It shouldn't come as a surprise to you, after reading my review of Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch, that I was super excited to pick up Skyrim VR. Because what could be better than some slight motion control but being able to actually shout at dragons with my real face? Nothing, nothing at all. And with a game as immersive as Skyrim, of course it would be an absolute time sink in VR. Because motion controls with the PS Move controllers, plus VR, well.
I was pretty much sold, despite how much I really do hate the PS Move controller wands. I'll take the Vive's strangely formed touchpad controls over the PS Move any day. That said, swinging my arm and watching my character swing their sword? That was pretty awesome. And having some spells in my off hand? Sure, I wasn't physically flinging spells, but it did feel a bit more realistic to have a wand in my hand while casting spells instead of the joy-cons.
Except that, well, Skyrim wasn't built for VR, and despite the best efforts of the fine folks at Bethesda Game Studios, you can tell. The older graphic quality of Skyrim really shows its age in VR. Thanks to the way VR works — the optic lenses don't have 4K or even 1080p quality — the game looks old. It looks PS2-quality old. The textures aren't even skin deep, and the buildings look pixelated and like a stiff wind would blow them over. I wound up being inside a building or two while running around, which was not pleasant.
And thus, the actual experience of Skyrim VR isn't quite what I'd hoped. The PSVR shot below is a screencap of the game being played on the PS4 visual read instead of through the headset. For obvious reasons, the headset visuals are in two circular lenses and can't quite capture to flat images well. And even that looks a lot older than the Skyrim we remember. Here's a side-by-side for your viewing displeasure:
And, of course, because I don't have a fancy VR harness rig setup, I had to use the controller to move around and even look sometimes so I wouldn't go crashing into my own furniture. And because movement in Skyrim was designed for the traditional console/PC flatscreen experience, turning around in Skyrim VR will give you a crash-course in what it's like to experience motion sickness.
I have a pretty cast-iron stomach, but no matter how I worked with the visual tracking settings in game, I couldn't keep the headset on for more than an hour at a time followed by 15 solid minutes of entirely land-based seasickness. It is a really weird experience to be seasick on dry land in my own apartment, let me tell you. I've walked around on boats going through rough six-foot seas, I've spent a week onboard a boat to the point where I kept bracing against nonexistent waves when back in port — and I've never been quite as sick as when taking off the PSVR helmet after playing this game.
VR motion sickness aside, the sheer eyestrain of trying to track the game with the old-school graphics so close to my face caused some incredible eye fatigue. Even with serious game-glasses on under the headset, I was running a pretty serious eye-fatigue headache after a few hours of gameplay. To make sure it wasn't just me reacting negatively to prolonged exposure to the PSVR setup, I switched to playing other VR titles and non-VR titles with the headset on, and felt an immediate lessening of the eyestrain. Which is really kind of depressing.
As much as I wanted to lose myself in the world of Skyrim VR for hours on end, I found I couldn't do more than an hour or two a night without suffering some serious after effects.
And to think, before playing the game, I was most worried the headset would cause a resurgence of the whiplash I've got courtesy of an old car accident or cause joint trouble after standing around for 12 hours at a time.
Granted, my experiences aren't everyone's. But, I'm far from the only person feeling sick after spending a few hours in Skyrim.
If the game were built from the ground up for VR, I have feeling we wouldn't be having these troubles. I've had no trouble sticking around in Gunheart for a few hours at a time, even strafing with no trouble, and I spent damn near two hours playing Brass Tactics back during PAX West and loved it. But VR isn't something you can shoe-horn into an older game. Let's just hope DOOM VFR and Fallout VR turn out to be better experiments in the VR space than Skyrim.