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

VR Support

Winner: Skyrim VR

Photo by Road to 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.

SEE ALSO
New PSVR Bundle with 'Skyrim VR' Will Include Updated Headset for $450

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.

Role-playing Experience

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.

image courtesy Fallout 4 Wiki

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.

Leveling Up

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.

Perk Chart from ‘Fallout 4’

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.

SEE ALSO
Sony Cuts Price of PSVR & PS4 Console by $100 for Week-long Black Friday Sale
image courtesy Nexus Mods

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.

User Interface

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.

Pipboy in VR | Photo courtesy Bethesda

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.

Combat

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.

SEE ALSO
'Fallout 4 VR' Now Comes Free With Purchase of HTC Vive
image courtesy Fallout Wikia 

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.

‘Wow’ Effect

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.”

Image courtesy Bethesda

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.

– – — – –

The Verdict

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.

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  • Ron

    As a Rift user, this article is irrelevant. The controllers in F4 are not supported.

    • Bryan Ischo

      That’s OK; you have plenty of Rift exclusive titles to play instead.

      • Ron

        oooo, touched a nerve? Hope I didn’t trigger anything bad

        • Bryan Ischo

          Not at all. But your tone makes it pretty clear what you’re really here for.

        • NooYawker

          Well, you are complaining about not being supported natively on the rift. Makes you sound like a hypocrite don’t you think?
          And maybe it’s just me, but if I find something irrelevant, I don’t read the article and I especially don’t post comments in the article. That makes it relevant to you.

          • Bryan Ischo

            Yes, that’s kind of my point too. You can be unhappy about the fact that you don’t get native Rift support, but you can’t claim this article is “irrelevant”, since many people have played FO4VR on the Rift using several techniques that are widely known.

            And if you’re not willing to do that, then like I said, you have lots of Rift exclusives to enjoy instead.

            If you take the notion that you can just play a Rift exclusive instead of FO4VR as some kind of slight, then you need to realize the hypocrisy of that sentiment given the obvious fact that the Rift platform is the king of exclusives. Just suck it up and enjoy what the platform you have chosen offers to you.

          • Ron

            Again, you seem triggered about the Rift.

          • Bryan Ischo

            No, but when you keep accusing me of that, I think it indicates that you must be triggered in the other direction.

          • Ron

            I differ, as I actually read the article to decide relevancy to me. My complaint is that this article brushes over how difficult it can be to get F4 to work with the Rift. An unsuspecting shopper might pay 60 bucks to buy it and be quite disappointed. Until there is full support, a comparison is unfounded.

          • benz145

            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.

            You feel this is brushing it over? (honest question)

          • Ron

            Yes I do,
            You and I buy a game and see this.. “map the Touch buttons yourself by going into a beta branch of SteamVR and opting into the “openvr-inputemulator-temporary – Temporary branch”…we think ok, I can do that. New user (especially a VR user) sees this and says WTF, I didn’t see this when I paid $60 for it.

          • ArSh

            A “new user” shouldn’t then be spending $60 on a game that’s clearly not officially supported on their HMD.

          • AndyP

            Then you also have to mod the graphics so they don’t look terrible. Whatever the reasons, it’s poor customer service, or lazy work. We’re not to blame for their legal fallouts!

          • Dave Graham

            100% correct and the reason I haven’t bought it (yet).

            Should keep the comparison between the two games centred around the Vive, that’s the only valid comparison until Rift is officially supported “apples n apples” and all that.

      • Dave Graham

        Wow the wand salt is real lol

        • Bryan Ischo

          Not sure where you’re getting that from. Rift has exclusive games, many of them quite good, you don’t need to spend your time lamenting what’s not available to you, just play what you have and stop bitching here.

          • Dave Graham

            Point me to one single lamentation I have made?

            Oh yeah, you’re talking shit.

          • Bryan Ischo

            “Wow the want salt is real lol”. I mean it’s the one post you’ve made. But it’s pretty clear that you have nothing useful to add to any discussion, so welcome to my blocklist.

          • Dave Graham

            There’s huge difference between an observation/accusation and a lamentation. learn to English.

