Monday, December 24

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR Review

I played on: PS4 VR
I paid: £19.99 (eBay)
Available on: PS4 VR, HTC Vive
Notes: I’ve never finished Skyrim standard or special edition so I can’t say if this is better or worse than those versions.

I want to be as honest as possible with this review so I will admit that before I went into this I was expecting to dislike it. See my history with this series and Bethesda games, in general, had always been one of disappointment. My first Bethesda game was Fallout 3 and I loved it when I first played it but then I went back and played the far more impressive Fallout 1 & 2. After this, I looked down on Bethesda for misunderstanding what Fallout was supposed to be. While not bad games I still feel that Fallout 3 and 4 are nothing on Interplay’s classics. My history with the Elder Scrolls was a lot more brief. I’d played both Oblivion and Skyrim on PS3 and only ever got about 10 hours into each. The constant overuse of the compass on Bethesda’s part and trying to play them like a Fallout game on my part lead to me never enjoying them. I think at last I finally understand what makes this series so beloved. What I’m trying to say is that I was wrong about both Bethesda and their Elder Scrolls series. Skyrim VR is the game that finally allowed me to fall in love with them. This review aims to look at the reasons why.

So when I say I was playing Skyrim like a Fallout game, what I mean is that I was looking for dynamic worlds that evolve over the series. That’s not what the Elder Scrolls is good at. Fallout at it’s best is about looking forward to the future and rebuilding a dead world. There is no history. All of that burned in the flames of nuclear war. On the other hand, the Elder Scrolls is all about its history. The legends of the Aedra creating the planet Nirn and all of the mortal races. Only for them to be toyed with by the Daedric princes are what make this world what it is. That’s how you can honestly lose hours of your time just reading the in-game books. The history of this world is amazing and you’re in the middle of two epic tales during Skyrim. You have both the return of the immortal Dragons and the Stormcloak uprising. As the Dragonborn of legend, you’re destined to have a massive part in both of these historic events. Of course, there is more than just these to do with enough content to last you well over 100 hours. Skyrim is filled to the brim with amazing quests, characters and a world that feels as deep as the Lord of the Rings.

While the lore and story are generally great I did find it off-putting how you very quickly become the leader of almost every faction and guild in all of Skyrim. By the time I’d finished the return of the dragons quest I was already; the legendary Dragonborn, Jarl of Whiterun and Falkreath, a member of the Blades, leader of the thieves guild, Archmage of the college of Winterheld and lastly a Nightingale. This all feels a bit silly and unbelievable seeing as I was only around halfway through the story at this point. I still had to even get involved in the civil war. The world starts to feel as if it’s revolving entirely around you. Now I’m not stupid. I know this is a game and in reality, it does revolve around the player but not even trying to hide that breaks the immersion. You can enjoy a world without having to be the most perfect and impressive person to ever exist in it. Just let me be a member of something without having to be the leader Bethesda. My poor character doesn’t have time to run every little part of Skyrim on her own.

The gameplay is very open and free allowing for a number of different play styles. You can go traditional and use a sword and shield or go full mage summoning Daedric abominations to aid you in battle. If you like support roles more then it’s possible to rely on companions and summoned creatures to do all the damage while you focus on healing and buffing them. The variety in play styles is very impressive to say the least. I found myself focusing on a magical character that used conjuration to pull weapons from thin air and summon aid. I made money by enchanting weapons and armour I salvaged from the battlefield as well as mixing my own potions. Although I often struggled in a direct one-on-one fight most the time I could take out all the threats from the shadows. The thrill of stalking my prey from a distance and then taking them all out before they could get close to me was astonishing. On top of all of this you have the shouts that only very few people can use in the world. These are magical words mostly spoken by the dragons and their followers. These tend to be very powerful but take a while to charge up after being used. Of course this is an RPG so levelling up and growing more powerful as you play is a large part of the game. I started off having to rely on cheap weapons and barely being able to enchant a dagger. Soon I found myself summoning creatures and bound swords from Oblivion. This then moved on to being able to more than triple the value of most items with a simple enchantment. My bound bow could take out most targets with 1 hit as long as I was hidden. This is a rewarding but well balanced upgrade system. While maybe not as impressive as New Vegas it’s still a lot of fun.

