I have to admit when I saw Twilight Pioneers for the first time I was more than a little skeptical. A free, first-person action RPG that used Daydream’s laser point controller as a sword didn’t sound like it would be very successful. Normally, this might be the kind of game we skip over.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, to be proved wrong by this fun, if far from revolutionary, taster.
Twilight Pioneers, seemingly an extension of PC MORPG, Twilight Spirits, is developed by Hong Kong-based NetEase Games. It’s their first Daydream app, though they’ve got plenty of similar-looking games out on Android. It throws you into a grim world, overrun by the imaginatively-named Dark Lord, where you’ll team up with another warrior to fight monsters and overthrow your enemy. It’s not the most original plot, but we’re more interested in the mechanics than the story.
As with any Daydream app, the action hinges entirely on the Daydream remote, which has had trouble implementing with traditional genres in the past. Here, you press down on the track pad to walk, double tapping to execute a quick dash. There’s no way to turn other than doing so yourself, so make sure you’re either standing up or sitting on a swivel chair when playing.
In the opening few minutes you’ll gain access to four weapons, including a standard sword you can throw, a ‘Skyward Sword’ that fires daggers (no one tell Nintendo), a scythe-like weapon for quick slashing, and a dragon spirit you can guide around environments.
If you were to compare it to the two motion-controlled Zelda games — a staple series in the action RPG genre — Twilight Pioneers is fittingly more Twilight Princess than it is Skyward Sword, (seriously, don’t tell Nintendo). Your weapons initiate special attacks with quick flicks of the wrist, though slower swipes for standard attacks also work. There’s not much finesse to it; the few enemies I faced never blocked my random swings, but the controls were responsive and fun to use. The dragon attack in particular is a joy, ripping apart enemies as you tilt the remote to lead it around the room.
Most of the free content involves a boss fight with a giant elephant monster that hurls boulders at you while you switch between weapons, using different attacks to bring it down quickly. Navigating with the touchpad is bound to upset those without their VR legs, but I found darting about a large arena to dodge attacks and steadily chipping away at the creature’s health to be a simple but appreciated thrill. I could blast boulders out of mid-air with my Skyward Sword, and then steer my dragon into the belly of the beast to inflict a lot of damage.
If the game is to be anything more than an amusing distraction, then it will need to add some challenge to the mix. Each of the weapons have cool down timers for their special attacks, and this seems like it could be key to establishing a satisfactory flow of combat. As it is, I simply used each attack as they became available, but if later levels could implement enemies that only respond to a certain type of weapon, NetEase could have a combat system that nicely lays on the pressure for some memorable fighting.
What’s on offer here is just a small slice, and it doesn’t even begin to compare to similar experiences appearing on Rift and Vive, but it does suggest this genre could really work on Daydream. Twilight Pioneers is aiming to release another four episodes, each costing $0.99, with the following installment due next month. If it can add a little complexity to the solid systems its established in this promising start, then it could end up being one of Daydream’s better titles.
The demo for Twilight Pioneers is available now for free on Daydream.