    • bob

      Do you always mention that you own Rift when article is not relevant to you? I hope not. You are not making any sense. As far as I know FO4 can be played with Rift and, eventually, FO4 will be updated to support Rift. I did found this article useful. (Rift owner)

  • NooYawker

    User interface of Fallout was a nightmare. Scrolling through the menu’s was so frustrating I almost quit because of it.

    • Bryan Ischo

      I agree with this. I had never played Fallout 4 before so to try to figure out how to operate the controls without already having flat screen experience … it was very frustrating and I didn’t play for a long time after I bought the game because of it.

      But eventually I forced myself to play for a longer time and get used to the controls, and now, while they are still horrible, at least I can play the game.

      My biggest frustrations now are the sensitivity of the sliding motion on the touchpads, the difficulty in hitting center click versus other clicks on the touchpads, and the biggest one, the number of times that my controllers will switch on their own to “command dogmeat” mode without me even realizing or wanting it.

      • ummm…

        yes i never played skyrim and fallout until vr dropped. the touch pads are annoying. but whatever, the roomscale is butterrrrrr.

    • ummm…

      yeah vive wands in skyrim and FO4 are kinda annoying for menus. but, WHO CARES!!!! im playing both for the first time in vr. *starts crying from joy*

      • NooYawker

        That’s the best attitude to have. Sometimes we forget to focus on the positive.

  • Luke

    I hope in the next F4 patch they will support Oculus!

    • Kathleen

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    • ummm…

      i hope oculus never gets it……i hope all oculus’ break from a patch pushed out to fix one invisible bug in the store…..nah lol jk. let vive and rift owners link hands across the world for peace and the end to poverty/hunger. if we all buy one vr hmd then nobody will notice those things……….ha!

  • RockstarRepublic

    Skyrim VR + Mods = Best VR experience to date. Make sure you grab Vortex (mod manager), it has native Fallout/Skyrim support. Look for mod lists or the google doc detailing tested mods for VR. I am simply blown away by the experience so far… far better than Fallout 4’s VR experience.
    https://github.com/Nexus-Mods/Vortex/releases/

    • Master Pok

      without mods skyrim VR is great, with the mods it is far and away the best VR gaming experience available at this point.

  • Andrew McEvoy

    Good review! However Id mark F4 down more for how un-user friendly it is to set up the touch controllers properly.

    • ummm…

      setup? you can change maps? ive got wands. works just fine. must mean that the vive wands are the superior solution ;)

  • oompah

    Thumbs up
    I WANT TO BUY SKYRIM VR
    I WANT TO BUY SKYRIM VR
    I WANT TO BUY SKYRIM VR
    Now

    I love Skyrim , it is so light on hardware,
    while other games like witcher 3 take >200 GB ,
    Skyrim can do with 20 GB HDD space
    Yet Skyrim is superior
    The special thing about Skyrim is that
    u really start believing that u live in that world
    and after owning so many powers , homes , dragon, status etc.
    u feel nostalgic
    also it gives u withdrawal symptoms when u have finished the game and
    there is nothing to do
    THAT IS THE LEVEL OF EMOTIONAL IMMERSION U HAVE
    —–
    I urge Betesda to:
    1. Make it infinite by constantly adding some modules after every say 3 months
    2. Start selling hardware too to make it run . My eyes are on intel NUC , Hades Canyon + VR headset( oculus , psvr with mods , and also on Android vr etc)
    3. Keep it compatible for playing with Xbox / Logitech controller 710
    4. Why not sell a latest headset independent of PC/XBOX/PS , load it directly on its h/w such as on Samsung phone for Gear VR etc
    5. Start a cloud streaming service which processes all GPU elements (in cloud) and simply streams images only to user so that any user of any hardware can use it.
    6. Allow customization to such extent that users can upload their own 3D image (of face & body) for use of their character and also of their family/friends too keep them alive even if they become dead.
    7. Dont let it die

    • AndyP

      Find the Touch controller setup much better than Xbox controller when comparing VR and original Skyrim (I was unable to use keys/mouse with original because of shoulder issue).

