E3 2016: Fallout 4 VR and Amplifying Immersion

Bethesda's open-world RPGs are already known for their immersive qualities, but taking it to the VR plane may be the next big step.


For all the high-minded talk of graphical fidelity being the key to immersion, Bethesda's games tend to prove just the opposite. Games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 were no where near visual highpoints of their contemporaries at launch--at least before the mod community got to them. But to millions of fans, they're the most immersive games around due to their depth and clockwork worlds. Bethesda seems to intuitively understand this, by spearheading its VR effort with Fallout 4.

I had a brief hands-on with Fallout on the HTC Vive (scheduled to launch next year) and while there's clearly a long way to go it's a promising start.

For the demo, I was instructed to stick close to the Red Rocket gas station, signaling that this proof-of-concept hasn't yet fleshed out the full game world. Like many of Bethesda's games, Fallout felt to me like it could pop a spring at any moment, so it's not surprising that the studio only had a limited portion of the game mapped out. 

Movement was done in the teleportation-style, with a cursor letting me jump short distances instantly. It's not a very elegant solution for movement, and it's certainly not applicable to the real game that demands movement and cover during tense gunfights. For the purposes of a virtual tour, though, it worked fine. I was able to look around the environment, though having my movement restricted did break the immersion somewhat.

This being a video game, most of the interaction came down the barrel of a gun, with sets of bottles and cans lined up in a makeshift shooting gallery style. It was starting to get a little rote, when the demo suddenly threw a pack of raiders at me, who promptly injured my canine companion, Dogmeat. How dare you. At this point, the experience got truly exciting, as I whipped my head around to lock eyes on a target, then raised my actual arm to take aim and fire.

Nothing about this is revolutionary, per se, but having it integrated into the world of Fallout made it stand out that much more. Knowing as I do just how expansive the world can be, and knowing that attacks from raiders, mutants, and deathclaws can come at any time, the small glimpse of a skirmish illustrated how this could be applied to much larger threats, in the midst of exploring a broken down factory or burnt out shack.

I do still have technical concerns. Like I said, Fallout has never been the most stable game, and getting it to run at a framerate that's smooth in VR is vital to warding off problems like motion sickness. Bethesda is going to have technical hurdles ahead, and instead of disregarding those fractures as part of the experience, it has to make sure it's buttery-smooth for it to be viable at all in this new format. I hope the studio understands that, but we'll have to see.

For the time being, Fallout 4 in VR was a striking look at how virtual reality could create opportunities for long-lasting, rich games that demand more time than 15 minutes of wow. And if it works, Bethesda could easily apply this philosophy to other open-world RPGs, so a day may come when we can explore the world of the Elder Scrolls this way as well. We can certainly hope.

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