I decided to buy a PSVR rig for the sole purpose of playing Skyrim in VR, and then promptly failed to play Skyrim in VR. I mean, yes, I loaded up the game and messed around a little, but then I got distracted by a bunch of other things.
To be fair (to me, I mean), I had just spent over 80 hours in the Skyrim Special Edition on the Xbox One X, so starting all over again… again… felt like meh, at the time. But that was months ago. I decided that I was finally ready to see what Skyrim really feels like in VR over the long haul.
At level 13, I owned one house and had built — and fully furnished — a second, I was married, and I had two kids, a dog, and a horse… and I still hadn’t gone to see the Greybeards. Screw those guys. I didn’t ASK to be Dragonborn, dammit! I’m just trying to live my life!
I’ll get around to it, sooner or later, but right now, I’m just enjoying the view. Sure, Skyrim’s VR graphics are kind of mushy, but really, you hardly notice it after a while. You’re too busy gawping at the mountains, marveling at how much easier it is to spot small objects, and wrestling with just how big dragons really are.
I tend to play games that I really like on different platforms because it forces me to approach things a little differently. When I’m using a keyboard and mouse, I feel more in control, which lends itself to playing the stealthy assassin and one-shotting people with a bow. On Xbox, with a controller, I started on the stealthy path and ended up bashing people with a sword and shield, because the controller feels much less precise to me.
In VR, I find myself constantly switching styles to suit the situation. The game definitely feels more immersive, and my play style has changed to compensate. Getting backed into a literal corner by three bandits feels a lot different in VR, and I find myself reacting in a more realistic manner — I’m crapping my pants, in other words, as opposed to, say, just standing there calmly and shooting them with a bow from a foot away. I’ve done that in other versions, because I know I can take these guys, I know my bow skill is high, and I know that I can get to my vast array of healing potions before they can kill me. The same is true in VR… but it doesn’t feel that way.
VR blurs the line a bit more, and I think it encourages you to play the game as though you’re actually living it. I follow the contours of the terrain, rather than glitch-jumping my way up sheer surfaces. I worry about taking my horse up roads and paths that seem too steep for safety. I’m more wary of strangers. I don’t charge face-first into things — even things I already know are relatively safe. I’ve been here before, after all… but somehow, it feels like I haven’t. Not really.
I initially tried to play the game using the Move controllers, but I ended up abandoning them. Actually holding up your hand and blasting something with fire is pretty sweet, and pointing the controller in the direction you want to go and holding down a button is pretty easy, but in panic situations, the whole thing falls apart for me. Kiting was a pain, moving backwards was a pain — I’m sure that, with practice, it would all work out, but in the end, the regular-old controller just felt better. I feel like I get the best experience by turning off the teleport-movement and the POV filters, as well.
Skyrim VR helps with immersion by getting a lot of stuff out of your way. Notifications hover to the right or left, mostly in your peripheral vision. You can see that something’s popping up, and you can usually tell what it is, though longer items require a glance to the side to read them. It’s just nice not having them in your face all the time. The compass is either below or above your field of vision (your choice, though it’s always on top when on horseback), so you look up or down for a quick read on the compass.
Once I hit level 20 in VR, I booted up the Skyrim Special Edition over on the Xbox, just to really look at the differences… and holy cow. Granted, the special edition has enhanced graphics, but still. It was like going from black and white to color, it was that jarring. Booting up the special edition made me wish I could leap 50 years into the future and play this in VR (I’m sure VR graphics will be just as good by then. Really.)
On the other hand, one aspect of VR was so nice that going back to a flat screen was a true pain in the ass. In VR, you aim at things by just looking at them, which means that you can stand in the middle of a small room and pick up everything within reach without moving your feet. You just turn your head, look at stuff, press the button. Going back to having to move a thumbstick to target each item suddenly felt like a huge inconvenience. The same goes for aiming a bow. Looking at your target? Simple. Moving a thumbstick in tiny little increments to line up the perfect shot? Pain in the ass. VR does have one failing, though: to make a really long-distance shot, you have to look waaaay up to compensate, which feels more than a little weird. It was probably the most immersion-breaking thing I’ve encountered thus far.
I did the math. I’ve played Skyrim on both PC and Xbox, and my total playtime across both consoles is around 354 hours. By the time I run through it on PSVR, I expect there’ll be another hundred or so hours added to that total. And I’m still — STILL — running across things I’ve never encountered before. Some of it feels random, like the spriggans battling a troll in the middle of the road. I’d never seen that before. Some of it obviously isn’t, like the mercenary I ran across who talked about a mysterious mission, refused to tell me anything, and then (because yes, I followed her) went and stood outside a giant’s camp. Just stood there. I tried to talk to her again, but she wasn’t biting. (I hid behind a rock, shot a mammoth with my bow, and then watched while they attacked her. I’m like that, sometimes.)
And really, that’s why people go back to games like Skyrim over and over again. There’s always something you missed. Or something you never noticed before. Or a different path to take. Join the Dark Brotherhood… or betray them to their foes? Earn your gold fair and square, or steal everything that isn’t nailed down? Heck, you could spend the entire game living life as a cat burglar if you wanted to. Or an assassin. Or an honest mercenary. Heck, you can make money as a day laborer, chopping wood or picking crops. Or as a day laborer-slash-mage-slash-cat-burglar-by-night. It’s entirely up to you, and that’s the beauty of it. Adding virtual reality to the mix means you lose some things, like the super-pretty special edition graphics. But you gain others. The increased sense of immersion feels like it’s worth the trade-off. Building a house feels much more satisfying when you’re actually there, walking around inside this cool house you built.
On the downside, running into giant fricking spiders might put your underwear in immediate danger. Good grief, those things are horrendous.