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‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR’ review

Some games have incredible staying power. Tetris has been coded for virtually every dedicated gaming device since the 80s. Hackers have gotten Doom running on everything from smartwatches to printers. In an industry obsessed with novelty, certain games serve as ongoing points of reference, helping us measure precisely how far we have come with every advancement in hardware.

Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, is one of the latest additions to the canon of games ported as widely as possible for years after their initial relevance. The 2011 open-world role-playing game set the modern standard for the genre, earning rave reviews across the board. Players could be any sort of hero they wanted, and explore the massive fantasy region in any way they wanted, allowing for nearly infinite replayability.

That’s why Skyrim is so widely played to this day, and that enduring popularity has meant that Bethesda has devoted a substantial amount of its resources since 2011 to bringing the game along to every major platform that releases. The most recent and interesting new iterations are for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation VR, replacing the usual promise of better graphics with a different means of consuming the game (on the go or in virtual reality, respectively).

We strapped into our PSVR headset to explore northern Tamriel once again. Can Skyrim still lead the way toward gaming’s future, or has it overstayed its welcome?

Back to the future

In 2011 Skyrim was a technical marvel — one of the largest and most open digital worlds that many players had ever explored.

On the one hand, the extra degree of immersive intimacy afforded by VR is put to excellent use here. Gazing across sweeping, mountain vistas, or up at an angry giant, looming directly overhead, has an extra, visceral punch here above and beyond what the base game can achieve. Skyrim has always been defined by its scale, and in that regard VR is a natural and obvious way to enhance that basic appeal. Set in the northernmost region of the Tamriel continent (home to the whole Elder Scrolls series to date), Skyrim tells a classic, high fantasy yarn of a prophesied hero saving the world from an ancient dragon.

As the legendary “Dragonborn”, your character can absorb the power of defeated dragons to learn powerful “shouts.” For many of Skyrim‘s most ardent fans, the main story is truly beside the point. After a brief tutorial it’s entirely possible to wander off in the opposite direction you were sent and never actually engage with the main plot at all over dozens of hours. Getting up close and personal with Skyrim’s graphics doesn’t do it any favors

Murder your way to the top of the assassin’s guild, get caught up in the academic politics of wizarding school, or just rob blind every single character in the game – Skyrim let players author their own adventure like few games ever had before (or since). Though, overall, Skyrim‘s content is just as appealing as it’s ever been, getting up close and personal with Bethesda’s 6-plus-year-old graphics engine doesn’t really do it any favors. Skyrim has been remade and modded up to modern visual standards consistently since its initial release (including a crisp-looking Special Edition released for PS4, Xbox One, and PC just last year). From better textures, to realistic foliage, to elaborate weather simulation, PC players can incrementally mod the game up to meet whatever graphical standard their hardware can sustain, perhaps more so than with any game that’s ever existed.

These improvements don’t make their way into Skyrim VR, however. The PSVR’s rendering limitations mean that the visuals look much closer to how they did at first release. They have not aged well.

Long-standing complaints about Bethesda’s buggy engine, such as the lifeless gazes of characters talking to you, or the weightless way that people tend to seem like they’re sliding up or down uneven terrain, are all amplified by the natural immersion VR achieves.

It can be tough to scan the horizon, as the rendering detail drops off somewhat precipitously. The breathtaking experience of gazing out over the valley around Whiterun from a nearby mountain peak is undercut somewhat when the grass texture patterns are very obviously and repetitively tiled from a distance. Inanimate objects, like the weapons you wield, generally look good close up, but people’s faces are a mess.

Touch the Skyrim (to the best of your ability)

Presentation aside, the other major challenge that the PSVR presents is control: You can play Skyrim VR using the PlayStation’s Move motion controllers, giving you the ability to swing your sword or cast spells the way your character does in-game.

In theory, motion controls should lend themselves well to the game — actually swinging a sword and shield around with the Move controllers has a satisfying, one-to-one correspondence, as does holding out your hand and blasting a jet of fire out. Flailing at a giant spider loses its appeal if you never get to feel like you’ve actually hit something In reality, though, the Move remotes don’t provide enough feedback when your weapons collide with your targets to complete the illusion.

