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:

Official Site
Developer:
Indimo Labs LLC
Available On: Steam (HTC Vive)
Reviewed On: Steam [Early Access] (HTC Vive)
Release Date: April 5th, 2016


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.

vanishing-relams-2

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.

vanishing-realms-2

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.

vanishing-realms-3

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.


road-to-vr-exemplar-ultimate-by-avaWe 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.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Comfort
Immersion
Gameplay

This article may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product we may receive a small commission which helps support the publication. See here for more information.


  • Sch@dows

    Indeed, a really great experience. A little short as it is for bow (still early access), took me a little less than 2 hours to complete, and the 2nd (last) chapter is only an arena where you keep battling for 9 trials.

    I recommend at least 2.5m square to play the game since you easily forgot you are not at home and tend to reach to border of the chaperon system very quickly (especially when battling).

  • Ombra Alberto

    Exclusive Vive? OHHHHHH. bad!

    • Zobeid

      I don’t see any possible way this game could work on other systems now, without room-scale tracking.

      • Ombra Alberto

        Excuses would work the same with a gamepad.
        Cv1 can make room scale with a single cam.

        • YzaiCreate

          It feels like the whole point of the game is to hold weapons in your actual hands and actually fight monsters. I’m sure gamepad vr games like chronos are great, but this game is about fighting and interacting with the world. As a regular RPG, it’s nothing crazy special, but for the visceral feeling of combat and exploration and inhabitation of a place, there’s few that do it as well as this.

          • Ombra Alberto

            As I have already written it is just an excuse. In the the past there were games of the same type which have always worked. The fact that you are on virtual reality does not change anything. They are just excuses.

          • J.C.

            Ombra, got your excuse for why tons of Rift-exclusive games are blocked from being used on the Vive? Vanishing Realms will be out for the Rift once Oculus releases their motion controllers, so it’s only an exclusive because Oculus dropped the ball. Meanwhile there are several games (three more announced this week) that will be locked to the Rift for no reason other than Facebook wanting to fragment the community for short term gains.

            And no, you cannot “just make it work with a gamepad” without completely rebuilding the interaction system. You CLEARLY don’t understand the difference here, but can’t be told otherwise.
            Vanishing Realms would be very dull with a traditional input system, the ENTIRE REASON the game is engaging is because of the controls.

          • Ombra Alberto

            yes? Ok Ok.

          • YzaiCreate

            I don’t think you entirely understand the difference between the two control schemes. 90% of the game is reaching out and grabbing or hitting or lighting things, and you can’t do that with a gamepad without completely changing every mechanic involved in that. it is technically possible to do, but by then you’re essentially just making a new game with the same art assets, and frankly that’s far too much work for one guy to do alone when he could be making more content for a very content sparse game.

            I appreciate that you want the game, but to say it’s just excuses is naive. Just wait for the touch controllers and you’ll probably be able to play it then.

          • JustNiz

            Wow Oculus fanboi much?

          • Ombra Alberto

            Wow Vive fanboi much?

    • VR Cat

      The game needs motion controllers, and the Rift doesn’t have these yet.

    • Elliot Maldonado

      Exclusive Vive? No one cares. Exclusive Oculus!!!! All hell breakes loose! We humans (virtual, of course) are something else.

  • Zobeid

    Some observations. . .

    This game really benefits from a larger tracking area.

    The bow doesn’t work as naturally as the one in The Lab, and is more difficult to aim. The arrows seem to fly wherever your left wrist points, instead of in line with both hands like a real bow.

    The way combat works is cool, but it’s rather easy. I never was in danger when fighting the skeletons one-on-one. Even facing the big boss skeletons or multiple opponents at once is not particularly difficult.

    And finally. . . Temple of Apshai VR!

    • Sch@dows

      Indeed, combat are way to easy, especially once you have retrieved the shield. Wait for the enemy to attack with large movement, counter-attack through the opening.
      the moment where 3 skeleton pop up, I fall back to a narrow location where only one should have been able to pass at a time. Since enemy kind of go through some of the environment, I still had to battle with 2 at the same time, but still, very easy.

  • Glenn Kletzky

    I agree with the score of 4.5.

    Although a year or 2 from now, i expect this game to be viewed as too short and too simplistic, these are the early days. And this experience is the best i have had so far.

    • Sch@dows

      it’s a little bit strange to see a notation for an early access title.

    • Sam Illingworth

      They’re going to add new chapters I think. I might be wrong though.

      I think I would put this game second – I prefer Budget Cuts.

  • Sky Castle

    Wow this review is super late. Great game though, definitely one of my favorites.

  • Sam Illingworth

    Seconded. This is going to be one of my go to showpieces for showing off the Vive. It’s creepy, tense, exciting, atmospheric and fun! I wish I had more space though, I really wanted to dodge incoming hits more but didn’t have the room, so ended up parrying most of them.

  • DaKangaroo

    I have a proposal for a movement system for VR!

    ROWING!

