For most, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim requires no introduction. Since its initial release in 2011, Bethesda Softworks’s sprawling fantasy RPG has become one of the most recognisable games ever. Alongside its Nintendo Switch debut on November 17, the title is also getting a VR version that promises to provide the full experience in an all-new format. Unfortunately, the demo did not reflect the final retail version, containing only a single mission and none of the RPG elements.
Despite these shortcomings, the preview provided a good representation of the visuals and combat mechanics through a mission that takes place early in the game. Beginning on a barren mountainside, players make their way towards the entrance to the ruin of Bleak Falls Barrow. The gentle snowfall is too uniform to be convincing, while the environment is full of jagged edges and low-resolution artefacts made more prominent by being so closely immersed in the world. Despite these visual grievances, the game powerfully evokes a sense of peace.
Of course, silence never lasts, and arriving at the stone structures that mark the entrance to the barrow spurs the appearance of bandits. For the demo, players were locked to the standard flame-casting spell and a one-handed sword and each of these offensive capabilities felt markedly different. Swinging the sword was utterly toothless. Use of the weapon lacked either audio or visual cues to indicate that contact was made. The representative on-hand assured that the absence of feedback would be addressed in the release build, but it was, nonetheless, a significant issue. On the other hand, the flames were incredibly satisfying and seemingly far more powerful as they shot forth in a convincing gout.
This unbalanced input made the encounter with the Giant Frostbite Spider at the heart of the dungeon drudgery that, thankfully, ended quickly. The first glimpse of this creature back in 2011 inspired concern, if not outright fear, but it is almost laughable in VR. A deficiency of fine detail makes the beast look like an oversized, articulated toy, and dancing around it while shooting flames felt more like some pagan ritual than a battle. To be fair, the limited amount of time spent with the game cannot match up to the full experience, with a much wider variety of combat encounters and world interaction mechanics set to be incorporated into the release version. Nevertheless, even a short trial can be telling.
Based on the demo, Bethesda seems to have struggled to translate Skyrim’s inherent sense of power into VR, so, although the game was a revelation six years ago, the same cannot be said today.