There's nothing scarier than walking into a cave filled with giant spiders as tall as you. Somehow, that makes Skyrim VR kind of a horror game. It's at once horrific, startling, while also making me want to throw up sometimes. It also offers a new way to mess with the boundaries of its enormous world: testing the lengths of how much nausea you can stomach. It's Skyrim in virtual reality, but it feels new for the first time since its launch on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in 2011.
I've always found Skyrim to be a particularly lonely game. It's just you, your assortment of weapons and armor, possibly a dumb NPC companion, and the vastness and infinite potential of the world of Skyrim. When it first released way back, Skyrim's scope was bewildering. Plus, it was so open to players messing with it that it broke all the time. Bethesda's open world games are almost famous because of their finicky, often-hilarious (sometimes game-breaking) bugs. In Skyrim VR for PlayStation VR, out today, I finally have the chance to be up close and personal with those bugs.
It's a weird sort of close. It's first-person, of course. At the start, I lean in close to fellow prisoners in its opening sequence to see their odd-textured faces up close. The game crashes. I reboot it. I'm in the wagon again. We roll into town and I gaze up at the clear sky; mountains are all around us. Soon, as the legend goes, a dragon descends right before I'm to-be beheaded. But before that, as the legend goes, the game crashes again. Feels like Skyrim.
Luckily, Skyrim VR got all of its crashing out of the way in this opening sequence. Soon it was up to creating my character that I'll never see (a Khajiit, of course), making my escape from the inflamed town. Then I got close to the dragon; or rather, they got close to me, startling me by breathing fire into a stairwell I was in. This dragon was small. Very small. Smaller than I expected, probably smaller than the dragon seemed back in 2011 when this was a more shocking scene that we hadn't seen a million times before.
More than anything in the hours I spent in Skyrim VR, I felt myself getting spooked easily. I got attacked from behind more than once, I panicked as I swung my sword around. Later, a dog barked at me unexpectedly, I jumped a little bit. And yes, when that dragon peeked their head into my escape route, I shrieked a bit in fright, even anticipating the moment. Skyrim, with all its ports and remasters and what have you trailing the gaming industry over the years, never felt truly new and surprising again. In Skyrim VR, it does.
Yet, Skyrim VR, with all its potential, also makes you want to vomit at every turn. There's two control options: with the DualShock 4, you control Skyrim VR essentially as you would otherwise. With the dubious Move controllers, you can teleport all around, which often feels more like a hindrance considering the scale of Skyrim. Your brain wants to just run free, as it always could.
Internally, I felt the same way. I opted for smooth controls with snap turning (which is essential for VR, in my humble opinion of formerly being a VR reporter). I wanted to run freely across Skyrim, not to teleport. I wanted to jump off cliffs with no qualms; I wanted to attack deer for no apparent reason. I wanted to experience the ultimate freedom of Skyrim, because here in VR, it weirdly felt novel. Low textures, bugginess, and all.
I started testing myself on my boundaries. If I jumped off this cliff, would I feel gross? (Yes.) If I did the fast jump-skip strategy, would it make my stomach do flips? (Yes.) Skyrim VR, for all the fuckery it has inspired through mods and players' general antics in the past, was inspiring a new kind of creativity in me. A form of play where I was the idiot, almost like I was playing a virtual version of the stunt show Jackass. I posed a question to myself as I messed around in the open world: How far can my stupidity and silliness go before I need a bucket by my side to puke? It turns out, pretty far. Not that I felt too great afterwards.
I also never really got into Skyrim back when it was out. I experienced it as I seem to experience all Bethesda-developed open world games: I poured like 30 hours of my life into it, and eventually questioned why I even played when I was annoyed by virtually everything about it. The bugginess. The bland story. The world itself, while confoundingly huge, was never enough to hold my attention alone.
In Skyrim VR, I remember these feelings, as freshly renewed as everything feels in VR otherwise. I also wonder if it's even feasible to play it for hours on end. Just after a few hours with it in the confines of the headset, I chugged what felt like a gallon of water to not feel nauseous anymore. Unless other players have stomachs of steel—or don't mind tediously teleporting everywhere—I wonder if Skyrim, in all its glory, can shine beyond its initial wow-sequences for players. Can players feasibly play Skyrim VR for hundreds of hours, escaping our torturous reality in doing so? Maybe not. We're human beings after all, hindered by natural nausea.
After what feels like a million ports, today signifies a day where Skyrim has the potential to feel new again. On one end, Skyrim's Nintendo Switch port hyper-condenses its world to fit on what is essentially a tablet. Skyrim, for once, is available on-the-go. Meanwhile Skyrim VR for PlayStation VR leans in the opposite direction. It's the most non-portable a console can be, but Skyrim VR, in adopting such an up close and personal perspective, makes the game feel fresh again, like we're seeing the familiar world with new eyes. I jumped off steep heights and wanted to throw up immediately. I got legitimately scared when wolves attacked me from behind, outside of my peripheral. Skyrim is still Skyrim, but for the first time ever, you can live in it and feel it.
Occasional motion sickness be damned, that's a hell of a way to experience Skyrim. Just maybe have some dramamine on hand if you want to live and breath that world.
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