    Use both controllers, hold down a button for movement, and do a ‘rowing’ action to pull yourself forward, push the controllers forward, then down, then drag yourself forward (or to the side, or back, or whatever), then lift them up and repeat.

    If the problem is the disconnect between visual movement information and the brain, then create a connection! It’s like walking with your hands, the visual movement will make sense because it’s paired with a physical action you’re in control of.

    • VR Cat

      You’re right that more accurate physical and visual connection (ocular and proprioceptive) would help with sim-sickness. There are problems with using your arms to move in the game though:

      1) It won’t make sense for most games.
      2) If you’re using your arms to move, you can’t be using them for something else (swing a sword/shield) at the same time.
      3) Would probably get quite tiring, quickly. You’re designed to walk with your legs, not your arms, which is why (well in my case anyway) my legs are much thicker than my arms and I can walk on them for miles without getting tired.

      The best solution is a motion platform like the Omni, as it doesn’t have any of the above drawbacks, though it does represent an extra investment. I think it’s becoming clearer now that it’s a necessary investment for ‘full games’, where your character moves around. Nobody likes chaperone lines and constantly teleporting – not even the game developers who implement these features.

      • DaKangaroo

        Well something like the Omni is the best solution yeah but for people right now, who own something like an HTC Vive, and can’t afford an Omni, if I was a game dev looking to offer a cheap quick easy movement scheme that reduces motion sickness, I’d go with a rowing movement. It could be two handed or one handed, and doesn’t have to be an excessively active movement, just something you do with your arm without leaning over. Doesn’t make sense but neither does teleporting.

        • VR Cat

          If I were a game developer I would build for the future – make content that will encourage people to adopt the hardware in the first place. It doesn’t matter if that hardware is not out yet. Games were being made for headsets that weren’t commercially available under the belief that people would buy the headsets to have that experience. It’s the content that sells the hardware. I don’t want to play games with unnatural primary locomotion schemes like teleportation, and I won’t buy them.
          Edit: To clarify, I meant games that only offer unnatural locomotion schemes like teleportation – I’m fine with it being an option.

          • JustNiz

            From now on I will ONLY buy games with teleportation.
            All the games that I’ve tried/bought so far that make you move with a joypad very quickly make me feel nauseous.

          • VR Cat

            I have heard that some people are only buying VR games that have a teleport option, due to sim-sickness. The problem (other than it being immersion breaking to have to keep doing that) is that it’s a real challenge for developers to construct their game in a way that prevents the teleport mechanic from being used to cheat – for instance access areas that haven’t been unlocked yet, or avoid enemies that have them cornered.

  • Tyrus Gail

    Another pixelated ‘experience’ for 2000$. No, thanks. And no – I’m not trolling. That’s the truth.

    • Jim Lahey

      the truth is you couldn’t be more wrong.

      • Tyrus Gail

        What is not truth? Pixelated? Experience (not real game)? Price of hardware to run this?
        2016 VR is a joke (or just a beginning if you like).

        • Jim Lahey

          It’s not pixelated, the games are great, and the price is only bad if you are a broke-ass. Seems to me like you both do not own one or play one, so this is really just argumentum ad ignorantiam.

        • JustNiz

          Its stupid to add the price of the PC needed to run VR. Most people who buy a Vive are gamers so already have the hardware to run this and then some.

          Youre clearly talking from a position of ignorance about the pixels (i.e. never tried a Vive yourself). Yes its more pixellated than a monitor but its not half as bad as you seem to think. The sense of immersion is so good that once you’re playing you dont even notice/care anyway.

          Do yourself a favor and get a Vive demo first before you try and comment on something that you clearly know nothing about from actual experience.

    • JustNiz

      Sure you are. Where do you get 2000 from? Vives cost $799 and I enjoy mine enough that the experience is truly worth every penny. Is it 100% perfect? no of course not, but nothing in this life is or ever will be.

  • The game clearly shows that “being Link” or “being the hero” in VR just doesn’t work very well.

    • VR Cat

      What was is that you felt did not work well?

      • It’s not the games fault. It’s just locomotion isn’t there to transport classic gaming experiences 1:1 to VR. You can’t be Link in VR, because Link is way faster and more agile then you can ever be with a cabled VR-headset on your head. You feel like a visitor in a haunted house and not like Link trying to rescue Zelda. It’s fun for what it is, but it is not a subsitute for classic gaming.

        • VR Cat

          Ah, that’s right, and it’s exactly why games like this need a Virtuix Omni – so you can run around. It’s not that this kind of experience doesn’t work in VR, it just doesn’t work with the VR equipment currently available to most people. That is about to change soon.

          • I’m not sure a treadmill alone would be enough to change that. It would still be cumbersome. I think Zelda and similar experiences will only work as standard experience with a gamepad, which isn’t great, or when brain input is around the corner. Up until this point we need experiences which get the most of what’s available.

          • VR Cat

            I’m struggling to think of anything you do in LOZ that you couldn’t do with an Active VR setup. There are certain things, especially transitions (e.g. the animation when you jump on to Epona, or when you are knocked back/down) where you would want to switch to third-person briefly, but for the most part if you can move your body, arms and head, these games can be easily ported to VR, as that’s mostly what your character does.

