There is a style of game for virtual reality that is “X–but in VR!” A flight sim–but in VR. Or a first-person shooter–but in VR. Many of these games offer little except for a direct migration of genre standards and maybe inventive controls schemes.
Dark Eclipse for PlayStation VR attempts to avoid this by mixing two genres: the MOBA and the RTS. You have heroes, like a MOBA, but you control 3 of them. You direct them around the map, to collect resources to build structures, like an RTS. But they fight random monsters to gain XP and power up, like a MOBA. This combination comes together well, with no obvious jagged edges or glaring issues.
And how does Sunsoft — venerable Japanese developer behind 80s classics like Blaster Master or the NES Batman games — justify this game for VR? Well, basically through the point of view and the controls. The player looks over the board with that same angle I think of as “simulated tabletop,” as if the whole thing is a magically moving miniature war game out on a huge dining-room table, albeit with a Japanese folklore-meets-gritty comic book art style. Your heroes and soldiers seem small, the battlefield stretching into the distance.
You have a floating hand, via the DualShock 4 being tracked, or a pair of hands, via the PS Move controllers. You move them around to grab a unit’s pointer above their head and then move the pointer to a spot you want them to walk to, for an enemy to attack or a place to build a tower. If you hold down one of the face buttons when moving the hand, it moves not just around the screen, but around the battlefield, allowing you to designate a destination in the distance or to move yourself back, to get a better view of the battlefield.
To activate a Hero’s special ability, you grab the unit’s pointer and press a different button. So, you mostly use 2 buttons besides the motion control. It is a streamlined and effective control scheme for VR. You can even see opponent’s hands in the beginning of a match, to wave hello.
The more awkward choices the designers made are in some of the gameplay mechanics. Heroes walk slowly. You often have to have them stop to let their soldier’s slowly chop down trees, to get resources to build the different kind of RTS towers across the battlefields. Couple that with the slowly chipping away at the battlefield’s random monsters, makes for a slow-paced game.
And when the more lively battle between my heroes and the enemy heroes do finally happen, it seems to simply come down to who gained more levels from killing more random monsters and building towers quicker. The build-up doesn’t quite justify the relatively stale combat. But perhaps RTS fans will prefer the more deliberate gameplay. My matches took about 20 minutes in total.
There is a fog-of-war effect, where you can only see enemies near your bases or your heroes, so there is no grand view of the battlefield filled with monsters and units. This lets your units get surprised by enemies, forcing you to run away or rethink your current actions. And if the enemies then kill your heroes, those enemy units disappear and you just stare at a dim battlefield while you wait for your Heroes to respawn back at your base. It feels short-sighted to me, pun intended.
Dark Eclipse is a free-to-play online-only game. And that means limited modes and multiple currencies. There is a Casual mode, a Ranked mode, which is currently locked because the game is still in “Season 0,” and a mode to play against friends. And there are Tutorials versus AI to teach you the game. There is a blue in-game currency called EP you earn from play that lets you purchase some Heroes, which otherwise are on a rotation of only 3 of the 15 being available to play at any time. There is also a yellow currency called DC that costs actual money that unlocks all the Heroes. You can also buy Heroes skins and hand skins with this currency. Sunsoft promises there will be no “pay-to-win” items for sale.