Bethesda’s recent flatscreen-to-VR ports, Skyrim VR and Fallout 4 VR, face a few common challenges in terms of immersion. Neither are perfect, but at this point in time, both games represent something VR users haven’t had yet: vast and rich open-world adventures that offer a high degree of customization and replayability—so called real AAA VR games. Here I’m going to attempt to break down Bethesda’s flagship VR games into some more identifiable parts so we can see who comes out on top: food for thought for the PC VR gamer who is on the fence between the pair.
Also See Our Reviews
Fallout 4 VR Review – Released December 11, 2017
Skyrim VR for PC Review – Released April 2, 2018
Winner: Skyrim VR
At the launch of Fallout 4 VR—for whatever reason—Bethesda didn’t support Oculus Rift natively, something that was remedied on launch of Skyrim VR. Even up until today though, the company hasn’t added the Oculus Rift badge to its list of supported platforms on Fallout 4 VR, leaving it in a grey area. Yes, it technically works thanks to OpenVR, but you’ll actually have to map the Touch buttons yourself by going into a beta branch of SteamVR and opting into the “openvr-inputemulator-temporary – Temporary branch”. So out-of-the-box VR support for all SteamVR-compatible headsets isn’t perfect on Fallout 4 VR.
VR Optimization & Mods
Winner: Skyrim VR
Fallout 4 VR has undergone two major patches since release, and while it’s gotten much better in terms of VR optimization since launch, it still has its limitations. Let’s face it, it’s a modern game built on an engine that was shoehorned into VR and not built from the ground up with VR support in mind. The short of it: you’ll probably have to futz with settings and .ini files to get it exactly right on your system. An NVIDIA GTX 1070, which is widely accepted as the median ‘VR Ready’ GPU, is the bare minimum you should have when playing Fallout 4 VR, making it not only less accessible, but less stable as a VR game in general.
As an older title that was first brought to the lower-spec PSVR headset, Skyrim VR works phenomenally well on lower-end VR Ready GPUs, and rarely causes those immersion-breaking moments of popping textures, blurriness, and short render distances that you still see in Fallout 4 VR to date.
Not to mention Skyrim’s many texture and weather mods that can give the aging title a serious facelift. With Skyrim VR being so computationally cheap when compared to Fallout 4 VR, you can afford to toss on pretty much as many non-UI changing mods as you damn well please (this guy threw on 285). The winner here is clear.
Winner: Skyrim VR
Being able to choose how the story unfolds is a large part of what makes modern RPGs great. Having the ability to select your path can make the difference between being swept up in a story, and being swept along in the story, and in that respect not all RPGs are created equal.
I’m at first tempted to say Fallout 4 VR outdoes Skyrim VR in pure choice thanks to its multiple endings, which provides a slightly different terminus to the adventure. But that doesn’t mean Fallout 4 VR offers a better role-playing experience in VR just because you can get to the end in a few different ways.
As a voiced protagonist in Fallout 4, you’re not given the freedom to define your own role and build upon the character’s lore. Instead of having the ability to choose which response is right for you word-for-word, like in Skyrim and older games in the Fallout franchise, in Fallout 4 your responses are bland, and voiced by someone else. This essentially tasks you with piloting another, fully fleshed-out person instead of filling in the gaps yourself, which is weird in VR when the voice coming out of your head is someone else’s.
In Skyrim, the world’s lore is rich enough to provide you with all the information you need to construct your own personality, be it a Nord stealth archer abandoned at birth and forced into imperial service in Cyrodiil before landing on the scene as a deserter, or the daughter of a mage family that was blackballed from every major magic college in Tamriel except Winterhold in Skyrim. You have that freedom; it’s not just a male/female selection screen with a few avatar sliders that defines you.
While Skyrim’s end goal is more simplistic than Fallout 4’s for sure, I found it left an appropriate ‘RPG gap’ for me to fill in myself. As a developer, you can choose to close those gaps for a variety of reasons and still have a great game, but just not as great of a role-playing experience.
Winner: Skyrim VR
Gaining new abilities and growing stronger is a core element of what makes Bethesda’s RPGs fun. What should be a gradual increase in natural skill acquisition ultimately becomes an exponential increase in your ability to do interesting stuff. In both games, you’re rewarded with points you can spend on special abilities, and although a few years older, I found Skyrim’s perk/skill acquisition system much more natural: you simply have to engage in your chosen activity to get ‘better’ at it.
