Garret Bullard hacks and slashes his way through the Zelda-esque, HTC Vive exclusive action RPG Vanishing Realms from one-man development team Indimo Labs, and finds one of the most engrossing room-scale VR experiences out there.
Vanishing Realms Details:
It’s hard not to smile when facing your first enemy in Vanishing Realms: Rite of Steel. Us early adopters have been waiting for this moment since we first tried VR and understood its potential. For me, it occurred when I realized that I was going to get to fight one-on-one with a sword-wielding, undead skeleton.
I raised my sword and prepared to fight. The skeleton walked towards me and opened his attack with an overhead swing which I blocked, returning a strike of my own, stabbing at his face. A successful hit! I dodged behind the skeleton and hit him again, having completely forgotten that I was, in reality, standing between my bed and dresser. With a groan, the skeleton fell backwards, erupting into green flames, leaving me shiny, floating gold coins to collect. While playing Realms you get an overwhelming sense of this is what I have been waiting for. Games that offer these kinds of experiences are the reason many of us bought the HTC VIVE and there were plenty of other times during my two hour playthrough where this same feeling of excitement returned.
Vanishing Realms is a first person dungeon crawler RPG recently released for the HTC Vive. It is structured like most fantasy RPGs, wherein you, the hero, attempt to rescue the world from evil using swords, bows and magic. The game focuses on combat and exploration, while leaving story to the wayside.
The first few minutes is spent on teaching gameplay mechanics like the inventory system and movement. The inventory system is like a 3D drag and drop, where you place the items that you have picked up and wish to keep in the floating inventory that is hovering around your torso. It works well and is fairly intuitive. The only issue I had with this system is determining where in 3D space the inventory would register when I wanted to store an item. Once you understand exactly where you need to release the trigger in order to stash items, the system works well.
The movement system is also fairly intuitive. You simply point the right controller where you want to go and hold down the trackpad. A line with a blue dot at the end indicates where the player will be teleported. Once you have chosen the spot, you release the track pad. This was an excellent choice for a movement system and seems to be the current industry standard, as moving with the track pads (as if they were analog sticks) can be cumbersome and for some, visually uncomfortable.
In addition to being able to move about the world using the teleporting system, you can also walk around your “playspace” in order to interact with the virtual world. Realms does a good job in utilizing the roomscale capabilities, providing many opportunities to move about your playspace. It feels natural to bend over barrels with torches to check for gold coins, hide from enemy arrows, and pop out from behind rocks to return their fire.
Realms also succeeds in providing entertaining combat scenarios. Timing your strikes and finding openings in enemy armour is a fun challenge that makes for rewarding combat. While blocking enemy swings and landing your own, you can’t help but get immersed and even sometimes work up a sweat. The HTC Vive’s haptic feedback makes every block, swing and bow shot feel like it has impact, giving combat an extra layer of satisfaction.
The one gripe I have with combat is that, when you are too far away, the enemies sometimes stare vacantly at you, even when in range of your bow. When this is the case, it becomes too easy to pick them off one by one. However, it’s possible to ignore this downfall by moving in close and engaging them in melee combat.
The developers manage to keep gameplay fresh by introducing new enemies, and throwing different combinations of these enemy types at you often enough to keep combat interesting. Sometimes you even need to use trial and error tactics in order to progress. The environments vary from secret laden valleys to ore rich mines while giving the player plenty to look at. Exploring these environments is extremely fun and I found myself looking behind every rock and in every log for gold coins to collect. The art style is sort of cartoonish, but it doesn’t detract from the immersion. A sense of dread still rises when you face down a skeleton warrior or dodge a fireball hurled in your direction.
If you have an HTC Vive I can absolutely recommend downloading Vanishing Realms. Despite a few minor shortcomings this is one of the best experiences to be had on the HTC Vive.
We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.