As amazing as VR is and can be I think we’ve all been waiting for something truly substantial, a properly big game to sink our teeth into for hours on end rather than the short experiences we’ve been getting. That’s what Asgard’s Wrath has got going for it, a huge campaign that spans around 30-hours that you can easily get lost in, provided you can handle long periods in VR. It’s a hack and slash romp through Norse mythology featuring Gods, swords, bows, puzzles, side-quests, beautiful scenery and a high-fiving shark.
As soon as you strap on the Oculus Rift (in my case the Rift S) the impressive graphics are the first thing that hits you. Asgard’s Wrath opens up with you battling a Kraken in the middle of the ocean, using a titanic sized sword to slice apart entire ships that are being hurled at you. It’s an awesome visual showcase. There’s something familiar about the art style in Asgard’s Wrath, too, and that’s because like God of War on the PS4 it’s steeped in Norse mythology, so much of what you see bears a striking similiarity to what you might spot on Kratos’ adventure. There are amazing vistas wherever you look and lovely, detailed textures to stick your face right next to and gaze lovingly at whilst drooling slightly.
It takes a fair bit of horsepower to achieve those striking graphics, however. Even my GTX 1080ti was starting to sound like a F-16 fighter jet during take off and the performance was occasionally patchy. Sometimes you’ll go to swing your sword or chuck an axe and everything will come to a jittering halt for a few seconds.
You play as the fledgling God of Animals and throughout the course of the game you get to inhabit several mortal humans, each with their own skills and gear. The guiding force of your adventure is none other than Loki himself who takes you under his wing, teaching you the basics of combat and your powers as a God. It’s fun stuff but ultimately pretty light on the narrative, giving each mortal their own basic storyline and one overarching plot for your God antics.
Essentially Asgard’s Wrath is an action game featuring a mostly linear world packed with combat and simple puzzles. There’s a reasonable dose of backtracking, too, because the game is packed with side-quests and other stuff to find, most of which can’t be accessed until later when you’ve gotten the appropriate abilities. There are even chests and sections locked away that you’ll spot throughout the entire game to which you won’t gain access to until nearly the end of Asgard’s Wrath. They are just sitting their, taunting you. Bastards.
As the Gods of Animals you do indeed get some animal pals to help you along. At various points during the game you’ll be able to pick up some poor, hapless beast and transform it into a humanoid minion, the very first being a shark called Egil whom you grant legs, a voice and a handy sword. And the very first thing this baffling hybrid of shark and human wants is a high-five. Sweet. I loved that you can throw potions and food to your animal chums to help heal them, or give them a thumbs up. They even get a little bit of personality through their limited voice acting, and I found myself having favourites.
You’ll get about 10 of these adorable freaks of nature, each with different abilities and ways of fighting. The shark, for example, can be ordered to leap up to cages containing rotting corpses so that he can feast on their flesh, which is obviously kind of horrifying but his added weight will pull the cages down and thus trigger various things. Your second companion is a turtle that can use its shield to block flames, the third, an eagle, rains down arrows on enemies and can use gusts of wind to spin certain objects. These new friends are granted at a steady pace throughout the story, and I always looked forward to seeing what animal was next.
Most of the puzzles are built around ordering your companions around in order to overcome the problem at hand. And quite honestly, I found myself wanting a little more from Asgard’s Wrath in terms of its puzzling; they aren’t bad, but they tend to be very simple and the next step is rather obvious. They typically boil down to commanding your followers to do their special thing one by one with little room for actual thought.
Swapping between them later in the game can become a bit annoying. Some of the puzzles require you to use multiple animal companions to get through them, and to swap you need to point toward your animal, hold down a button and pick whatever you need. It would have been great if you could have aimed at a cage or a fire trap, tap the button and have the game automatically swap to the appropriate creature.
It has to be said that sometimes your little menagerie can be a bit…er, stupid. Occasionally it takes a couple of presses of the button to get them to do something, move somewhere or target an enemy. And in combat you’ll often just watch them whaling ineffectually on a bad guy before finally being clunked over the head.
