Exclusive: 35 Minutes of ‘Until You Fall’ Groundbreaking Melee Combat Gameplay

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In announcing Until You Fall, Schell Games was boastful about its ability to deliver an “intense, real-time combat expe­ri­ence that hasn’t been seen before with VR.” After spending a few hours with the pre-alpha version of the game, it’s clear that the studio wasn’t bluffing. Until You Fall’s VR melee combat system groundbreaking in its design and effectiveness.

Until You Fall is far from the first VR game to make melee combat its focus, but it seems to be the first which has truly ‘nailed it’ in the gameplay department. While a game about swinging swords and axes in VR might seem easy thanks to motion input controllers, the lack of physical feedback introduces a host of challenges.

Until You Fall solves a lot of those challenges with a melee combat system which explicitly defines the pace and motions of combat, while retaining enough flexibility and variability that the player doesn’t feel like they’re just reciting motions from a script. The weapons you use and their stats & abilities also play a major role in how you approach each enemy, offering a depth of combat that goes beyond timing. Take a look:

The combat system in a large way employs what I call ‘instructed gameplay’—the system makes clear what to do and when, while execution is up to the player. In VR this can be very compelling, because it means the player needs to move their body in interesting and satisfying ways (great games like Beat SaberSuperhot VR, and Robo Recall, all employ elements of instructed gameplay).

Players can strike enemies at any time, but after a certain number of hits, enemies will start to block and eventually begin dishing out their own attacks. In order to not take damage, players need to block incoming attacks by moving one of their weapons to an indicated location. Some enemies also strike with attacks which require the players to physically move left, right, or duck in order to avoid them. Players can continue to attack the enemy even while the enemy is swinging, but with non-regenerating health and only four strikes until you die, it’s a risky gambit.

Players can hold two weapons; the pre-alpha version of the game includes swords, daggers, maces, axes, and talismans (the latter can’t block or attack but offer generous bonuses). Each weapon has unique stats and special abilities, and each weapon type has different weight, which changes how responsive it is to your movements (daggers are fastest, followed by sword, axes, and finally, the heavy mace).

Image courtesy Schell Games

This interplay between weapon speed, stats, and abilities allows the player to make interesting (and often tough) choices about their fighting style. I found a sweet spot with a sword in my off-hand (which is great for blocking thanks to its size and speed), and an axe in my main hand (which is great for attacking thanks to its damage). But that means leaving the dagger behind, which has the very useful ability of freezing enemies for 15 seconds (a lifesaver in a situation where more than one enemy wants to gang up on you).

The combat in Until You Fall—not just the way you block and attack, but also the weapon types, stats, and abilities—really does deliver an “intense, real-time combat expe­ri­ence that hasn’t been seen before with VR.” It’s a framework so good, that I wouldn’t be surprised if similar mechanics become a staple of VR melee combat for years to come. Indeed, while the game is still only in pre-alpha, the foundation that Schell Games has built feels ripe for expansion by introducing new enemies, weapons, and abilities.

For the record, it would be great if the ‘instructed gameplay’ (which is essential to telling the player what to do) could be conveyed without ‘arcade style’ pop-ups showing where to block, dodge, etc; signaling all of this purely through animations and other in-world means would, in theory, be better for immersion. But the explicit signaling helps de-clunk the gameplay and create room for more depth—letting you focus on making the right moves in the right way and at the right time—while reducing the chance that a missed cue leads to a death that feels unfair or frustrating.

That said, a game like Until You Fall, depending upon its success, could be the first step toward defining a system of melee combat which becomes an expected part of a certain flavor of VR melee games. If the mechanics become familiar to a large group of players, it’s very likely that the explicit signaling can be made more subtle in future titles as the mechanics are refined over time and continually build on the knowledge and experience of players.

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Until You Fall is set to launch in Early Access on Steam on August 27th.

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  • Justin Davis

    I hope free loco can go faster.

  • impurekind

    Well the system might be great but I’m not a fan of the particular way they’re indicating it in this game; it’s just too visually busy and not done in a aesthetic/style that I’m particularly fond of. There’s too much HUD/GUI stuff onscreen, which I’m just not a fan of. But maybe some other developer can/will employ the fighting mechanics in a game that does actually appeal to me.

    • To each their own of course, but I feel this one will be worth experiencing in VR before coming to any conclusions. The strike marks do seem intrusive from an immersion perspective judging from the video, but the flow state of the combat also looks really compelling. The strike marks might fade into the back of your mind as you get comfortable with the mechanics.

    • benz145

      For the record, it would be great if the ‘instructed gameplay’ (which is essential to telling the player what to do) could be conveyed without ‘arcade style’ pop-ups showing where to block, dodge, etc; signaling all of this purely through animations and other in-world means would, in theory, be better for immersion. But the explicit signaling helps de-clunk the gameplay and create room for more depth—letting you focus on making the right moves in the right way and at the right time—while reducing the chance that a missed cue leads to a death that feels unfair or frustrating.