  • Raphael

    Fallabout 4 VR is still a broken mess. Ugly shimmering pixels and blurry distant scenery.
    Updates didn’t fix anything for me.

    • antonio mora

      Are you on win 10?

      • Raphael

        Yup. I ams. When it first came out I made the mistake of updating to windies 10 creator nonsense. Then I discovered the game was broken on that version. Later tried on vanilla windies 10. Tried the game again last week. Fuzzy pixelated background.

    • JJ

      thats strange it works wonders for me. I took a break from fallout vr and just got hooked again.

      • Raphael

        I can try it again and see how it looks.

  • DanDei

    I just hope they are going to fix the water reflections in Skyrim. No matter what mod you use, you just don’t get any reflections. Looks just bad and weird.

  • jj

    Ive been loving fallout lately and with no mods! Its just a blast to explore and find the funny quirks hidden in the world

  • Doctor Bambi

    Fantastically written comparison. Pretty much agree on all points and this is why I really wish Bethesda had chosen to make a VR version of Fallout 3 instead.

    -Wouldn’t have near the performance issues of 4.
    -No immersion breaking player voice and many varied and interesting dialog options.
    -They probably would have had enough rendering headroom to implement a more natural scope system.
    -(IMO) Capital Wasteland was a much more interesting world to explore. With more meaningful characters and quest lines.

    -Could have released on PSVR too.

    -And you’d get to keep the intuitive pipboy interface, and gun based combat.

    Just sayin Bethesda ;p

  • Miqa

    Nothing was mentioned about melee in FO4. How does that play? Considering that you can utilize spells or bow in Skyrim to the same degree that you can use guns in Fallout and that Fallout also has melee, the combat comparison falls a bit flat IMO.

    • ummm…

      eez fyne.

  • Mythos88

    After a week I believe that SkyrimVR is the best gaming experience of my life. And I’ve played more than few.

    • Master Pok

      have to agree. been telling people if you own a VR headset this is the game to have. Closest thing to being on the holodeck in 2018

    • Sandy Wich

      Leaned in to kiss Sophie, camera teleported me backwards.. Cucked in video game just as hard as real life. :'( Why Todd </3

      • ummm…

        im a little worried about my feelings for lydia and piper.

        • Ted Joseph

          Lol

    • Ted Joseph

      I agree. It is amazing!!

  • antonio mora

    For a Rift user opting in and out of beta is annoying to say the least.

    • ummm…

      oh the humanity……….try having to install revive just to play dirt rally ON THE STEAM STORE. we are both made small by this ecosystem.

      • antonio mora

        hmmm… I don’t think is the same, you need to install revive only once and for me to play FO4, I need to opt in temporary beta and if I want to play Skyrim I need to opt out of beta. Everytime, everytime! back and forth! Annoying.

        • ummm…

          Really every time on rift? Everytime? I don’t believe! ;)

  • Master Pok

    I own both, but I have a rift. There is no comparison. Skyrim VR is a great gaming experience, Fallout 4, even for VIVE users apparently, is still quite a mess.

    • ummm…

      i have fallout 4. it is seamless. i dont know who those vive users are, but they aren’t me! oh and the compulsory; rift sucks – terrible roomscale – your mother is a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries.

      • Master Pok

        glad to hear you are enjoying it

  • AndyP

    Skyrim VR is currently the winner for me. Find the Touch controls good, intuitive in Skyrim VR. Wish they’d sort out Fallout 4 controls to work with Touch, and have more and better graphics options for higher spec systems on both. Fallout 4 interface is terrible and the graphics were disappointing even on non-VR, although mods fix them, they made similar mistakes with the VR versions. Why should others/customers have to complete developers work, with mods, after spending hard earned money? Get your act together Bethesda.

  • Sky Castle

    Skyrim definitely has much more wow moments. It’s incredibly beautiful and eye candy vs Fallout 4 VR’s wasteland. The scale and seeing everything from a distance is just breath taking in Skyrim VR.

    And riding on a horse is so much fun, especially with your companions on their horses riding with you.

