Skyrim was released Friday on PlayStation VR. The VR version manages to capture the game’s scale and beauty in astounding new ways, but you might need to equip a barf bag alongside your ancient Nordic axe.
Leaping into Skyrim with a VR headset on feels a bit like placing an LSD tablet under your tongue before a concert. The result is a whirlwind of sound and visual splendour, but after a while you also need to just sit down and chill for a bit. From the very start of the game, everything feels larger. The sky spans outwards, spiders and bears feel genuinely massive, and dragons go from a ho-hum affair into something astounding and broad. The game’s opening sequence, in which the ancient dragon Alduin sacks the village of Helgen, disorientates and excites in the best possible way. I’ve never experienced anything quite like a massive dragon, to scale, breathing fire in my face.
In spite of the excitement factor, Skyrim VR overwhelms as time goes on. Virtual reality space is hard to acclimate to - I've only played one other VR title, Resident Evil 7 - and much of that has to do with the strangeness that comes from viewing a video space in close proximity. To ensure solid performance, the game sacrifices graphical fidelity, which can lead to some strange experiences.
It sometimes feels like spaces only acquire depth at a specific point. You'll see a massive mountain in the distance but it will look less like a well-realised space and more like a matte painting until you get a bit closer. Environments can also feel bizarre up close; walking up to a stone wall will reveal a flat texture, and the mind reels to adjust to the lack of spatial depth. Be it Resident Evil 7 or Skyrim VR, the greatest enemies are walls and doors. There's just something strange about seeing a world's artificiality with such intimacy. For me, more often than not, it causes bouts of nausea.
Skyrim remains a gorgeous region to explore in VR. It isn't as alien or interesting as Morrowind or painterly as Oblivion's Cyrodiil, but whether wandering open fields or scaling high mountains, the game world is an absolute joy. Weather effects such as snowy winds or rain feel a hell of a lot more real when they're swirling past your face. Monsters are a much more immediate threat when they're snapping and slashing right in front of you. The VR experience expands on Skyrim's sense of adventure. It feels like a genuine journey.
Combat is confusing at first; it's hard to get your bearings when an Imperial soldier is smacking you upside the head with her hammer, but it eventually falls into place. If you just want to smack folks with a massive sword, you'll find that being right in the action gives your swipes more weight. Archery also comes to life in ways the standard game never managed. Sneaking around and looking exactly where you need to aim before loosing your arrow is tense.
But the number of times I needed to stop playing before I puked were numerous. Skyrim VR is beautiful and bold, but takes a while to acclimate to. I'm always going to remember the first time I slayed a dragon in virtual reality… but I'm not going to eat curry beforehand the next time.