If you’ve been keeping up with VR gaming for any period of time in the past year or so then you’ve probably seen some of the biggest issues with first-person gaming in VR. Nothing kills the mood faster than reaching out in front of you only to realize you don’t have a wrist or forearm represented in the world at all at all. Then there’s the overwhelming prevalence of simplistic and cartoon-style graphics which are, in their own way, fantastic and beautiful, but they lack the detail and high-fidelity some people desire. I love bright and colorful games just as much as the next person, but sometimes I want to get lost in an immersive and articulated world that’s as close to reality as can be imagined. That’s even more important in VR.
Now, The SoulKeeper VR, an upcoming game you can see in action in the video above, looks to be one of the first incredibly detailed and visceral RPGs for the HTC Vive. Other games like The Gallery or even EVE: Valkyrie and Elite: Dangerous immediately come to mind when thinking of some of the best visuals in VR, but nothing quite reaches the same realm of high-fantasy on display in The SoulKeeper VR. It feels like something ripped out of Dark Souls or The Elder Scrolls in terms of stylistic beauty.
That isn’t to say this game will reach the same levels of depth and sheer detail that the aforementioned are known for, but rather that it has the visual style and flair to be worth at least a second glance.
We still don’t know a lot about The SoulKeeper VR, but I had the pleasure of playing the alpha build of the game shown in the video above. I don’t know much about the story and setting yet, but there is clearly a lot of lore to explore in this dark fantasy. The developers explained that I was playing as a character named Isoropos who belonged to an ancient order called the Lavordians. In this demo I was on a mission to retrieve an artifact using a combination of spells and sword skills.
I was venturing into a Mardonian temple, a rival order that promotes chaos and dark arcane magic – as opposed to the Lavordians, who believe in a balance between good and evil. These are but two of the many factions in the The SoulKeeper universe, factions that are clearly poised to be hated enemies.
From the moment the demo began, I was immediately struck with how gorgeous it looked. Everything from the lighting and textures was of the highest quality and the sense of presence with the large gauntlets was astounding. My hands were accurately tracked and I felt incredibly powerful as I explored my environment.
The biggest selling point of the whole experience though was undoubtedly the spellcasting. My right hand had 4 different spells to choose from – a fireball, a flamethrower, ice crystals, and an exploding vortex ball. I could toggle between the selected spells by pressing different areas of the right touch pad.
However, that didn’t actually equip the spell. In order to activate the magic, I have to get a little bit more involved than that. The SoulKeeper VR is a game that requires you to physically draw symbols in the air for each spell. Fireballs are a square and ice crystals are a triangle, for example. Some of the symbols are more complex, requiring more focus and intention to get them right. Casting spells was as easy as pushing my hand forward and pulling the controller’s trigger. It was satisfying and felt incredibly powerful.
Then if I reached my right hand behind my back, I could pull out a richly detailed silver longsword. Since this is an early alpha build of the game the hit detection and physics weren’t great – the sword passed through things in the environment and led to some really bizarre and wonky reactions from enemies.
With my left hand, I could reach back and draw out an ornate staff. Similar to my right hand, the staff could be assigned 4 different spells. Everything from a light to guide me, a large bubble shield, and another flamethrower were possible using the staff. The fourth ability though was the most useful, as it was what allowed me to teleport through the world. Much like other first-person VR games, The SoulKeeper VR uses a hybrid room scale and teleportation based movement system. I can freely move around my room with complete tracking, but if I want to go farther than the few feet I’ve allotted in my physical world, I point my staff and teleport.
The short demo culminated in a battle with several enemy Mardonian’s who were presumably sent to kill me before I could retrieve the artifact I was searching for. Combat felt fast and intense, especially once I got the hang of teleporting away to set up a more powerful attack. I look forward to trying the game again once the hit-detection and physics are ironed out a bit more, but the dismemberment felt appropriately gory.
We’re still a long ways off from seeing a full The SoulKeeper VR experience, but this small taste of the future of RPGs in VR has more than whet my appetite. The final game will feature multiple playable characters that focus on different gameplay mechanics that are all optimized for VR and roomscale in different ways. And most notably, what I played was created in two weeks by 3 people juggling multiple projects. This is an early prototype, essentially just a tech demo, but it has some major potential. Soon, they’ll start devoting all of their time to this project and I can’t wait to see what they cook up.
One thing of note is that The SoulKeeper VR is a standalone title that will exist exclusively in VR, while The SoulKeeper is a larger open-world RPG in development that takes place in the same universe. Currently, The SoulKeeper VR is in development for the HTC Vive by HELM Systems and is aiming for a late 2016 release.