Hands on: Skyrim VR on PlayStation 4

BE the Dovahkiin

We all know what Skyrim is, right? I mean, I’ve met pigeons preoccupied with eating street-encrusted bird turds who rolled their beady little eyes at any mention of arrows in knees, so I’m assuming we’re all on the same page here. Skyrim is old news.

Yes, even for Bethesda – a company who loves nothing more than flogging the proverbial – Skyrim truly is the deadest horse of all. When the world is consumed in nuclear hellfire (any day now, are we excited?) the Cockroachians that rise in our place will inevitably port Skyrim onto their first insect-friendly games console, the Globnörxh Vita.

Inevitably, then, there’s a Skyrim VR port for the Playsation 4. And, inevitably, I’m as giddy as a schoolchild who hasn’t yet brutally realised that Santa isn’t real and the only reason the world keeps turning is the complex web of lies we’ve constructed as a species to convince ourselves that life has meaning and, should it ever fall, anarchy will reign.

So, Skrim VR. In the most basic terms, it’s the same Skyrim you’ve already sunk several thousand hours into only this time fully immersive as a VR world where you truly can BE the Dovahkiin and OH MY GOD I NEED IT RIGHT NOW.

The epic pleasure of seeing fire and lightning shoot out of your own actual hands is spectacular

First things first – It. Works. The game world is a true, authentic joy to be in and it’s hard to put into words the exhilaration of being able to literally put yourself in that place and feel like you’re there. Fan fiction will never be the same again.

Graphically it’s impressive, with a solid draw distance and strong textures that only become ropey when you get in real close (which you obviously will, VR games are 90% looking at your own hands and feet, 10% remembering you should be doing something). Pop-ins and visual glitches were also at a pleasantly surprising minimum (particularly for a Bethesda game) and the epic pleasure of seeing fire and lightning shoot out of your own actual hands is spectacular.

Having said that, the demo we played did come with some issues, most pressingly with the controls. Though we were assured the game will be compatible with Dualshock, we only had the option to play with the Move controllers and, without even using it, it’s clear that the Dualshock will be the superior control method here.

The Move controllers just don’t work very well for a game like Skyrim. There are a lot of buttons, which don’t match up intuitively with what you want to be doing and instead serve to exacerbate exisiting issues with the game. This is worst when navigating menus, already a point of ire and parody with Elder Scrolls games, which are painfully confusing using the Move’s face buttons. This isn’t entirely the Move’s fault – one of the main problems with VR in our experience is the disconnect between the physical buttons and your digital hands – but the fact remains that they’re too small (and numerous!) to be able to play the game with the speed and intuition of a traditional controller.

Fortunately, the demo build granted infinite mana and health so you could happily hack and zap your way about the place. In the full game, however, where in true Skyrim style you’ll need to heal by drinking a health potion plus eating three loaves and a wheel of cheese every 30 seconds, navigating those awkward menus could easily become a game-breaking frustration.

More egregiously, the Move uses the point-and-portal method of movement throughout the world, requiring constant miniature leaps through space. This is highly disconcerting, not to mention counter-productive to the whole “world immersion” thing. Meanwhile turning requires pressing extra buttons on the Move controls, which is a slow and clunky process that could be handled far better with an analogue stick. As a result, because moving is ultimately unpleasant, you’re more inclined to rush through the world without looking around – which is a shame because the world is beautiful and a large part of the draw with a Skyrim VR game in the first place.

Most sadly and surprisingly of all, it’s far less pleasurable to waggle your arm to swing a sword than the physical experience of pressing a button. It just feels clunky and awkward and the disconnect of seeing a chunky sword in your hand while your arm goes swinging gracelessly and weightlessly through the air creates a tangible disconnect with the game. It might sound counter-intuitive, but the act of pressing a button feels meatier and allows you, as a player, to get stuck into the mechanics of the gameplay. It says it all that on the mission I played where I had to save somebody from a spider’s nest, I heroicaly slayed the giant boss spider and then almost immediately killed my new best friend because I happened to wiggle my arm in his direction. The guilt of it still keeps me up at night.

Bottom line, you pretty much already know if this game is for you or not. At this point, a full six years after its original release (feel old yet?), whether you have or haven’t played some version of the unrelenting force that is Skyrim is all the evidence you need.

Zack Fox, Chief Screen-Watcher
About Zack Fox, Chief Screen-Watcher 26 Articles
Chief Screen-Watcher Zack writes about gaming, TV and movies. He also runs Gadgette's commercial side, and works part-time at a film production company. Follow him on Twitter: @ZackFoxFilm