Multiplayer Games in the Age of VR

VR has finally taken off. After decades of failed launches and lackluster products, we are finally seeing a large group of people enjoying the platform. Heck, as I’m writing this, the second generation of VR headsets are currently slated to release later this year.

So, with a new platform, there comes a desire for new software. Many people are looking for simulations to help people prepare for unlikely scenarios, but a vast majority are looking for virtual reality games. And above all other types of games, one stands at the forefront of the peoples’ desires.

VRMMOs.

Yes, ever since the release of Sword Art Online, a popular Japanese anime that depicted an online multiplayer game in VR, people have dreamed of joining their friends on grand adventures through fantastical lands. While we don’t have anything close to the show just yet, I thought I’d run through some of the games I’ve played that really show just how much we have to go to realize that dream.

VRChat

If you’ve heard of VRChat, it was probably because of one of the many memes that it has hosted and spawned. The one that stands above them all though is the Ugandan Knuckles meme, which can still be seen within the game to this day, with the same accent and spitting sounds VRChat players have grown to loathe.

VRChat is a social application that allows users to talk to others from around the world in many setting from around the world and beyond. I don’t really consider it a game as it is more like an engine or platform, much like Garry’s Mod.

Everything from the worlds people explore to the avatars that people use to represent themselves is player-made, and the community takes advantage of this to its fullest, often wearing meme avatars or playing as their favorite anime characters.

A Township Tale

            A Township Tale is unique on this list in the idea that it is not something you can find on an online shop like steam. In order to play this game you must download it either from the discord server or from its website. Its in a pretty early alpha, and I personally have been helping test out this game for over a year.

The game is an adventure RPG where you work with the other players to rebuild the broken structures throughout the town and delve deep into the caves or above-ground “dungeons.” The biggest draw from this game, at least for me, is its focus on using real life motion and momentum to accomplish in-game tasks.

Instead of just crafting things from a menu, you have to go through a large process to build anything. First you need a handle, which you must carve using a hammer and chisel from logs gathered in the forest. You will see specific parts of the log highlighted on the bench, and you must carve off those pieces in the right order to receive your desired item. How easy it is to carve is based on the quality of your tools, the distance you swing your hammer, and the angle at which you place the chisel against the log. Its something that many players hate, and if you enjoy it its really easy to get a job just making handles for people.

To make the head of the weapon, you must first delve into the mines and gather the ore of whichever metal you wish to use. You then need to smelt them into bars of either pure metal or alloy, and then you need to run them into a mold to create your desired head. If it’s a sharp too, you must then take it to the forge outside, where you heat up the metal and then hammer it into shape. This is many people’s favorite part of the game, and you will always find a person or two chatting away while working on their newest tool or weapon.

Every action, from cutting trees to attacking monsters, can do varying amounts of damage depending on how much of a swing you give the tool, where you hit the item, and how many hands are used to swing the weapon. This creates a system that forces more immersion on the player by incentivizing them to make realistic motions instead of just flailing around.

The game has a smaller player-base and server size than most, so its really easy to make friends with the people around town and to see people you know as they do their own thing. It’s a tight-knit community with a dev team that loves what they are doing.

The game is free, but if you wish to give the devs some money you can buy cosmetic items that cycle every couple of weeks. They are often themed around different professions so if you want to really look the part, you can.

OrbusVR

OrbusVR is the first game in this list that actually costs money to play. I believe that when I bought it, it was priced around $40. Now with this one costing money, you would expect the highest quality product, right?

Nope.

This game can easily be described as an MMO that happens to be in VR. Almost nothing is gained from it being a VR game. It feels like the most bare-bones MMO possible that lacks any soul or quality.

Firstly let me run through the classes and how they play to make my point.

  • The warrior is the basic sword and shield character. The only real complexity to their gameplay is the skills, which are achieved by swinging your sword in a certain combination of directions. Their skills focus on drawing agro and slowing enemies. They seem fun at first, but it quickly gets boring just doing the same 5 combos over and over.
  • The musketeer is the simplest class by far. Shoot gun, place skills in gun. That’s it. The only strategy this class provides is in the inventory menu choosing which 4 skills to use. They can provide a variety of roles, but they are mainly support.
  • The runemage is the best class because it is based purely on the skill of the player. Any mage can cast any spells as long as the player can remember the shape to draw. To cast a spell, you merely need to draw the rune of that spell in the air in front of you and then aim it at the enemy. Its a lot of fun and really is the only class that requires IRL training.
  • The ranger is just a slightly harder musketeer with a focus on damage instead of support. They shoot arrows from their bow and choose two special arrows to keep on their belt for special effects. Not exciting.

The next four classes were added in the big update where they attempted to re-do the game.

  • The paladin is a tank through and through. They don’t have as much health as a warrior, but can absorb their damage taken to deal more damage. They can also have a little range by throwing their hammer. Seems like it is more fun than the warrior with its variety of attacks.
  • The bard is the worst designed class of them all. Instead of controlling your attacks, you instead choose an orb to charge up that you then must play a xylophone guitar hero style. It doesn’t have any background music to match to and nothing feels concrete other than casting the skills after they are charged.
  • The shaman is essentially a summoner playing baseball. They place totems on the ground that either generate areas of effect or create orbs that the player must throw at the enemies to deal damage. Seems like a fun time, as they are a glass cannon with a huge damage potential.
  • The scoundrel is RNG the class. They have a gun to shoot and a deck of cards that randomly draws a skill for them to use. It seems like it could be fun, but the reliance on randomness just doesn’t sound like a good time to me.

The game originally was very boring and empty, with them not understanding how people would play the game. They then worked on redoing the game using their new knowledge, but sadly it didn’t make the game any more fun. I would not recommend it, especially with there being much more fun options that will cost you nothing.

Future Releases

            While right now there aren’t very many VRMMOs around, there are many that have been announced to release soon. I look at each of these with a grain of salt, because they seem like they use VR as an excuse for bad game design. Whenever they show off gameplay, it always looks unresponsive and boring. Apparently, I’m one of the few people to notice though, because all I see for these titles are hype and praise. I am very skeptical that many of these will release to a warm reception, especially with many smaller VR titles from independent developers showing us the true possibilities of VR games.

A game in VR needs to be designed taking into account the new principles learned from this first generation of VR. We’ve already seen all the proof of concepts, all the VR ports, and all the gameplay demonstrations that we need. Now we need developers to look at these lessons and create something built on them, something that truly understands the unique advantages and disadvantages of the platform.

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