      That said, a game like Until You Fall, depending upon its success, could be the first step toward defining a system of melee combat which becomes an expected part of a certain flavor of VR melee games. If the mechanics become familiar to a large group of players, it’s very likely that the explicit signaling can be made more subtle in future titles as the mechanics are refined over time and continually build on the knowledge and experience of players.

      • namekuseijin

        the irony of this objection is twofold:

        1) the most popular VR game ever is all about hitting those “arcade markers”

        2) you take away the markers and you have non-directed melee combat, of the same kind you have in Skyrim, where you just try to guess enemy attacks and react to them in time, often referred to as pointless wiggling

  • Alextended

    Looks a bit too rigid and QTE-like compared to games like Blade & Sorcery which might have faults of their own (like potentially easy to exploit AI with certain moves when here you can only attack them from certain directions and at certain times to inflict damage then you have to block their combos, leading to this visually interesting dynamic that plays in an almost turn based fashion) but certainly don’t lack in the fun factor and can also be improved and iterated on in different games or sequels. I don’t see why such games should be put down to put this one on a pedestal for being much more traditionally gamey in its systems vs trying to allow as much freedom as you feel you have with modern impeccable VR hand tracking, and the caveats that come with that.

    • benz145

      No one is putting other games down here. However, Until You Fall’s approach is easy to pick up and a lot of fun; it’s the Beat Saber of melee games to Blade and Sorcery’s Pavlov.

      Blade and Sorcery and definitely be fun, but it has a steep learning curve, and the simulated approach has its pros and cons.

      In the future we’ll hopefully see a convergence of these various systems that borrow the good bits from each and merge into something even better.

  • From the description, it seems an interesting game

    • Sorin 79

      from the description it seems nothing than a tech demo

      • namekuseijin

        79 is your birth date? shame on you, old man. you should’ve played some classic arcades and early roguelikes in your old days…

  • LOVE WHAT IM SEEING! Looks like someone finally brought Infinity Blade-style swordplay to VR. CANNOT WAIT!

    • The only criticism I have so far is that the color palette’s of the enemies and the backgrounds seem too similar, which makes them kinda blend together in let’s play format for watching. Would love to see enemy types with some bright red colors or just more visual distinction between pawns and the background. Other than that, looks awesome!

  • Dan Lokemoen

    I skipped Sekiro because of the QTE combat system.

    • Marius Stubberud

      I think the phrase you’re looking for is parry-based combat system. QTE’s are scripted sequences where you press a specific order of buttons in a specific sequence to direct the flow of a cutscene. That’s not what Sekiro’s combat system is.

      You can’t just call anything that comes down to timing your button presses a QTE, that would dilute the term to the point where rhythm games would be considered QTE.

      You’re free to dislike Sekiro’s combat system, but call it what it is.

      • care package

        What would you call Dark Souls’ combat system. Just curious. Not related.

  • Ratm

    Repeat and again and repeat .. everything looks the same..monotony in colors nothing pops. Problem is not eveyone is autistic they to to fix that before release.

  • Jarilo

    Looks cool to me. Need to try it before I start complaining about HUD elements and crap like that because Robo Recall has a ton of arcade hud garbage pop up everywhere and I love it.

  • Jarilo

    I think this looks interesting. People are still experimenting with a way to get JRPG like combat into the game. How would a Final Fantasy work in VR? This could be a potential precursor.

  • Seventeen

    This isn’t original or groundbreaking in any way. It’s quiet literally another VR sword hack n slash with the occasional “aim this direction to block enemy attacks”. it’s been done before many times. If you are fond of the graphics, whatever.

    • Sorin 79

      without at least 10 hours story is nothing than a tech demo

      • namekuseijin

        afaik, this is a rogue-lite: procedurally developed maps with tons of enemies to beat and loot to collect. until you fall, of course

        yeah, people will complain of repetitive gameplay (like most games since Space Invaders)… you know how VR people only enjoy slow dark jumpscare simulators and repetitive box-slashing games…

    • namekuseijin

      when has it been done before? I only know the long delayed Golem was supposed to be like that, but so far I’ve seen nothing trying it.

      you’re all just the seeing markers the same way you see teleport and in both cases I believe they can be turned off for extra challenge. But like I commented above: if you remove the “QTE” markers, you have undirected melee combat and people often deride of that as pointless wiggling. so, you can’t really take joy to both greeks and trojans, but at least can give them options to suit their needs and I hope they do so. I’ll play either way

  • namekuseijin

    this game will be groundbreaking and all I can wish for is a psvr port. Besides the melee, I hope they employ some kind of node-based focus system as well, to quickly get in range of the next enemy

  • CazCore

    the VR world really needs to get over this unbalanced “%100 immersion over everything else” fetish, and put GAMEPLAY at the top of the priority list. this is 1 of the primary REAL reasons VR STILL hasn’t taken off.