There aren’t a whole lot of big, massive, graphically powerful roleplaying games (RPGs) in the works for VR systems right now. We’ve gotten a handful of teases about what an RPG might look like in VR, such as with Vanishing Realms, but none that have tried to establish a massive, sprawling world with AAA-quality visuals powered by something as robust as the Unreal Engine. As a result, that’s exactly what HELM Systems are aiming to create with SoulKeeper VR.
I’ve written about the game twice before when it was announced almost a year ago and from an updated demo back in November. From what I’ve seen up until this point it certainly has the visuals and world-building down. Until now though, I wasn’t sold on how the mechanics would fit into an actual game. You’ll notice the footage below looks a little blurry, but that’s mostly due to the developer lowering the settings a bit to ensure the cleanest footage. The demo I tried looked much sharper and closer in quality to the screenshots included throughout this article.
Previously the versions of the game I played were mostly just glorified tech demos. I got to walk around a room at first, shooting spells and fighting a few dumb enemies, then eventually shot down some baby drakes while exploring a tower. But now — with this latest pre-Early Access build of the game — it’s starting to actually come together. There is an inventory system, I solved puzzles, I fought different types of enemies, combat involved strategy, and there was more than one environment to see.
SoulKeeper VR is actually starting to look like a real game. It’s nowhere near the scale seen in AAA productions outside of VR, but it offers the type of polish and visual splendor we don’t see in VR experiences much yet.
At the core of SoulKeeper VR is the balance between your spells, staff, and sword. You can reach back and equip your sword in your right hand and do the same with your staff in your left hand. If a hand is empty you can either draw a rune in the air (L is a fireball, \/ is lightning bolts, /\ is a slippery ice floor spell) to equip the corresponding power. Either hand can cast spells if it’s free. With the staff, you have to find runes in the world to slot into the handle that imbue it with different powers, such as massive firestorms. All in all you’ve got a lot of options in combat.
Movement is a lot easier now as well, as you can freely move around with full locomotion using the left trackpad or teleport by pointing and using the grip button. I found that I used free locomotion while exploring and maneuvering in battle but would often resort to teleporting if I got cornered by enemies or needed to deftly evade projectiles.
It’s also worth stressing that this is definitely a full 360 game that takes full advantage of the entire play space. When you’re engaged in melee combat enemies will sidestep around you, block attacks, and try to find an opening. They don’t just stand there, dumb, waiting for you to swing. The lack of real feedback and resistance when you swing and hit armor or hit their sword will forever limit the satisfaction of melee combat in VR, but SoulKeeper does about as good a job as any game I’ve played in a headset thus far.
That being said, the animations do still need some work. They’re definitely improved over what they were when the game was first making the rounds last year and the ridiculous ragdoll effects on death are knocked down a few notches, but it still comes across as a bit silly. And while the A.I. is certainly better on the enemies I fought, some units just stood around without moving still. However, this is still in an alpha state, pre-Early Access, so all of that stuff is being actively worked on.
This isn’t going to compete on the same scale as games like Fallout 4 VR or with the likes of Dark Souls and The Elder Scrolls, but it evokes a similar feeling. It’s a more tightly crafted adventure with smaller rooms and more focused mechanics, but the awe-inspiring world that surrounds you is still there, begging to be explored.
If SoulKeeper VR sounds appealing to you then there are plenty of other projects I can recommend you keep an eye on. Both OrbusVR and Redemption’s Guild offer a more light-hearted co-op approach with whimsical visuals while Raiders of Erda and Karnage Chronicles both deliver a more realistic tone with co-op gameplay as well. Then there is of course The Mage’s Tale, a classic-style dungeon crawler with lots of content, although an admittedly slower-paced tile-by-tile movement system.
And while SoulKeeper VR is squarely focused on delivering a big single player world to explore, the diversity already available in the market proves the interest for VR RPGs is certainly alive and well.
HELM Systems is currently planning on releasing SoulKeeper VR into Early Access within the next few months during Spring 2017 for both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift with Touch. Among the features I haven’t gotten to see yet that will presumably be in the game upon Early Access’ release include more spells, more items, more enemies, more levels, and actual dialogue with NPCs.
Is SoulKeeper VR on your radar of upcoming games? Let us know what you think down in the comments below!