Taking a look back at Skyrim VR

Taking a look back at Skyrim VR

Treading through a dungeon, I hear a creature stirring behind me. Spinning around, I ready my axe and come face to face with a group of draugr. A quick burst of unrelenting force and a few swings later, my enemy is no more. In standard Skyrim fights like this happen every 30 seconds and can all blur together, but thanks to the magic of VR every encounter becomes a real fight. Skyrim debuted in 2011, with countless rereleases since, but even this 9-year-old game is given new life thanks to the addition of VR. 
Back in the cave, I delve ever deeper into the Nordic ruins. The dank gloomy tunnels stretching out before me, dispatching foes as I go. Skyrim’s combat has never been an intricate system, and the clunky feeling does carry over. The game was not originally designed for VR and this leaves melee weapons feeling like they’re made out of foam. However, this is easily countered by the unparalleled immersion granted by VR. Watching a draugr fall helplessly to the floor after you swung an axe into their skull is a satisfying joy not easily matched.

A screenshot of Skyrim VR fighting a draugr underground

Awkward melee combat doesn’t stop dungeon delving from being an incredibly immersive experience

Venturing into a massive cavern I spot the dungeons World Wall calling out, a conspicuously large coffin laying close by. Approaching the wall, the boss awakens behind me with a crack of bones. While swinging swords and axes is fun, the real star of the show here is magic. Pushing my hands out in front of me a surge of flames is released, enveloping the draugr in magical fire. While most fights in Skyrim can boil down to button mashing or running backwards, Skyrim VR is a wholly different beast. Nothing makes you feel like a powerful sorcerer quite like blasting flames out of your hands at unsuspecting enemies. Unleashing a final shout at the Draugr Overlord, his health drops low as he takes a knee. Thanks to VR, every victory feels impactful and personal. Striding up to the defeated draugr, I bring my axe down for the final execution. Nine years is a long time in game development, and a lot has happened since Skyrims original release. An entire console generation has come and gone, and the RPG genre has had some fantastic innovations. This is still the same game from nine years ago, which is to say: janky as hell. That does come with some handy benefits, however. Chief among these is that most Skyrim SE mods will work without issue and can be installed easily. This is a huge benefit for the game as anyone who has played Skyrim on PC will know how powerful these mods can be. From adding in new content, to completely changing the game UI, custom player content is one of the game’s biggest strengths. As someone who spent a significant amount of time with the Elder Scrolls series, it’s impressive how fresh the game feels with the addition of VR.

An in game screenshot showing magic use in Skyrim VR

The addition of VR provides a satisfying power fantasy for magic users

Nowhere is this felt more than when exploring the world. Skyrim was never the prettiest game to begin with, but with the help of a few mods, the vistas can become jaw dropping. Standing atop High Hrothgar and looking down on the world around you is a uniquely humbling experience. Few games have come close to the sheer size and diversity of Skyrim, even nine years later. From bustling city streets to barren tundra, no other game has left me feeling so immersed in the world. Every small detail is suddenly explorable. In base Skyrim, one might rush through the world to get to quest objectives. However, when adventuring in Skyrim VR I found myself simply wandering through the world around me. Every nook and cranny suddenly a dazzling distraction.  

It’s not all sunshine and nirnroot however, and one area in which VR stutters is that of the UI. Since Skyrim was initially developed for a flat screen, the UI follows suit. Bethesda has made no attempts at updating the UI for the new medium. While this can be fixed with mods (SkyUI is a definite must) the problem, unfortunately, runs deeper. While it’s easy to lose hours when playing from the comfort of a controller, VR is a much more involved process. As Skyrim was intended to be played for hundreds of hours this leads to the game’s biggest weakness. Inventory management makes up a large part of any Bethesda RPG and this is where it becomes clear Skyrim is not a VR game. While most VR games will use some form of holster system, Skyrim VR still uses 2D menus. Not only is this immersion breaking, but when you’ve already been adventuring for a couple of hours (a surprisingly tiring experience in VR) the last thing you want to do is stand still and sort your inventory.

All of these factors lead Skyrim VR into having a very different play style than the original. When questing it’s normal to root through every chest and scan every shelf for useful gear. In Skyrim VR this process is so time consuming and tiring that it’s not worth gathering loot just to sell. This can also lead to other problems. When talking to characters for instance, the world around you freezes while an NPC stares at you blankly waiting for a response. This is normally fine when playing from a sofa, however when standing this quickly becomes tiring. When you have to stand and listen to yet another NPC spout exposition at you, it becomes easy to begin skipping this part of the game. Given that Skyrim was already six years old before Bethsada jammed a VR mode into it, these issues can mostly be ignored. Especially when the rest of the game is so enjoyable. 

An in game screenshot of Skyrim VR fighting against a dragon

Fighting dragons is a unique experience that proves VR is here to stay

Even with it being based on an almost decade old game, Skyrim VR is still one of the most immersive games I’ve experienced. It’s hard to go back to other games after fighting dragons in VR. Their massive bodies towering over you as you desperately hack away. With new budget hardware releases like the Oculus Quest 2 VR is slowly gaining mass appeal. As the market grows it’s only a matter of time for a fully fledged RPG to be released for the platform. Skyrim VR makes me excited for the future of big budget VR games. If a nine-year-old game can still provide this much immersion and enjoyment, even one as janky as Skyrim, then the future is certainly bright for further endeavours.  

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What are you most anticipating for VR? Let us know in the comments section and while you’re at it why not check out ourcomparison of the Oculus Quest 1 and Quest 2!

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