It's been 6 years since I last stepped foot in the Old Kingdom, and after having already spent plenty of hours exploring its nooks and crannies, my first strides into the PSVR version were filled with some doubt, can VR really breath new life into a 6-year-old game?
The reasoning to port Skyrim into VR is easy to understand. it's a common (and somewhat unfair) complaint that VR is just full of short experiences and demos. So what better way to resolve this, than by bringing one of the most epic Elder Scrolls gaming worlds wholesale into VR. And Skyrim, with it's 6-year-old graphical heritage, makes an ideal candidate now that even the base PlayStation 4 can throw the visuals around at 90fps.
The game opens, as I'm sure you all remember, with your character being carted off to get his (or her) head chopped off. And I'll be honest, my initial impressions were not great. The Move controls are clunky and default to a teleportation system which immediately makes you feel disconnected from the world. Whilst the visuals suffer from issues that really should have stayed in the previous generation, objects and scenery popping into view at close range and ugly character models who definitely don't look any better when seeing them face to face up close, and invoke a rather unsettling feeling that you are talking to some old audio-animatronic characters.
But despite my initial concerns, I decided to hold off judgement until I'd at least reached the first town. As what Skyrim lacks in polish, it always made up for with its grand scale.
Before I set off on my adventure I opened the options screen to see if anything could be done about the controls, and it was here the asking price for the game started to make sense. This is a full-on VR port, and Bethesda has done an incredible job of giving users a real wealth of options when it comes to the control scheme.
If you play with a Dualshock 4 then you'll feel instantly at home, the only difference being that aiming is now controlled by your head rotation rather than the right stick. Turns out this actually makes ranged combat far easier, possibly too easy, as you can line-up perfect headshots with the bow in milliseconds.
But there is little doubt that for the full VR experience you'll want to use the Move controllers, ideally with all the comfort settings turned to low or completely off. This allows you to free walk by holding down the left move button and then tilting the Move towards the direction you want to go. If you want to turn your body then you can hit the face buttons on the right Move controller to turn in incremental updates (edit: Patch 1.0.2 added smooth turning).
The controls take a whilst to get used to, especially just remembering the button combinations and gestures needed to open and jump between menus. I often found myself looking at my virtual Move controllers to remember where each button was on the square (as opposed to the DualShock controllers diamond) button layout.
But it's worth persisting, as Move controls turn the immersion up a few notches.
Equipped weapons are mapped directly to the movement of your Move controllers. So rather than it being gesture based and resulting in a fixed attack animation (which I was expecting), you are free to slash, stab, poke and generally flail your arms about in an attempt to defend yourself. For swordplay, it does generally result in you just waving your arms about and hoping for the best, but for magic and archery it's incredible and gives you a real power kick.
To facilitate this degree of freedom in combat quite a few changes have been made to the underlying mechanics. Fireballs can now be shot as projectiles from your palms that fly off far into the distance, and you can now pull out weapons whilst on horseback and do battle axe drive-bys on that poor wild deer minding its own business.
By the time I actually reached the first town my view on the game had changed drastically, I found myself overlooking the lack of minor detail in the world and instead of admiring the greater vistas. My 2-hour play sessions turned into 10-hour gaming marathons, followed by a day at work just thinking about what sneaky things I'd get up to in Skyrim that evening.
I started to develop a virtual height-complex due to my Wood Elf being shorter than all the NPCs, I even felt a sense of remorse and regret when I got too carried away in combat, only to turn around and find my neglected housecarl had been mauled to death by a bear whilst I was having fun shooting flames out of my arms at zombies.
Whilst no amount of time in-game could make me completely oblivious to its flaws. there is absolutely no doubt that Skyrim VR is an early blueprint for what will likely become the VR killer app.