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The RPG Files: Vanishing Realms is an Amazing Start to VR RPGs

Columns By Christopher Coke on July 07, 2017

Vanishing Realms is an Amazing Start to VR RPGs

Last week, Bill Murphy and I took on the mantle of MMORPG.com’s VR writers. I was lucky enough to receive the HTC Vive and, like any RPG fan with his first headset, I went about trying every RPG I could get my hands on. There are fewer than you would think, but one game in particular caught my eye and kept me playing far after I should have gone to bed. That game is Vanishing Realms, and more than any other game I tried, it shows just how incredible virtual reality can be for RPGs.

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If you’ve followed the world of VR since it became available to the masses last year, you’ve witnessed the evolution of a brand new way to play games. VR has absolutely been the hotness in hardware manufacturing, with everyone and their brother stamping “VR Ready” on their components. The most important observation of all, however, would be the surge of VR games at launch followed by the pull back as companies began to realize that there may not be as big of an audience as they’d hoped - VR is great, but it’s expensive and hard to market. We’re in the middle of VR finding its place in the market and developers figuring out not only how to make virtual reality games but how to make a profit from them.

As a result, so many games are Early Access and episodic. Virtually every RPG and RPG-lite I was able to try fell into this category. And, interestingly, it’s how I found Vanishing Realms. VR forced me to put aside my preconceptions about Early Access and games in the works. There is a real sense that buying here is a vote not just for a promising VR game but of VR itself. Most of these games aren’t Early Access to make a quick buck, they’re there because they need the funding support and players to actually help test what they’ve made.

I happily plunked down my support for Vanishing Realms and would do it again if they asked me to. If you have a VR headset, you should do the same. So should your friend who has one, your friend’s friend, their brother, long lost cousin, the guy down the street, and every establishment who has VR as an attraction. This is a game that so clearly demonstrates the potential of roleplaying games on this platform that Bethesda itself needs to stand up and take notice. That’s not hyperbole. After playing Vanishing Realms in full room-scale VR, Fallout 4 and Skyrim have a lot to live up to.

In execution, anyway. See, Vanishing Realms really isn’t an RPG in the way we usually think of it. If the game were released outside of VR, it would be an RPG-lite at best. But because it’s actually you inhabiting the role of adventurer, you feel more like your character than most games I’ve played. It’s hard to wrap your head around. There aren’t stats, there’s little choice, and dialogue options were nowhere to be found in what I played. It’s closer to Zelda than Skyrim, but inasmuch as a game can feel like it’s genre, this game feels like an RPG.

So how does a small scale half-RPG have anything at all to teach a series like Elder Scrolls or Fallout? The value of presence. Vanishing Realms uses room-scale VR, which means you can walk around your room and explore. The motion controllers and lighthouses track every move you make. Anything you want your character to do, you need to do yourself. You want a torch from the wall or lean down to touch it to a pile of hay? You actually have to do it. Need the potion on the other side of that booby trap? You’ll be tiptoeing around the edges and leeeaaaaning over to grab it with your fingertips. Want to live to see the next zone? You’d better be ready to defend yourself.

When I purchased my first sword, I didn’t understand that I could do more than waggle around like I was playing a Wii. Coming back from the shop, a giant skeleton with glowing red eyes decided to stand in my way. He would swing at me and I’d sidestep or scramble to teleport before taking a hit. I’d jump down at the floor to slash at his ankles because it would get me under his shield. Then, by total reflexive fluke, I threw up my arm and blocked his swipe sending him staggering. It was an amazing feeling, discovering for the first time that I could literally go sword to sword with blocks and parries and take my own attacks of opportunity. I felt like an adventurer more than any game has ever allowed me to feel.

Later, when I got my bow and my magic staff, I had a whole arsenal at my fingertips and I was in it. It was incredible. The loose sense of my surroundings all but vanished (no pun intended). When you’re ducking and dodging, drawing a bow and flinging fireballs, the fact that you’re in you’re living room just kind of fades away (except for when you smack a lamp). From now on,  when I think of immersive, VR experiences like this are what I’m going to think of.

So far, Vanishing Realms only has two episodes and can be completed far too quickly for how interesting it is. It’s not a complete game in any sense of the word, but it’s also not the “tech demo” you so often hear bandied about when it comes to VR games. It’s an introduction; not just to the game itself, but also to what games like this can be. Vanishing  Realms is at once not and RPG and also the best RPG. For a fan like myself, the promise that it shows for our entire genre is beyond exciting.

Quick Hits

Things aren’t looking good for fans of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s single player campaign. Reported by Kotaku, the live team supporting the game has been reduced to a “skeleton crew” devoted to basic patches and multiplayer DLC. This is hardly surprising considering the game’s lackluster reception and the excitement currently surging around the studio’s next title, Anthem. Still, this is no doubt disappointing to players in love with the game’s lore. Hints of what was to be seem to be appearing in multiplayer DLC, the most recent of which features a race completely unseen in the single-player campaign.

By comparison, Diablo 3 has had a much better week. Rise of the Necromancer - which I can’t help by write as Crypt of the Necrodancer the first time, every time I write about it - seems to be a hit. News Editor and resident dungeon crawler, Suzie Ford, put the game through its paces and had a heck of time. “And it IS fun in a gooey, gory, bloody, body parts flying kind of way,” she writes. “Just the way a great ARPG should be.” Hear, hear, Suzie.

In other Diablo 3 news, the official site has been updated to give you a sneak peek at Season 11.

Finally, if you have a console, it’s about time you gave Marvel Heroes Omega a shot. With its release on Xbox One this week, the game is officially available on all of the major platforms not named Nintendo. And it’s good! I’ve played quite a bit of the game on PS4 and have found that I like it even more than PC. The best part is, it’s free to play! So what are you waiting for?

Until next week!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.