Nostos, an upcoming open world RPG from China-based tech company NetEase, made its Western debut at Gamescom this year with something that appears to be heavily influenced by the popular anime series such as Sword Art Online.
I got a chance to pop into the NetEase booth at this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, and while there are some clear ‘wow’ moments thanks to the overall beauty of the world, it’s clear the studio has a ways to go before Nostos can be considered a true VR success.
Here’s the pitch: players live in the world of Nostos, a post-apocalyptic, but verdant place littered with the remnants of long-abandoned cities and artifacts that help you survive. Including deserts, grasslands, and mountains, players fight off enemies as a natural timer counts down, an ever-expanding destructive force called ‘Coralsea’. The game is supposed to be an online multiplayer, but it’s uncertain if the ‘M’ for ‘massive’ is applicable at this point.
According to a statement by NetEase, “[t]eamwork is key as players gather resources, build a clan they can trust, and fight to pull the world of Nostos back from the brink of utter desolation.” The game is slated to arrive some time in 2019 for PC via Steam, and for VR headsets via Steam, Viveport and the Oculus Store.
Strapping into a Vive, I got the chance to do a few basic tasks; drive a very Miyazaki-inspired pickup truck, shoot a giant bug-type baddie attacking the base (and loot him for treasure), and walk around to soak in a bit of the world that both NetEase and production studio ShuiGe have created.
In terms of its VR implementation, it’s clear at this point that the game is still in its earliest phases, possibly even too early to really be shown to the public without a healthy dose of disclaimers, something I unfortunately didn’t receive throughout my demo experience. While the game’s UI was serviceable, which is based on selecting options from your wrist-mounted watch, most everything was not stellar at this point.
Besides some basic problems with low frame rate, there’s also the issue of a distractingly-close render distance, which resolves finer details like plants at only about a two meter circle around you. This takes away somewhat from the looming structures in the middle and far distances like mountains, large trees, and a cool looking center structure that reminds me of The World Tree from Sword Art Online.
The demo’s overall object interaction still needs a lot of work too. Simply put, you clip through everything. Example: one aspect of resource gathering relies on you ability to fell trees with your trusty axe, which you then use to build houses, craft items, etc. Despite only working in half of the dozen-or-so times I tried, it never quite felt right because my axe would oftentimes clip through my target at not register on the tree at all—something PC players certainly won’t have an issue with. Even something as simple as getting into a truck didn’t seem to work in a VR-native way, as you would have to remember to press a hotkeyed controller button to enter and exit the vehicle, and not simply walk up to it and open the door.
At this point, Nostos‘ VR version feels like a shoehorned implementation, and I genuinely hope NetEase looks around at true VR natives such as Rec Room, Orbus VR, and Echo VR for inspiration moving forward. It’s still early days, and there’s definitely some good bones here that would be grand in VR if properly fleshed out.
A few positive points: as a VR-capable game with standard PC support, the potential pool of players is likely to be higher, giving the possibility of a pretty good start in terms of raw player numbers.
The game is also supporting Improbable’s SpatialOS, a cloud-based server platform that allows for persistent online worlds that continue their physics simulations even if no one is there to interact. This wasn’t available during the demo, but I was told by a NetEase spokesperson that the implementation would be available at launch.