VR gamers have longed heavily for deeper titles that go beyond the surface-level experiences that make up a large portion of today’s VR content. They’ve longed for games with depth and complexity; developer HELM Systems plan to offer exactly that with The SoulKeeper VR, a forthcoming action adventure VR RPG for Vive and Rift with spell casting. The developers have shared new details with Road to VR leading up to the game’s release in Early Access on SteamVR this Spring.
I got my hands on the latest build of the The SoulKeeper VR (teaser video heading this article) which was frankly still a little rough around the edges, though Helm Systems tells us that their new workforce is progressing steadily with improvements on the path to the launch.
After experiencing the latest build on the Vive, I was most impressed with how much the studio is pushing the graphics, as you can see from the pictures. Even with a rather high-end GTX 980 Ti, the lowest settings gave me some stutters in a few places, and the highest settings gave me an almost unplayable framerate. But what I did see on the high graphics was some of the most awe-inspiring medieval fantasy visuals I’ve seen in a VR game.
This is thanks to both their talented artists as well as the underlying UE4 engine. However, I did see notable aliasing because of the low resolution needed to maintain performance. To address both visual and performance issues, Helm Systems tells us they’re experimenting with forward rendering, redone lighting from scratch, and anti-aliasing techniques. Still, this seems to be a title that will satisfyingly push graphics cards to their limits.
Combined with great music, they’ve crafted a very atmospheric setting, which is what I’m most looking forward to. What I didn’t see in the demo was much story-related elements, and this, they’ve told us, will be one thing they concentrate on for the full game.
References like text in the game will give us a deeper look into the lore of the SoulKeeper world which they’ve been crafting for a long time, and the story itself will follow the tale of Isoropos, a member of a brotherhood meant to maintain balance between good and evil. If they can really execute a well-craft, polished narrative in VR as they hope to, this will be quite an impressive gem. We’ll also apparently be able to play as other characters who could have their own stories, but Helm Systems says that the initial Early Access release will be more limited and additional content will be added over time.
Despite the rich graphics, what didn’t quite impress me was the gameplay, at least in this unpolished alpha state. Despite looking quite interesting with a combination of melee and magic casting, some issues kept me from enjoying it.
Sometimes it would be inaccurate detection of the gesture-based symbols you draw in the air to use a spell. Sometimes it would be weird AI/ragdoll behavior where they flop all over the place when hit. There were quite a few small things like that, as well as a bug which impeded progression in my first playthrough. In addition, the actual firing of a spell felt underwhelming as after you’ve drawn a spell with your hand, you see a laser pointing where you’ll shoot, and you press the trigger to fire the spell rather than throwing or ‘casting’ it into the world. The button-to-cast-spell meant it didn’t feel like a real magic spell anymore. It would have been better if it had at least some sort of special animation, but instead it’s just a fireball spawning out of your hand. There was also a lack of animation on the hand for doing many other things, including opening doors and levers.
Granted, this is a pre-Early Access build of the game; I’ve been told that many of those issues I saw in the demo are either already fixed or being fixed rapidly. Looking past the present state, the gameplay holds a lot of potential. You have a magical staff, a sword, and your gesture-based hand magic with different abilities. There will also be a variety of enemies, Helm Systems has revealed to us, from simple swordsmen, mages, and necromancers. And course there’ll be big bosses and dragons.
Other than combat, there will also be puzzles, and I got a taste of one in the demo, where I had to redirect light using crystals. It was easy since the game essentially guided me, but it added a lot to the feeling of adventure in the game.
In terms of locomotion, SoulKeeper VR gives you the option to both walk around freely with the trackpad on the Vive controller and to teleport.
With a newly expanded dev team, the studio says they’ll be able to do a lot to polish the game for the Early Access release this Spring. We’re already excited by the visuals and atmosphere, with gameplay currently rough but holding promise, and the hope of a full narrative in VR. Other magic/combat based games (like Mage’s Tale) are indeed in the works, but The SoulKeeper VR is looking to be a very high value and unique entry.