[VR] The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR Impressions

Since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s original launch in 2011, I’ve explored, quested, and replayed the game more times than I can count across multiple platforms. Hiking up the steps to Bleak Falls Barrow has become routine, an overly familiar, incognizant trek. Skyrim VR’s PC release meant it was time to make that journey once more – this time on the Oculus Rift – and I’m glad I did. Becoming the Dragonborn in virtual reality has never been more immersive.

The first thing that’s noticeable about Skyrim VR is the sense of scale. Everything has a heightened presence that’s incredible to behold. The aforementioned Bleak Falls Barrow, for example, stopped me in my tracks as I took the time to appreciate just how large the architecture really is. And those moments of renewed wonder were a constant. I can’t stress that point enough. The ability to feel the distance between objects, to have that depth perception, breathed entirely new life into a world I had practically memorized.

The same feeling translates over to encounters, as well. Dragons are towering creatures no matter the display or platform. When they land on all fours, the whole ground trembles. Aside from the very first fight with one outside Whiterun, however, they were never particularly terrifying. Facing a dragon in virtual reality is an entirely different experience. Their size was quite a bit more obvious when I had to physically crane my neck to take in their full glory rather than simply flick a mouse or thumbstick. In fact, running up to them legitimately gave me pause. Dragons are scary!

I think the important thing to express, especially for those wary of Skyrim VR due to its age or the high asking price for this latest edition, is that the virtual reality implementation didn’t overly seem like a gimmick to me. There is a loss of clarity that can’t be avoided until higher resolution headsets with better lenses are released, but the sensation of actually being in land of Skyrim is profound. It’s going to be extremely difficult for me to go back to a two-dimensional version of the game.

That’s not to say it didn’t take time to get used to my character interacting with and moving around in Skyrim VR. There are several different options for locomotion: teleportation, smooth movement, smooth turning, and snap turning. I didn’t find teleportation entirely practical in combat situations – especially as each hop drains stamina – though it is the least disorienting. The tolerance for the smooth movement modes will vary between person to person. Thankfully there a range of sensitivity and field of view settings to customize how they behave. Personally, I never got motion sickness, but sudden changes in velocity did cause me to rock on my feet slightly as my brain caught up with my character’s forward momentum.

Navigating the menu system with the Oculus Touch controllers was a greater challenge, though not insurmountable by any means. It’s just a little awkward at first using the grip and triggers to move back and forth through options and the upper face buttons for tab selection. After an hour of play, everything clicked.

What gave me immediate joy with the Touch controllers was combat. Equipping a weapon, looking it over, and using my own motions with them was grin inducing. Archery and magic are particularly fun. I started to feel like the Green Arrow when notching arrows, pulling back the bowstring, and letting loose. The physicality of it really put me in the moment. Fighting with a melee weapon is less satisfying. I still enjoyed hacking my way through foes, but it’s floaty with a lack of feedback. Additionally, it’s visually less impressive than the other weapon types if you resort to rapid flails, even if it is a stupidly effective strategy. I would also recommend increasing the difficulty a notch or two. The default settings are too easy.

As much fun as I’ve been having, there are a few immersion-breaking oddities. Sheathing items replaces hands with floating controllers. And while you can move around, your hitbox does not move with you. Dodging arrows like bullets in Robo Recall won’t necessarily work. Skyrim VR is a stationary game.

One final thing to note is that a large number Skyrim Special Edition mods do work. It only takes a few simple steps to get them up and running. I’ve installed a handful to date, from texture replacements, environmental overhauls, new weapons, AI behaviors, to weather mods and more, and performance has been great. Modern hardware should have no trouble using high supersampling settings at the same time.

Skyrim is over six years old, but its VR port is the perfect opportunity to dive back into its dungeons. The added dimension made me feel like I was exploring Skryim for the first time again. And though it’s only a port, its breath of content may very well make it a system seller for the platform. I can easily see myself claiming the mantle of Dragonborn for another hundred hours.