Similar to other VR games such as Doom VFR you have two ways to control Skyrim VR. You can use the motion controllers or a traditional gaming controller. While the novelty of having to swing a sword or use a bow like you would in real life is fun to start with I found this brakes the game. During the base Skyrim experience weapons such as heavy warhammers are slower to swing but hit much harder. This provided a balance to the weapons that completely falls away with motion controllers. You can swing your weapons as fast as you can wiggle the controller back and forth. This means what was a slow but powerful weapon is now faster than even the lightest sword. Once powerful and deadly foes quickly fall to your all mighty wiggling. Nothing feels like a challenge. Then you have the teleport that goes from feeling too slow and cumbersome during combat and completely overpowered when outside of it. You can teleport up to areas you’re not normally supposed to reach. This allows you to skip large parts of many dungeons. After escaping Helgen during the opening I switched to the traditional controller and had a much more enjoyable time. These controls work just how I expect they work in the Skyrim special edition and very similar to the PS3 version. I would really recommend you play like this.

When I first played Skyrim on the PS3 one of the things I disliked about it was the compass. Similar to Fallout 3 and 4 you end up relying on it too much. Instead of looking at this gorgeous world and freely exploring you end up just following the marker on the compass. This negative tactic is reinforced by the fact that you also have to look at it to see when your magical shouts are ready to be used. Skyrim VR fixes this issue by having the compass and the rest of your HUD at the bottom of the screen. This means that although not hidden you have to make an effort to look at it. Think of it as a watch or checking your phone. Although you’re free to look at it whenever you want it’s not always visible. Because of this, I noticed things in areas I’d previously spent hours in on the PS3 and never seen. All of this because my focus was shifted away from the compass and instead to this grand world around me. Other parts of the HUD such as your health, stamina and magicka bars will remain tucked away until they get low. When nearly depleted these resources will move to your line of sight. This is a wonderful and very effective use of a dynamic HUD. You always remain aware of when your resources are low while not having to look away from the action.

Moving on from gameplay and instead to the visuals, Skyrim VR is a real mixed bag. Sometimes you will see something so beautiful that you just feel lucky to have witnessed it. Other times you will come across a texture that refuses to load or an NPC that will hover next to the chair they’re trying to sit in. These sorts of glitches are not super common but are common enough to occur at least once every few hours. Normally these are enough to ruin your immersion outside of VR but when inside of it they are even worse. I’ve had cases of textures refusing to load leaving me walking through horrible graphics that make me feel physically uncomfortable. This is the very worst cases and they were rare but it’s still worth mentioning. I don’t want to make this game sound terrible, however, because most the time I love being able to experience this world in VR. The first time fighting a dragon and seeing just how massive they really are is a gaming experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The same goes for visiting breathtaking locations such as the college of Winterhold or almost any of the Dwemer Ruins. I started to hoard any Dwemer artefacts I found as I become fascinated with this lost race. You see that’s what’s great about being able to visit the land of the Elder Scrolls in VR. It allows you to feel much closer to this epic world that has more depth than almost any other fictional place I can think of. Whatever your favourite part of it is, it feels even more impressive when in VR.

This game took me from looking down on the Elder Scrolls series to considering myself a big fan. I’ve started playing the Elder Scrolls online as my MMORPG of choice and plan on going back and playing the other games in the series over 2019. Skyrim VR lets you get closer than ever before to one of gaming's most impressive worlds while also fixing a few of the problems with the base game. If you have VR and have yet to enjoy an Elder Scrolls series then I’d recommend Skyrim VR as a good starting place. While far from flawless this is still one of the best games I’ve played this year.

Recommendation Rating: 8 out of 10.

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