Believe it or not, Skylanders is not my favorite series of video games. That honor goes to The Legend of Zelda, as my picture below should make clear. And as much as I’ve been enjoying oddball experiences like Job Simulator and sci-fi shooters like Space Pirate Trainer, I long for an epic fantasy adventure that will allow me to live out my…epic fantasies in virtual reality. I also long for an actual game, rather than a demo or “experience.” Enter Vanishing Realms: Rite of Steel. The game is currently in Early Access, but already features about 4 hours of fantasy adventure in room scale VR. So it’s not exactly a sprawling world or an endearing story, but VR games do need to be a bit more simple. For $20 though, does it scratch the itch?
I’m not the first person to compare this title to Zelda, and it’s easy to see why; you will usually fight with either a sword and shield or a bow, and there are plenty of puzzles to solve. At the beginning, you enter a dark catacomb with nothing but the apple you pick up in the tutorial. Soon you gain a torch, and you find locked doors that need to be opened and puzzles that require some travel. After solving a few of these puzzles you get your first weapon: a sword. There are three available, each costing a different amount of gold. Gold, meanwhile, hides in almost every nook and cranny of the game. It shows up in the form of coins, cups, and gems (among others). As you continue on, you eventually can buy a shield, then a bow, then a magic wand, and so on. Enemies also get more and more complex as you continue, and they progress along with your items. So, just before you get a bow, you’ll face an enemy with one, for example.
The level of immersion in Vanishing Realms is fairly impressive. Part of this comes from the weapons and items working exactly how you would expect. As with most room scale Vive games, you move around by teleporting, but everything else is pretty natural. To pick up an item, you grab it with the triggers on the controllers. You can hold the flame of your torch up to candles to light them, and hold food or potions up to your mouth to eat or drink them. Fighting with a sword and shield is pretty intuitive as well; you need to slash where the enemy has no armor, and hold up your shield in the right way to block an enemy attack. Arrows even stick in your wooden shield, with the tips pointing through. Speaking of which, the bow controls naturally as well; you hold it in one hand, pull back the arrow with the other, and let go. The only thing that doesn’t really work like I’d expect is the wand; instead of flicking or waving it, you just point and shoot.
There are unfortunately a few other things that break the immersion. Because of all of the pots and bones and such strewn around the game world, it seems like you should be able to break the pots and boxes like in Zelda, and pick up just about everything like in The Elder Scrolls. Unfortunately, gold and food are the only things you can pick up, and you can only break the very large pots in the game. Fortunately, there are plenty of things to interact with. Vanishing Realms is filled with secrets, and finding them is key to getting enough gold to purchase the more expensive weapons. There are a good number of things I didn’t find on my first playthrough, only discovering them after watching my friends search more thoroughly.
As with most early games for a new way of playing, judging Vanishing Realms ultimately depends on how you look at it. Were this game released as a non-VR game, even at the same price, we would scoff. It’s too linear and there isn’t that much going on. But in VR, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever played. Eventually we will have full scale, big budget games in VR, and I think that’s when it will really take off. For now, though, Vanishing Realms is one of the best indicators of where VR can go. And even as it is now, it’s a great game for the price, and sure to excite just about anyone who plays it. It might not be the next Zelda, but it’s the closest you can come to feeling like Link.