In Fallout 4, you’re given a simplified Perk chart featuring selections in Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. You can basically choose whichever skill you want provided you’ve put the points into your ability first and have the required level. This, essentially, means you can upgrade a skill you’ve never used.
In Skyrim, the time doing something you actually like doing directly translates into better skills in that area, and because it’s a ‘perk tree’, choosing correctly is salient to forming a unique character with unique abilities (unless you go hog-wild and spend an ungodly amount of time maxing everything). Main criticisms of this system are that it’s not flexible enough and you have to spend too much time grinding for secondary skills like blacksmithing or enchanting, taking away from the more primary abilities like Destruction, Armor or Lock Picking. Both systems appeal to different playing styles, but Skyrim’s way of letting you progress in levels is decidedly more conducive to natural gameplay in VR.
Winner: Fallout 4 VR
Both games are menu-heavy experiences, a design trope that unfortunately feels like an unnatural relic in VR. But Fallout 4 really has something going for it that Skyrim VR just doesn’t: the Pipboy.
It, as far as user interfaces go, is a golden gift to the VR version of Fallout 4. You can lift up your arm and fiddle through settings just like you’d expect to if you were magically thrown into the Wasteland. Skyrim VR is virtually unchanged from the flatscreen version UI-wise, making it second place by a long shot, given the way that the same old menus from the flat version just pop up and float in front of you.
Winner: Fallout 4 VR
Neither combat systems are perfect; you can’t naturally sheath/holster or draw a weapon, and there’s zero hand presence to speak of. That said, Fallout 4 VR has a distinct advantage over Skyrim VR thanks to its gun-heavy combat system.
When appropriately outfitted with glow-sights and scopes (which now work, although at launch they didn’t), you can play the game basically as it was intended. VATS, the slow-mo targeting mechanic, is also something that works really excruciatingly well in VR. Giving you time to line up shots and feeling the thrill of accurately dispatching several enemies in one go is really satisfying.
Skyrim VR on the other hand offers some fun in the magic and bow-shooting department, but falls flat on its face when it comes to melee combat. No matter how hard you try, it’s nearly impossible to shake the omnipresent feeling that the 20 pound broadsword you’re carrying is really just a balloon animal that you can waggle back and forth to magically do damage to enemies.
Winner: Skyrim VR
I’ll fully admit this this a matter of taste, and not based on anything objective in the slightest (we’re all different, right?), but this bears mentioning. Trekking over a mountain pass to solo-fight your first dragon is without a doubt one of the most exhilarating (and terrifying) moments I’ve had in VR gaming to date. There’s a lot of variety in the world of Tamriel, and as a result Skyrim VR is packed with those sorts of moments when you look around to say “wow, that’s pretty,” or “wow, that’s terrifying,” or “wow, that’s scary.” Skyrim VR is full of “wow.”
Fallout 4 VR is mostly a grey, drab and dirty world, and that aesthetic personally doesn’t lend itself to those breathtaking moments of pure awe. There are of course moments when you drop in on a Mutant running with those terrifying nuclear suicide bombs, or look out over the Wasteland from a Brotherhood of Steel airship, but I felt like those were too few and far between.
– – — – –
If you’ve been keeping count, then you’ve seen that Skyrim VR has taken a majority of the categories, so by now my personal verdict is probably obvious. Here’s a quick recap of the talking points:
Skyrim VR leaves more of a ‘gap’ for pure RPG’ers thanks to an immersive lore, is better optimized for lower-end systems, has a better overhead for all sorts of mods, a more natural skill leveling system, and a clear ‘wow’ effect (at least for me). Despite offering magic and bow-shooting, combat takes a hit by being largely melee-based, and UI is a straight port from the flatscreen version making a menu-heavy system worse.
Fallout 4 VR offers a rich and vast world that sacrifices pure role-playing immersion for a definitive story, has a less natural (but more flexible) leveling system, good combat thanks to guns and VATS, and a more natural UI thanks to the Pipboy. Shaky VR optimization keeps it out of the hands of some VR players though, leaving less graphical overhead for the more fun additive mods.