There’s a fair bit of fighting to be done within Asgard’s Wrath and it might take you a little while to get the hang of how combat works. A key skill is parrying, which depending on the difficulty setting you opt for might just mean making a small gesture or actually having to properly block an incoming strike. Against normal enemies you can block a blow and then get in one or two of your own before they usually kick you backwards, a smart way to stop players just going in and wiggling their hand around until the bad thing is dead. Still, basic foes can be sliced and diced with relative ease, and it’s a genuine joy to cut them in half or deliver a deadly slash across their neck. The game doesn’t take your exact strike into account so you can’t dismember bad guys with horrifying precision, but Asgard’s Wrath still makes kills feel awesome.
Things get tougher when foes with runic armour start showing up, because in order to slice ’em up you first have to deal with the armour. The idea is to parry, block or otherwise dodge enemy attacks until said enemy becomes so pissed off that they launch a special assault, as shown by a special glow. If you block that attack they’ll be momentarily stunned, letting you batter their defenses. Lethal strikes further mix up the action because they can’t be blocked, only dodged.
These harder fights are more of a mixed bag at times. Battling one of the tough enemies can be rewarding and a real work out, especially because on the higher difficulty settings Asgard’s Wrath demands that you put a reasonable amount of force into your swings for them to register, which I love because it gives you a solid workout as you play. There’s a nice ebb and flow to the fights, and the focus on being more defensive is a nice chance of pace from a lot of other games. But the downside is that some fights really drag on, the constant parrying and blocking so that you can finally chip off a bit of armor becoming a chore. This feeling grows throughout the dozens of hours it can take to see the end of Asgard’s Wrath because the combat doesn’t change very much. You do, however, eventually earn ways to destroy Runic armor without having to wait for opportunities to parry attacks, letting you finally go more on the offensive,
But although it’s not perfect, fighting is still a blast and you get a lot of nice weapons to play with, starting with your Hero Gear which is permanent in that it cannot be lost or broken. The best of the bunch in my eyes was a handy throwing axe that you could hurl at enemies before holding down the grip button and making a sharp, pulling motion to summon it back to your hand. It instantly made me feel like Thor throwing Mjolnir at his foes.
You get to snatch up a bunch of other gear from fallen enemies, though, like a bow in case you fancy turning someone into a hedgehog. A lot of the stuff you can pick up boast elemental effects, too, although unlike your core Hero gear all the weapons you pick up will break eventually. Usually stuff that breaks is something that annoys me in games, but here I think it works nicely to balance out the extra effects some of the weapons you find grant you.
None of the combat is physics based, which for some people might be an issue, especially if you’re used to something like Sword and Sorcery. By this I mean that when swords clash, for example, they’ll pass through each other rather than coming to a halt. There are some obvious pros and cons to this; it can be jarring to have your sword pass straight through walls and enemies, but on the other hand it also means you don’t have the strange dissonance that stems from your in-game weapon hitting something while in the real-world your hand continues on like nothing ever happened.
Likewise, throwing stuff isn’t controlled by physics, instead the item you’re hurling will gravitate toward the center of wherever you’re looking. This makes the action of trying to lodge an axe in someone’s face far, far easier and also has the lovely bonus of making you feel like a fucking God. Which you are, to be fair. This is one area where I much prefer not having physics dictate the action because frankly trying to accurately throw things in VR is a royal pain in the ass.
It’s a bit of a shame that other objects in the world don’t react to each other, though. There’s still a nice amount of interactivity to be found within the environments, but compared to other VR games you might notice the lack of physics on stuff like boxes and pots. You can’t toss them around or push them over when you walk into them.