    • ummm…

      one thing i love about both, and having never done a playthrough on the pancake versions, is that the worlds are so big and detailed that sometimes i just get tired thinking of all the places i need to go and discover. ill just climb up to the top of the highway and watch the sunset because im overhwlemed…..or ill go up to the throat of the world and watch the night sky and think to myself – i can go to all those places……

  • dogtato

    The menus are so bad I refunded it after an hour. I don’t understand how anyone can claim a game with such an awful interface is the best vr game. Scrolling with touchpads to select things instead of physically touching it or even pointing a damn laser? AAA apparently means you don’t care about UI. Also, stock controller models in game, how lazy can you get?

    • ummm…

      …….they aren’t great…..but what a entitled little mongrel you are ;)

      • dogtato

        Can you name any other vr games where you can’t interact with menus by either poking with a finger or at worst pointing a laser? Can you name any other VR games that require you to use menus so often? For $60 I am entitled to a UI that’s at least on par with any random bargain bin game.

        edit: oh, dog -> mongrel, I get it. But seriously, in terms of UI, Skyrim is one of the worst VR games.

        • ummm…

          its not a native vr game when developed. im not bothered in context. wow….you are a load of fun aren’t you ;)

        • RockstarRepublic

          …mods

          • dogtato

            I’m not aware of a mod that affects the menu controls. The closest I know of is one that adds voice commands for changing spells and shouts.

          • RockstarRepublic

            You can tweak the UI with Mods, and also use the voice command mod you noticed… just not radically change the game to touch menu items. Its not a problem though, as the UI, despite being made for consoles, is easy enough to manage.

      • Carl Wolsey

        Because you have an opinion on something that makes you entitled? Absolutely nothing in his post suggested he felt entitled. I guess it’s just the goto insult of unimaginitive sheep these days.

    • Carl Wolsey

      You aren’t alone. I don’t understand how anyone can play this game for any length of time with such awful UIs either, yet alone claim it’s the best VR experience.

    • Mythos88

      It is too bad about the menus but it is not what I’m thinking about when I’m walking through a dungeon with a follower and summoned atronack with the 360 sounds freaking me out and not knowing when or what is coming up next. Spine tingling immersion extraordinary. And to think that can be repeated in about 1000 unique ways. This is so much beyond anything we’ve had before. You’re doing yourself a big disservice but focusing on its faults which actually pale in comparison.

  • ummm…

    i cant get enough of both, AND I WONT CHOOSE! DONT MAKE MEEEEEEEEEEEE. *dragged off to a padded cell – WITH VR!!*

  • Ted Joseph

    I can’t get enough of this game… I’ve been playing it nightly for about two hours for since it’s been out.. I was on the mountain in the ice, I can’t remember where, looking for some stuff, and I found this temple way up high and I looked around and I was just in awe.. This is just the beginning of what VR is going to be in the next 10 years can’t wait…

  • Sam Illingworth

    I’ve done the start, and cleared out a mine on the way to Riverwood, and just arrived at Riverwood. So far I’m a lot less impressed than a lot of people seem to be.

    Pros:
    – Archery, pretty cool
    – People charging at you are quite intimidating
    – Dragons are ****king scary
    – Interiors look alright

    Cons:
    – Outside looks really bad, especially the distant stuff – I find it hard to feel much wow at a distant mountain when it’s just a blur (I’m on an original Vive).
    – Skyrim’s actually quite a dull game! Maybe it picks up later, but I really found exploring that mine a chore. I don’t remember feeling that first time round, maybe things like Witcher 3 have spoiled me.
    – The UI is a bit of a faff. Strange that they didn’t rejig it more.
    – Combat is clunky. I get queasy with direct motion so I’m using teleportation, and I really don’t feel very agile in a might. Backing away is particularly difficult, especially since it takes one of your hands out of action.

    I’ll persevere for a while, see if it grows on me as I get used to the movement and combat, and I’ll avoid as many tedious dungeon explorations as possible, them, if it still hasn’t, I’ll give Fallout 4 a try instead.