          • It’s more about how it feels and how efficient it is. The combat in vanishing realms is akward to say the least. I don’t think there will be a significant market for epic, full blown AAA vr-games any time soon only because of locomotion issues. Except gamepad-vr, which isn’t really worth the trade off right now.

          • VR Cat

            I haven’t played it, so I can’t comment on how the mechanics in Vanishing Realms feel, but I know that looking around is great with Rift / Vive, moving my hands with the Vive controllers is great, and walking / running with the Omni is great too; so I would totally prefer to play AAA games in VR based on that, and in fact I can’t go back to playing first-person games without VR. It will be interesting to see how much of a market for AAA games in VR there will be. I think it’s huge, but let’s see!

          • JustNiz

            Yes I agree that it frequently interpreted obvious sword hits, especially from very fast or wide sword slashes as somehow causing zero damage, yet slower, smaller wiggles of the sword did far more damage. Once you figured it out, it was OK as long as you remembered, but it was easy to forget because it is so counter-intuitive and exactly the opposite to real life.

          • Sam Kennedy

            I dont know the last time you played it, but the Dev did an update to change short waggles being an effective way of dealing with monsters.

        • Tehen

          Interesting point of view.
          May be 3rd person VR could be better ?(like Chronos which I have not tried yet).

          I have not experienced room scale VR yet.
          I personnaly do not like the teleportation system I tried in Farlands.
          But I have been positively surprised by how good 3rd person VR works in Lucky’s Tale.

          • Of course you can do traditional gamepad-vr, but there are a lot of trade offs and after all, it isn’t true to what the medium is really capable of.

        • JustNiz

          Are you using a Vive or a Rift? Given the (admittedly frustrating) reality of needing a cable going to your headset, and also actually not being in an infinitely large playspace, I thought the experience of this game was amazing.

          • I got both, doesn’t matter. Its a principal thing. I’m also not saying that it’s a bad game but it does try to resemble iconic classic games but the result is a completly different experience. I think it has a novelty but it’ll wear of since its not very sophisticated.

  • Mickaël Fourgeaud

    No way!
    This game is boring as hell and just a pale copy of the zelda universe. The developer made the buzz, sure, but there’s nothing fun about this game once you’ve passed the novelty effect of VR.
    Combats are dull and immersion breaking due to AIs being more than stupid… let’s not speak about the “puzzles”, music and sound effects, the graphics lacking inspiration, the lack of any story… xD
    I’m pissed of having paid for this crap.

    A game like space pirate trainer might be really simple, but at least it uses Room VR perfectly and allow for an exciting and immersive experience.

    You must be biased in some ways, this deserves no more than 3/5.

  • sirlance

    Already downloaded it…picking up my vive on Tuesday. ….I have a big upstairs game room for roomscale…can’t wait……dk2 has been shelved

  • CMcD

    I love this game. Having a sword and shield feels amazing in VR. Hiding and ducking and popping out to take shots with your bow and arrow feels great. I already want more. Breaking things and picking up coins with your hands is oddly relaxing and fun in VR. This game, call of the star seed and budget cuts (even though it’s only a demo now) are my 3 favorite titles on vive. While it doesn’t have motion controllers I also really loved Fated though I’d love to see fated get room scale/motion control support. I feel like $20 is very fairly priced, I thoroughly enjoyed vanishing realms and love showing it off to friends.

  • Jim Lahey

    I just played for an hour or more and beat the 1st dungeon, I cannot believe how awesome this game is. 5 stars hands down.

  • awilko

    This is one of my favourite titles so far as well.

    A couple of minor gripes though:

    The 2 handed bow in Valve’s lab feels much more natural and I hope the developer changes the bow to be more like theirs rather than as it is now, with one handed aiming and maximum shot power regardless of draw length.

    The enemy AI (especially the big guy) will defensively back up through the chaperone wall, as though trying to lure me into smashing a controller to pieces with a quick lunge. It would be so much better if the AI were aware of your play space and constantly moved to draw you back into the centre of your play area, at least where the walls in game allow it.

  • dotsmada

    I enjoyed the game for about an hour. Was really cool to experience holding a shield, sword, bow, etc. I really enjoyed using the torch as well to light my way in the dark corridors. The coolness did wear off though. The enemies were pretty simple and the whole experience was rather shallow. From what I heard though the studio that made this is very small and it isn’t overpriced so I was ok with what I paid for. It’ll be really nice to see a big studio with deep pockets put out an RPG. I’m sure they are working on them now.

  • RoJoyInc

    ITS great fun… though I have SWORDED my cubbords several times and my wife is threatening to move me out of the kitchen desk area.

  • JustNiz

    I loved this game but finished it in like 3 hours, and I was taking my time to enjoy everything too. I just wish the developers would focus on adding more levels, as was promised. Its been out quite a while now and all we’ve seen are some minor bug fixes and minor function enhancements.