But getting back to the fighting, I need to say that despite my issues with the combat it does feel terrific. Writing about VR is always a difficult thing since it’s much harder to describe than a regular game, so stick with me here: whether you’re swinging a sword, throwing an axe, slamming a staff into the ground or just snatching a potion off your hip it all feels great. The tracking, at least on my Oculus Rift S, was nearly perfect with only the occasional hitch. Even reaching behind my back to unsheathe a sword worked great, something which the Rift S can struggle with since the camera’s can’t track the controllers past a certain point.
When you aren’t killing stuff you’ll be stuffing your pockets to the brim with everything you can find like some sort of sword-wielding kleptomaniac. That’s because you can drag everything back to the tavern and use it to upgrade your gear, and to enhance your companions as well. There’s nothing special to mention about this system as it’s quite typical stuff, but I do like that upgrading your gear makes a genuine difference rather than just shifting the stats a little bit. Plus, improving your hero gear can unlock certain special abilities that you activate by building up a meter then pulling the trigger when you have it in your hand.
You can also earn yourself some handy permanent buffs by spending special seeds that can only be earned through the game’s multiplayer component. No, you won’t be facing off against other players or anything like that, but you will stumble across the souls of people who have been defeated by the A.I. and if you can get revenge on their behalf you’ll get a seed. The player who died also gets some coins to use during crafting, so everyone’s a winner. It’s a fun little idea that you choose to ignore completely if you like.
Periodically you’ll stumble across God altars where you get to resume your Godly form and tower above the landscape. The camera shifts its perspective here, making the environment feel like a doll house. It’s a fantastic concept and I quickly became enamored with peering around the environment, occasionally dropping to a knee so that I could see inside a cavern or something. From your position high in the sky you get to do a small range of things, like picking up chunks of a fallen bridge or lifting one of your animal companions into a previously unreachable area. A bit like the regular puzzles I do feel like there was some untapped potential here and would have particularly liked to have seen more interactivity with the environment, but what we get is still pretty awesome.
By far the biggest issue with Asgard’s Wrath is the loading times. If you don’t have an SSD with over 100GB to install this huge game on then you need to be prepared for loading times that can last anywhere up to thee excruciating minutes where you just stare at a single, static screen. You’ll encounter these when traveling to new areas or upon death. By far the most irritating time is when you travel back to the Inn which acts as a little hub where you can craft new gear and upgrade existing gear. I found myself avoiding going back because I didn’t want to drop myself out of the otherwise incredibly immersive experience of playing Asgard’s Wrath. Sadly your inventory space can fill up quickly, especially early in the game, and while you have a storage chest capable of holding infinite items you can’t access it without going to the Inn.
You might be reading this review thinking that I don’t sound very impressed with Asgard’s Wrath, but there’s a reason for this. You see, individual elements within Asgard’s Wrath have been done better in other places. The combat is fun but isn’t as flexible as Blade and Sorcery, for example, and the puzzles are enjoyable but nothing special. You can go and play games that do these mechanics better. The trick is that no other games takes all of this and stuffs it into one giant game built from the ground up for VR. None of them have the same scope and variety as Asgard’s Wrath, a game which is far more than the sum of its parts. It’s like playing Skyrim: sure, the individual components aren’t the best examples you could be playing, but jammed into one huge experience they are great. Asgard’s Wrath offers that same sense of variety and adventure.
And some of the set piece moments are simply superb to behold, like a massive God towering above you, the first proper boss fight at the end of the first chapter or even watching Thor kick down to the door to the tavern and demand to know where the hell his hammer is. Asgard’s Wrath presents a world that is interesting and feels real, one packed with stuff to do from random challenges to side-quests that can last up to 90-minutes.
Asgard’s Wrath really is that big, triple-A feeling game that I’ve been waiting for. Of course we’ve had some amazing VR experiences and some terrific ports of stuff like Skyrim, but this is a proper big RPG built from the ground up for VR that feels like it would still have been a solid game even on a boring old 2D screen. With a headset on, though, it becomes so much more and easily one of the best VR experiences available today. Go out and buy it. Go on.
4.5 out 5