You’re often forced to watch your opponent’s health bar to figure out whether or not you’ve hit them, leading to awkward false swings. If nothing else, flailing at a giant spider until it collapses loses its appeal if you never get to feel like you’ve actually hit something. Archery works the best in this regard, where you hold one controller forward as the bow and draw back the other to aim.

It’s accordingly much trickier to aim properly in VR than it is with standard interfaces, however. Players will have to be extra careful outside of combat, though, because attacking with a melee weapon is triggered with a simple swing, rather than pressing anything, so it’s very easy to accidentally attack someone with an unsheathed weapon while gesturing. Manipulating menus (which you will necessarily spend a lot of time doing in any RPG like this) is clumsy at best, holding down with the trigger and swiping around to make selections (without a d-pad or joystick on the controller) with a degree of finesse not really afforded by the hardware. Skyrim‘s menus are clunky and not especially user friendly by modern RPG standards, even when using mouse and keyboard or a gamepad — not taking the opportunity to find a more elegant interface feels like a major misstep.

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The relatively narrow range of the PlayStation Camera and the Move controllers’ dependence on visual tracking make it fairly easy for the game to lose track of your hands.

This was especially troublesome when trying to do fine motor tasks, such as picking up a particular object from a table full of things with which you can interact. All too often one of our hands would stutter and appear floating off somewhere nearby, forcing us to hold them up and let the camera get its bearings again.

Fancy footwork

Movement — one of VR’s biggest, open-ended questions — is set to teleportation by default, with one controller letting you cast out a target location to instantly move there, while the other lets you rotate around in sharp, 60-degree turns. Natural movement is also an option for players with the stomach for it, and we were actually impressed by how well-implemented it was in that regard.

Teleportation is surprisingly easy to get used to, and within minutes we were flitting around Limiting the field-of-view (FOV) during movement compensates for potential movement sickness, and the game lets you tweak the extent to which it is limited, allowing for personal preference, which is utterly crucial in questions of VR comfort (where no one size ever fits all). The default teleportation is surprisingly easy to get used to, and within minutes we were flitting around the landscape.

It does somewhat break the immersion, however, and in combat situations it frequently felt clear that the game had not been designed with this type of movement in mind. Being able to instantly teleport around the room in a fight is like the game gave you a blink spell — it fundamentally changes the balance and flow of fights. Some challenges are trivialized by the ability to hop up and down levels instantaneously in a way that your opponents cannot.

Conversely, however, getting swarmed by multiple enemies can feels more overwhelming than before. Other design choices, such as pressure-plate-triggered traps, also don’t work nearly as well when you give players the ability to leap right past them.

Jury rigging

Make no mistake — Bringing Skyrim to the PSVR is an impressive feat, especially given the age of the game and the technical constraints of the platform. We couldn’t shake the impression, however, that the port felt somewhat forced, relying on makeshift solutions to make the game playable in a medium for which it just wasn’t designed.

For a long time, Skyrim has been used as shorthand to represent the immersive promise of video games: Endless worlds filled with endless possibility.

Virtual reality has held a similar role in the imaginations of gamers from a technological perspective, so marrying the two seemed like an obvious match, a gateway to the sort of all-encompassing holodeck fantasies we’ve wanted for decades.

You can’t skip the hard work, though. Skyrim VR teases the future of RPGs, but mostly left us wanting a new experience built specifically for the platform. Skyrim‘s place in the canon is unassailable at this point, but it may be time for us to let it gracefully bow out of public life as a new release, and settle into comfortable retirement as a classic.

Editors’ Recommendations

FanDuel CEO, co-founder Eccles leaves fantasy sports site

Nigel Eccles is leaving FanDuel, the company he co-founded in 2009.

Clodagh Kilcoyne / Getty Images

FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles is leaving the daily fantasy sports site he co-founded in 2009, just months after the site failed to merge with rival DraftKings. Eccles will be replaced at the second-largest daily fantasy sports site by Matt King, FanDuel’s chief financial officer from 2014 to 2016, effective immediately, the company said Monday. Eccles is also leaving the company’s board, where he had served as chairman.

