to happen to this medium. Even a few years ago it would have been hard to imagine a full- fledged RPG experience available on the platform and yet here it is, with a limited amount of drawbacks.

Screenshot for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR on PC

Firstly, all the mechanics on the other versions are here - in terms of combat, dialogue, storytelling, stealth, and everything in-between. Arguably, this is the one exceptional feat of this endeavour, managing to seamlessly map out all the actions needed quite comfortably onto the touch controllers in a way that doesn't leave the user feeling completely bamboozled. Sneaking is activated with a quick swipe down on the analogue sticks, while jumping is up. The menu is linked to the 'X' button on Oculus and things can be rearranged. Pretty much everything else is linked to a logical move and single button press. It has to be emphasised just how much more immersive it makes things.

Now where this comes into a league of its own is in combat - particularly archery and magic, which take real advantage of mimicking the logical movements. Archery is incredible amounts of fun and, frankly, if half the experience was hunting monsters and animals in forests with a bow and arrow, this would justify half the cost itself. Magic is similar, as any fans of the previous versions of the game will know, utilising the hands and assigning particular magic to each hand - obviously ideal for VR.

Screenshot for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR on PC

The limitations here in combat come in the sword combat, which while still immersive and fun, suffers greatly due to the lack of any sense of feedback or penalty for wild and comical swinging. It is hard to see how this could have been prevented but there are examples in other VR titles where sword combat works better, so it's a slight shame that it feels so underdeveloped here. While swinging and holding the trigger delivers a powerful strike, it does little to alleviate the issue.

Despite the smooth delivery of combat mechanics, there are challenges here like most VR experiences featuring combat. Movement comes into it largely, with a choice between teleportation and free movement with various comfort settings. Frankly, the teleportation system is kind of a joke and removes much of the point of the experience. While, at the same time, the free movement system comes with a touch of stamina needed due to the motion effect; albeit Bethesda has tried to curb this somewhat using a sort of vision clouding while moving fast.

Even while using free movement, the abundance of enemies can sometimes be overwhelming and even with snap turning, the fights become somewhat chaotic when enemies start flanking. A lot of developers of VR seem to have missed the memo on just how immersive sound can be, especially when deploying the directional 360-degree tracking ability of VR headsets. Thankfully, Bethesda has not forgotten this, which is just as well considering the majesty of the soundtrack and the atmosphere-enhancing ambient noises that accompany it.

Screenshot for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR on PC

Listening to the thundering strings and booming brass score enveloping the ears is a real sensory experience and when this is combined with the incredibly direct perspective of virtual reality, this significantly heightens the immersion. It allows Skyrim VR to almost traverse into more than just the adventure genre. More than once while sneaking through a dark cave, with light footsteps treading across wet ground, there will suddenly be a jolt as the creepy sounds of the undead come to life ahead. It is this kind of experience that makes this truly unique.

Of course, fundamentally linked into that kind of atmosphere-building is the perspective of VR and how this grand world is visually delivered. Someday, long in the past, someone probably dreamed about technology that allowed them to step inside a fantasy world and live out their dreams in it. While the sense of being lost here in the land of Skyrim is at times awe-inspiring, it also has drawbacks that explain just how much VR is still in its infancy. The set-piece moments are excellent and climbing snow-capped mountains in a blizzard or fighting off a huge dragon that takes up the entire sightline is marvellous. However, there always feels like there is a blurred layer of glass in front of everything, which, to be honest, is probably a limitation of the devices themselves to render this huge world.

Additionally, it feels like more work could have been done to bring the player into the experience more, rather than it simply feel like the VR perspective acts like a novel first-person mode. A lack of feet and weight means it feels like being like an apparition a lot of the time. Performance is good but requires a steep system in order to crank enough of the settings up to max where the glass-door effect is less noticeable. This also, of course, does nothing to fix the animations and general lower quality textures, which are more of a feature of the fact it is an un-enhanced port of a six year old title. Not to mention there seem to be numerous little stutters and glitches that crop up now and again, which normally sitting afar from the screen can be passed by, but with the nature of the version, are so easy to notice.

Screenshot for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Skyrim VR is an excellent RPG that obviously directly plants down all of the amazing work developing it. Of course, even in VR there are an abundance of user-created mods to enhance the experience. With that said, judging it purely as a virtual reality title, the limitations of trying to deliver a grand RPG of this size crop up a little more clearly than otherwise would be the case. This feels like a technological leap too far for the current generation of headsets and, despite the world being easy to get lost in, it displays constant reminders of just how far there still is to go. However, this is still one of the most ambitious VR titles on the market and possibly one of the very few AAA experiences so, in that sense, it would be a shame to take away from Bethesda's effort in not just bringing Skyrim to VR but to making a distinct change to the combat engine and allowing people to experience a great story in a whole new way.

Developer

Bethesda Game Studios

Publisher

Bethesda

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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