In the early stages of our young industry the vast majority of VR games have been very tiny experiences that often focus on a core game mechanic and extrapolate gameplay elements from there. For example, The Unspoken is a fantastic game, but it’s really only about flinging spells at someone and that’s it. Similar to the early days of game development, it find complexity through its depth and singular focus. Experimentation and iteration dominates still as the VR development community collectively tries to figure things out. But ultimately what most early adopters of VR want more than anything are immersive worlds to get lost in.
It will likely be a long while before we accomplish a vast, massive virtual VR world with rich storytelling that’s online for everyone to enjoy such as Ready Player One’s Oasis or Sword Art Online, but steps in that direction are still occurring. While Emmerholt: Prologue by Oneiric Entertainment may not tap into the MMO-side of the dream, it is still a tantalizing taste of what an open world RPG adventure title in VR could be like.
To be clear, Emmerholt: Prologue is a free demo available on Steam right now and is meant to serve as an introduction to the world of Emmerholt. The plan is to expand this setting out into a fully-fledged open-world RPG adventure complete with rich storytelling, involved quests, and dense areas to explore. But in its current state, the Prologue iteration is only a mere tease of what is planned, although it’s looking like a promising future is ahead at this rate.
In Emmerholt: Prologue, you’re thrown into the world as a man named Eli that gets his life turned upside down. Things start out innocently enough as you’re gathered around a campfire with friends and ride on horseback into town. The horse riding mechanics are great, although may make some people feel a bit sick, as you’ll have to actually snap your hands up and down to make the horse go faster. The artificial locomotion won’t be comfortable for some players, but it added a great deal to the freedom and immersion from my perspective.
Throughout the village you can interact with NPCs, pick up and eat food, and knock things over if you’re not careful. It doesn’t feel like the bustling cities you’d find in modern AAA RPGs or the Hollywood-quality voice acting one might expect from a similarly ambitious projects, but it’s certainly a step above the silent, text-heavy menu-ridden interfaces of most VR experiences on the market. You can feel the heart and effort of the small indie studio showing through.
Near the beginning of the Prologue you get to engage in a horse race that’s fun in its own right, but is most impressive due to the sprawling landscapes I traveled across. Caves are tucked away behind tree lines, hills roll in the distance with grass swaying and starlight bathing the fields. The colorful textures evoke a calming sense of serene happiness and the chatter of my comrades as we race across the prairies made me feel like I was actually living in the shoes of Eli in this fantastical world.
Which is why it’s a bit of a shame that the combat fell so flat by comparison. This is still an extremely early build of the game, so a lot of work is left to be done in nailing down the core mechanics, but I’d love for an immersive open-world atmosphere like this to be combined with the tactical and responsive melee combat systems of games like Vanishing Realms and the upcoming Raiders of Erda.
Currently, you’re only given a sampling of telekinetic powers that let you pick up, move, and launch objects in the world. Throwing rocks at enemies or catching their spells and flinging them back at them lost its luster quickly and having a sword, shield, or at least bow & arrow as other options would have been appreciated. Hopefully that’s added eventually.
Many of the animations (such as during combat and the lack of emotion from NPCs while talking) are stiff and voice acting is very spotty in most places. Some character sound fine, but the volume wasn’t always right and much of the voice talent comes across as too earnest and unprofessional. Ultimately, this is all at the core of what makes Emmerholt worth keeping an eye on though: it goes outside of its comfort zone and tries to be different and bold.
My favorite moment in Emmerholt: Prologue took place at the end of the horse race. I stood at the edge of a mountain, peering down at a vast landscape before me with a village in the far off distance and stars dotting the blue night sky. A scene like this would simply be background imagery in most other “large” VR adventure titles, only granting the illusion of open-world exploration. But in Emmerholt I get the feeling that journeying to the center of valleys and to the tops of mountains will be commonplace. It’s just a tease right now, but I’ve got high hopes for something with such grand ambitions.
You can download and play the free introductory experience, Emmerholt: Prologue, on Steam right now for HTC Vive or Oculus Rift with Touch. Motion controllers and a 360-degree play space are required and it will last you about a half hour if you stick to the critical path.
If you’ve tried it, what do you think? What are your hopes for the future of open-world VR games? Let us know in the comments below!