The shake-up comes five months after FanDuel and DraftKings called off a much-discussed merger amid intense scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission. The two companies, which control over 90 percent of the US market, agreed to join forces in November 2016. The daily fantasy sports industry has experienced huge growth in recent years, with players spending an estimated £3.26 billion in 2016, up about 4 percent from a year earlier, according to an annual market study by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

But that rapid growth has led to questions about how such contests, which offer cash prizes to contestants who compete in abbreviated daily versions of the traditional season-long fantasy sports leagues, might be violating state gambling laws.

As a result, DraftKings has agreed to stop accepting paid entries in nine states, while FanDuel has closed up shop in 10 states.

“Matt is the leader to capitalize on the momentum in the sports technology space to take FanDuel to the next level,” Eccles said in a statement.

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Samsung WF45M5500AZ review

Samsung’s £999 WF45M5500AZ got the second best stain removal score of any front-load washing machine we’ve tested. I recommend it if you’re looking for a midrange model with excellent performance. You can stack it under (or install it next to) the corresponding dryer.

A random combination of buttons, touch controls and a knob make the washer’s display a bit chaotic, but its digital screen is easy to read from a distance. The Samsung Smart Washer app is supposed to help you troubleshoot potential problems with your washer, but it’s outdated and glitchy. I’d suggest calling customer service instead.

Even with its slightly cluttered display and annoying app, the WF45M5500AZ is a strong contender alongside other washers in the £1,000 range.

The washer ‘blues’

I like the look of the WF45M5500AZ. The blue finish manages to be different without being too much. You can also opt for the same washer in either platinum (also £999) or white (£899).

You’ll find all of the settings you need on the display panel, but its assorted buttons and touch controls are a little messy. The Samsung Smart Washer app is glitchy, too. It’s supposed to help you diagnose washer issues, but I’d skip the app altogether and just contact customer service or a repair person instead.

Here’s how this Samsung model compares to the £1,099 Electrolux EFLS617S and the £1,199 Whirlpool WFW87HEDW:

Comparing washing machines

Samsung WF45M5500AZ Electrolux EFLS617S Whirlpool WFW87HEDW Price

£999 £1,099 £1,199 Color finish

Azure blue, platinum, white (for £899) White, titanium (for £1,199) Chrome shadow, white (for £1,099) Capacity

4.5 cubic feet 4.4 cubic feet 4.3 cubic feet # of cycles

10 9 10 Energy consumption

105 kWh/year 85 kWh/year 109 kWh/year Dimensions (width, height, depth)

27 x 38.7 x 33.8 inches 27 x 38 x 31.5 inches 27 x 38.75 x 33.13 inches App

Samsung Smart Washer No No

Using pulleys and strings, the Stringbike ditches the chain — and the grease

Ask any bike expert and they’ll tell you that spending more than £1,000 on a bike without a chain is madness. Though they certainly aren’t wrong, these same specialists will likely eat their words after taking a look at the innovative new bikes produced by Stringbike — a Hungary-based manufacturer that has recently thrown the bike world for a loop with its chainless designs. By instead leaning on a system of strings and pulleys, the Stringbike’s drive system is wholly innovative.

Designed in Budapest and constructed entirely in the European Union, each Stringbike — be it a single-speed, carbon, or aluminum variety — comes standard with its unique drive technology. On paper, its advantages over a chained drive system are many — there’s no grease, the bike produces a quiet ride, it avoids gear slippage when shifting, and its dual drive system lets riders custom tune specific weight resistances for different legs. Aside from its traditional seated models, Stringbike also offers its innovative tech in the form of two separate handbikes — one specifically for use with wheelchairs and a tricycle.

Like the the bipedal options, these handbikes produce no grease, deliver a whisper-quiet ride, and quickly disassemble for easier storage or transport. An innovative and potentially game-changing tech in its own right, Stringbike can also count movie prop on its bike’s list of achievements after appearingh briefly in Denis Villenueve’s sci-fi epic Blade Runner 2049. Stringbike’s website says the production company was looking for “futuristic bikes,” so the team sent five to be kept on set for the duration of filming. As of now, Stringbike’s popularity (and demo availability) is mostly in Europe but the brand does allow anyone to purchase a model of their own via its website.

With prices ranging from £3,500 to £4,500, the Stringbike certainly isn’t cheap, though innovative technology like this rarely is.

Editors’ Recommendations