GDC 2019: Asgard’s Wrath’s Bloody Combat Made Me Feel Like A Badass Gladiator
I think it’s when I realized I was smiling in the middle of decapitating my enemy, showering my virtual face in blood and eyeballs as his head floated by in slow-motion, that it really hit me how much of a revelation Asgard’s Wrath combat is going to be. I’ve played Skyrim VR to death, had plenty of fun in GORN, and faced off against my fair share of bloodthirsty warriors in Blade & Sorcery, but none of it compares to the sheer immediate intensity and visceral feeling of melee combat in Asgard’s Wrath.
Asgard’s Wrath is the next VR game from Sanzaru Games, developers of VR Sports Challenge, Ripcoil, and most recently, Marvel Powers United VR. It’s being described as a 30+ hour action-adventure VR game with RPG elements. The main unique feature is how it plays with scale by having you switch between a towering God form and an ensemble cast of normal-sized mortal hero characters.
For a game that was just announced a few weeks ago the demo at GDC 2019 this week was remarkably long clocking in at over 20 minutes and it was on the just-revealed Rift S headset. Talk about a double-whammy of new.
Fittingly, the demo began with a literal jaw-drop moment as I walked across the bifrost rainbow bridge that stretches across the Norse overworld. It was an incredible visual display, especially on the Rift S and its slight resolution upgrade to 1440p from the standard Rift’s 1080p display. The heavens stretched out before me and I craned my neck back to marvel at planets orbiting in the distance and the pulsating colors of the bridge at my feet. I can honestly say that it was the most spectacular display of visual fidelity I’ve seen in a VR game, ever.
If the whole game is near that level of production quality then I can hardly keep myself from salivating at the prospect.
Unfortunately, the very next scene was the least impressive of all. I took my giant Godly form and was suddenly standing in the middle of the ocean towering over ships as they were ravished by waves in a horrible storm. I spotted Loki in front of me engaged in a brutal battle with an enormous Kraken when suddenly Odin called him back to Asgard. At that moment he tossed me his sword and asked me to finish off the Kraken in an impromptu boss battle.
Everything about this encounter felt sloppy and unfinished to me. The scale was off so that instead of feeling like a giant God in an ocean I instead felt like a normal-sized person in a bathtub surrounded my toys. I’m not sure of the solution here, but the scale just seemed off.
Additionally, nothing in this encounter was really indicative of the game’s core melee-focused gameplay loop. I couldn’t move around the area and I couldn’t just go attack the beast, instead being forced to wait for it to throw boats at me or try and grab me with its tentacles. It just seemed a bit sloppy and like a poor introduction to the game.
Immediately following this I did two short training lessons and then I was tossed into a combat arena and let loose. This is when Asgard’s Wrath really began to shine.
I stood in the middle of a large icy enclosure with a weapon rack behind me and a floating heart in the middle of the arena. An iron-clad angelic figure literally descended from the heavens and stuck out her hand waiting on an offering. Before handing her the heart I did what any Norse hero would do: I poked stuff and played around. In doing so I figured out you can throw your weapons and get them stuck in the ground, shields and non-signature weapons can break after moderate use, and there was an assortment of potions scattered about to stock up on before the battle.
Asgard’s Wrath is split into three types of play: Comfort, which gets rid of artificial movement, the standard mode that resembles everything you see in the footage and has UI elements for health and enemy armor, and an “Immersive” mode that removes all HUD elements completely. I picked the middle ground since I’m not familiar enough with the game for immersive mode.
At this point I felt ready. So I snatched the heart out of the air and handed it to the floating angel warrior. She grasped it firmly and ascended back upwards, beckoning beasts to summon into the arena.
Things started easily enough with just a single dagger-wielding adversary, similar to the one missing a head in the image up above. When fighting in Asgard’s Wrath you’ve got to pay attention to your enemy to note whether or not they are shielded (a blue bar above their head) or if they just have a read bar for health. If it’s just a red bar you can get creative with attacks, blocking, parrying, dodging, and chipping away, but if they have a blue bar you need to be a little more tactical.
This shielded state makes them tough to damage. As a result, you need to focus on parrying their signature attacks (which are telegraphed by a blue aura) to open them up for counters. Parrying isn’t as easy as you’d think either. You can’t just wait for them to swing and hold your weapon there in anticipation (I know because I tried) but instead you need to time it and push their attack back — hard. It felt like I was actually trying to deflect and parry something and took a bit of getting used to.
It’s worth noting that Asgard’s Wrath does not feature a physics-based combat system like you see in Blade & Sorcery, but there are physics-based elements to it still. You can throw weapons at enemies, deflect attacks, and dismember arms and legs as well as decapitate in various ways. At first I thought it was just cutting at the neck, but you can actually slice heads diagonally as well and even see eyeballs dangling if you find just the right angle.
The benefit of not having a physics system is that instead they’ve got super polished animations that connect everything together. At the end of the day I kind of think I prefer this because of how streamlined it all looks.
Now what I’m waiting to see is how the game as a whole shapes up. I’ve seen the combat, I’ve seen the visuals, and I’ve heard the vision, but I don’t know how well it all flows yet. Does Asgard’s Wrath really have 30 hours of unique content, or is it lots of backtracking and replaying areas with new characters? Does the combat stay fun and engaging, or does it get stale after a while? Is the story engaging enough to keep you going, or does it devolve into a bunch of arena fights loosely connected by a basic plot?
I’ve got no idea on those points but I’m hopeful. Everything I’ve seen seems to be positive, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Let us know what you think down in the comments below!