Moscow-based indie developer Odd Meter isn’t a household name in VR development yet, but with their latest game Sacralith: The Archer’s Tale (2018), that may change somewhat. It’s a surprisingly clever bow shooting game draped in impressively polished visuals – making clear strides into ‘AAA’ territory.
Sacratlith: The Archer’s Tale Details:
Sacralith opens to three lifelike crusaders singing and playing a jaunty tune about my new reality, a world of dragons, evil kings, wizards, and magic stones—the standard medieval-inspired sword and sorcery fantasy that players of Skyrim and the Witcher series would find pretty familiar, but created from the ground-up for VR. It’s clear my new crusader pals, who pop up in cutscenes throughout the game, are the result of a fine attention to detail, as they play and sing with a natural flow thanks to motion capture and what I can only assume is the result of an expert hand in character design.
A magic stone called the Sacralith, I learn from the song, grants power over Dragons, and it’s my job to fight my way through hordes of enemies to stop King Hlodwick from using it to wreak havoc on the world, of course using my trusty bow and a quiver full of arrows of various abilities, each collectible through an unlockable tech tree.
Eight increasingly difficult levels await me, and over the course of many failures, I quickly learn that the game, which works somewhat like a one-man tower defense, hinges on the need for quick, accurate shooting, and a smart use of the many power-ups and magical arrows unlocked along the way through expert shooting and combo kills.
Similar to the objective of tower defense, hordes of enemies will arrive from different lanes, requiring you to stop one lane with a freezing arrow, slow down another with a ‘mud pit’ arrow, break a hulking tank’s full body armor with a special armor-braking arrow, etc – all as you protect your two sword and warhammer-swinging buddies Duff and Kaiden who melee their way to the end of the path. The death of a single compadre will result in a failure of the level, although you can thankfully restart where you died last.
I talk more about the bow shooting mechanic in the Immersion section, but to suffice it to say Sacralith largely nails the fun of knocking arrows and shooting enemies of different makes and models.
There’s a pretty impressive range of enemies too, including everything from simple unarmored peasant warriors that die in a single hit, to the super tanks that can take multiple shots to the head and do serious damage on Kaiden and Duff. In the end, it can get really overwhelming, as 20-odd enemies swarm your buddies below, making you use a wide range of tactics to try and stop them long enough to shoot a slow-motion healing arrow at whoever needs it most, or a lighting arrow to electrify a small affected area to stop heavies from lurching in. Hitboxes aren’t forgiving either, with arrows flying between legs and arms all the time.
You might argue that it’s too difficult since there’s no simple aiming mechanic, and sight acquisition is largely a feeling you develop over multiple attempts at landing accurate long shots—but this comes part and parcel with VR bow-shooters.
Some players may gripe about the node teleportation-only locomotion scheme, but in the context of the game (jumping from vantage point to vantage point), it simply doesn’t work any other way. The emphasis here isn’t exploration, or getting up close and personal with enemies all the time, but rather strategically clearing the way for Kaiden and Duff as they try to smash their way through by firing from high, otherwise inaccessible vantage points. Also, enemies never seem to stop streaming out of the corners of the map, so your only goal is to move forward forward forward.
Expect multiple hours of pounding your head against the wall attempting to make your way across your one-way trip across the world map in search of the Sacralith stone. Players can also replay levels at any time in search of getting the highest score on the leaderboard, but it’s probably not something most players will relish; it’s damn difficult enough as is.
Sacralith is exceptionally good-looking from head-to-toe, offering medieval griminess juxtaposed a world with imposing, and equally impressive architecture. At some points, character models nearly make the leap into ‘human enough’ territory too thanks to natural-looking motion capture done by the Odd Meter team.
Despite the game’s less-than immersive node teleportation, the sum of its parts creates a really engaging and immersive experience, even though you never really physically interact with characters outside of combat.
I’m a fan of the bow shooting mechanic in VR in general, and Sacralith is no exception. While it’s missing out on some much-needed haptics, overall it gives you a satisfying way of knocking arrows by reaching behind your right shoulder, aiming and letting the arrow fly to dispatch your many (many) foes. Besides haptics, which ideally would simulate a solid bowstring pull like in the archery game in Valve’s The Lab (2016), my only other minor gripe can be found in the Comfort section below.
Some negatives that popped out at me in the game include positional audio, which isn’t well articulated in the 3D environment for maximum immersion, and the lack of accurate hand models. Hand models are oddly placed in space, and don’t open or close properly, or otherwise articulate to button presses on either Vive motion controllers or Oculus Touch‘s many capacitive sensors. While your only objective is to teleport, select arrows, and fire them, accurate (or no hands at all) would have been much more appreciated than the lifeless hand-shaped blocks you’re given.
Node teleportation is an exceedingly comfortable way to move around in VR, making Sacralith a very comfortable experience in respect to artificial motion-induced nausea (aka sim sickness).
While Sacratlith lets you start over where you died last, that certainly doesn’t mitigate whatever arm fatigue you built up during your run. And because you’ll be firing arrows as fast as you can knock them, you may end up firing hundreds of rapid fire shots during a single level. After a while, this became a bit tiring, as the unnaturally large number of enemies stream their way to Kaiden and Duff.