Hands up, I admit it; I was not expecting to enjoy Fated: The Silent Oath as much as I did. As a first-person game made by an indie studio using gamepad only controls I had a preconceived notions of what I was about to experience when I sat down to play. I thought I was going to get something short, full of heart, but ultimately unmemorable and underwhelming.
About an hour later I took off my headset after an unexpected gut punch that assured me that Fated was something I’d remember for a long time to come and left me longing for the next installment.
Set against Norse mythology — but without the appearance of a certain hammer wielding god — the game tells the story of Ulfer, a husband and father that struggles to protect his family as his clan falls upon hard times. At the start of the game, Ulfer is robbed of his voice, and must communicate with his wife Freja and those around him by either shaking or nodding his head. It’s a simple and obvious way to bring convincing character interactions into VR, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of it yet.
Things start out with an air of acclimatization. In the first five minutes as Ulfer and wife are carted off to safety I wondered if I would be getting full control of my character, but the game does a great job of slowly introducing you to its elements, gradually ramping up to the kind of action you’d expect from a traditional console experience. Make no mistake; this is a full locomotion title using the DualShock 4 and, even if the movement is a little more sluggish than desired, it’s not afraid to put you in exciting situations.
But as I said, things start off slow and a little clumsy. Fated has all the good intentions in the world; it wants you to feel for the characters around you, and lose yourself in its world, its just comes off a little ham-fisted in its opening acts. Your young nephew, for example, displays his anxiety by stuttering with literally every word, but will later run head-first towards a narrow tree branch that crosses a massive icy chasm. Your answers, too, often carry little weight, and controversial choices are simply shrugged off in disobedience.
For all those faults though, it’s the interactions between player and NPC that really make Fated worth playing. A passing joke from Freja as she squeezes past you in a carriage had me grunt with laughter and shoot her a knowing look as if she really was my wife. Disagreeing with her father out of a sense of loyalty conjured a rare sense of conflicting emotions inside me most game NPCs don’t elicit. Without spoiling anything, delivering an answer in the game’s final few moments really did spark a genuine shock that I’ll long remember as a prime example of why VR is so powerful.
As a straight up adventure game, Fated is full of amazing sights and set piece moments that will drop your jaw. Visually the game is both simplistic and yet richly layered. The cartoonish art style robs the characters of a breadth of expressions, but at the same time Firma pours on environmental details, resulting in pleasingly thick woodlands and suitably chilling caves. Mechanically it’s simplistic; a handful of puzzles are solved without trouble and you’ll have to go out of your way to actually fail in the moments where it’s possible to do so.
That said just being in VR gives some old videogame tropes new life. Timing when to step past a swinging axe is far more terrifying when you can see its rusty metal blades inches from your face, and charting a course across an unstable floor is more methodical when you’re constantly glancing back and forth between the solution and where you’re walking. These elements aren’t revolutionary, but they’re pleasingly engaging and prove that you can bring some of the excitement of full action-adventure games into VR without much discomfort.
Fated: The Silent Oath deserves to be experienced not for its lush environments or adventure gameplay, but because it’s one of the few VR games yet that effectively creates a connection between you and the characters around you in a way that’s unique to the medium. Something as simple as nodding your head can spark a powerful reaction both in the game world and, more importantly, inside you. There aren’t many VR experiences that pull that off quite so successful yet and, for that reason alone, Fated is worth your time — even if it is a bit brief.
Fated: The Silent Oath is available now on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR for $9.99. Check out these official review guidelines to find out more about our process.