Skyrim VR review: Staring down life-sized dragons is terrifying

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been remastered and re-released so many times it’s an inside joke at this point, and yet I haven’t really felt drawn to go back—until last night. Last night I once again took that fateful wagon ride through the mountains, put my head down on the chopping block, watched a dragon burn a village down, and helped my ol’ pal Ralof escape from those nasty brutes in the Imperial Legion.

Only this time, I did it in virtual reality.

Fus ro dah, for real

Yes, after six-ish months of PlayStation VR exclusivity, Skyrim VR released on PCs this week ($60 on Green Man Gaming) with official support for both the HTC Vive and, in huge news for Bethesda, the Oculus Rift. I wouldn’t say there’s peace between Zenimax and Oculus, but some sort of detente evidently prevailed finally.

In any case, I’m enjoying Skyrim VR so far. That’s not saying much—I’m only two or three hours in. Unlike Bethesda’s other virtual reality re-releases though, Skyrim VR’s gimmick fundamentally changes how the game’s played, and that’s enough to get me to overlook how janky it can be.

skyrim vr magic Bethesda

It’s Skyrim, but you actually swing your sword, shoot fire from your palms, and lob arrows at enemies. That alone has made it more enjoyable to me, giving even Skyrim’s notoriously floaty combat a bit of heft as I thwack my Vive controller into the back of some Legion soldier’s head. Or, you know, the wall.

It’s also Skyrim, but life-size. Ulfric Stormcloak is a bit shorter than I thought, and the Seven Thousand Steps a lot longer. Just like in Fallout 4 VR, the sheer size of everything is probably the biggest (no pun intended) difference.

I beat that drum a lot with VR, but it’s honestly what stands out most to me when comparing the “standard” or monitor-bound version of a game and the VR version. It’s not like I ever feel something’s missing from the original. For instance, you can easily deduce how large one of Skyrim’s dragons is while playing on a monitor. They’re huge, right?

Seeing it in VR though, watching a dragon circle above you or perch on a wall—it’s incredible, and hard to explain. The best analogy I can think of: Compare seeing a photograph of a tall building, like the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower or even a 10-story office building in your local downtown, versus standing at the bottom of it and peering upward. Two fundamentally different experiences even though the core architecture is the same. The pictures in this article don’t do justice to the game.

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