2017 has been a hell year. But as a gamer, 2017 is the equivalent of the best possible year. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that three of my all-time favorite games have come out in this tiny 12 month span. Those titles are Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata and Super Mario Odyssey, just in case there’s any debate. On top of that list I’ve sacrificed several hours of my 30’s to Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Star Wars Battlefront 2, Destiny 2, Resident Evil 7, Nioh, Mario + Rabbids…and that’s just what I completed.
With that incredible list and a backlog that includes some 15 games from indies to AAA duds (*cough* Mass Effect Andromeda), why the hell did I spend 8 hours playing Skyrim, in 2017, after I’ve already bested that adventure on two different consoles? The suspect tracking and fuzzy fidelity of the PSVR are to blame — and I’m not complaining.
Skyrim VR went so far under my radar (shitty pun warning) it might as well have been a dolphin. That is to say I had no desire to plop down another $60 on a graphically inferior version of a six year old game. Then I happened upon Heather Alexandra’s article over on Kotaku — and having a strong VR stomach, I didn’t focus on the VR sickness parts, but how she described the joy of exploring a world not meant for VR and how well it works. Fast forward a couple of hours and Skyrim VR is downloading on my PS4.
Not since Resident Evil 7 has VR clicked for me like it does with Skyrim. For my first play, I opted for the standard PS4 controller as my desired form of movement. Like Capcom’s survival horror reboot, the right stick is relegated to a 1/4 turns with each flick right or left. You can adjust the angle at which you turn in the settings, based on your preference. Player movement is handled in the standard fashion via the left stick and your aiming reticle is controlled by where your head points. This control scheme is a fantastic way to get used to seeing the world of Skyrim in VR while essentially maintaining the joys of the OG game. But if you really want to get into the hidden playground buried in Skyrim VR, you need to ditch the traditional controls and dive headfirst into dual Move controllers with “real movement.”
[Above: When I discovered how true movement actually works, I started to pretend I was flying…because I’m almost 34.]
Unless you want to feel like you’re playing an old PC or Genesis dungeon crawling RPG of old like Eye of the Beholder, ditch the teleport controls. That’s my advice, anyway. I used them for an hour or so and while you can spam the left move controller button to move comically fast across the landscape through a series of two foot teleports, you have no ability to strafe or really control your range of motion without craning your head and body in unnatural ways. Nah, dawg, woke players go for true motion:
The Platinum Membership control method is the true motion control method. I could spend another whole paragraph describing how the controls work, but the gist of it is the left move controller’s gyro detects which cardinal direction it’s facing, so if you’re pointing it forward you go forward, if you point it left or right, you strafe that way and you can even move backwards by…you guessed it, pointing it backwards. Targeting is with your head and where you look and your right hand/Move controller kicks all kinds of ass. And when the Playstation VR headset and it’s tracking are working, mama, does this game fulfill the pre-teen fantasies of wandering the wilds as a former knight living a samurai fantasy.
[In this harmless clip, I’m hunting a fox, which leads me to a couple of vampire hunters hunting a vampire. Seems a bit harsh to indiscriminately kill vampires so I kill the vampire hunters. THE CIRCLE OF LIIIIIIIFE!]
Over the past few hours I’ve climbed mountains, explored caves, slept under the stars, shot down a flying dragon with a bow and arrow. Not only that, but I loaded the arrow in the bow string, pulled it back, closed one eye and aimed square for his/her scaly neck and shot it down. In short, fantasy nerds with strong stomachs and a dash of imagination can create a gaming experience completely tailored to what they want in one of the most sprawling sandbox games created.
It’s because of this escapism that I’m able to overlook the crude, rudimentary graphics, stilted animations, muddy textures, severe polygonal tearing and pop-in and a large control learning curve. Hidden in Skyrim VR is an incredible amount of fun and play if you’re willing to employ your willing suspension of disbelief. While playing, I couldn’t help but be transported back to my youth when I bought the first “next-gen” First Person RPG, “King’s Field” for the PSX (PS1, PsOne, OG PS fam, whatever you call it).
Let me just briefly say, King’s Field is not a good game. You can only see about 2ft in front of your face, the movement is floaty and inaccurate and you die often, and for no apparent reason. The gameplay is slow and methodical, but just give this video a scroll and imagine being a chubby, RPG-obsessed, semi-loner living in the deep country in rural Wisconsin (basically one of the Stranger Things kids) and you’ll understand why I needed slow and methodical games to eat up my time. Some say King’s Field was the precursor to Dark Souls, and they would probably be more right than wrong (how’s that for politicking?). The sense of dread and darkness brought on by the game made me feel alone on this impossible quest, but it didn’t matter, because I wasn’t in my cold room on the edge of my bed — I was there in those dark corridors, pixelated battlefields and jaggy dungeons. Because at that age you’re not so entitled to think that every aspect of everything in life deserves to cater to your every need for it to be considered “good.” You made your own fun, and that’s where I’m finding Skyrim VR truly shines.
More so than the main quests, the most fun comes from fucking about in the game’s gorgeous locations and dungeons. Once you get the controls down, some people (me) have reported acts of pretending to be Superman flying across the game world, shooting flames out the end of m’goddamn sword and creating a flaming blade of death and incineration, jumping off of really tall shit and trying not to get vertigo as well as sneaking around towns, picking locks and ACTUALLY LOOKING AROUND CORNERS for bad guys. Since I can’t put it more eloquently, this game, put simply, is tits.
[Why waste precious page space with a video of the map? Because it’s fucking fun to fly around in, that’s why?]
This isn’t even scratching the surface of cool ways this under-hyped game continues to surprise you throughout. The 3D map deserves its own paragraph alone because it’s such a fun way to soak up the scale of the game world. Utilizing the objects in the environment to set of traps like pressure plates or trip wires isn’t something you could so in the standard game. Well, you could, but you’d spend more time lining up your shot to throw a bucket on a pressure plate than you would just walking over it and jumping out of the way. Here you pick up the bucket, and underhand throw it on the plate and voila, a wall of spikes hits dead air instead of your virtual face.
If the largest barrier to entry for VR is that there’s not a substantial gameplay experience, Skyrim VR is one of the meatiest games made for consoles. And when you’re acting a superman, floating around skyrim, stabbing the shit out of bad guys, spouting flames of death from your hands and “shouting-a-mother-fucker” off a cliff with your Dragon Shouts, you won’t care that the already cumbersome menus are slightly shittier in VR — but still handled extremely well.
Never did I think I would be excited to play through Skyrim for a fourth time, but the incredible, if not flawed, immersion provided by 3D audio, (mostly) reliable tracking and exciting, empowering gameplay, extreme escapism and enjoyment is back in the form all of our inner teenager nerd selves are too afraid to admit we still desire in our old ages. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play make believe for a while. Because, you know, hell world.
[This is just for fun, a giant fucking giant killing me, giantly (bigly?)]