My deep dive into the Oculus Rift library this month has taken me to some pretty amazing places and has really opened my eyes as to how far virtual reality has come. Games like Beat Saber, Tetris Effect, Super Hot, and Until You Fall offer incredibly immersive experiences that you can only get in VR. Asgard's Wrath, on the other hand, looks at these bite-sized, session-based games and confidently says, "Hold my Mjolnir."
Asgard's Wrath is an action-RPG about a new god and a quartet of adventurers battling across the lands of Midgard, Niflheim, Helheim, and other iconic locations from Norse mythology. Asgard's Wrath is without a doubt the most ambitious game ever made for VR. What makes it so remarkable is not how much it tries to do, but how often it succeeds across 30+ hours of rich storytelling, clever puzzle-solving, engaging combat, and a visually stunning world absolutely packed with secrets and challenges around every corner.
Oh, Great Odin's Raven!
Asgard's Wrath begins with a cinematic hand-to-hand combat battle of God v. Kraken that plays out like the equivalent of a VR quick time event. Instead of pressing a face button with perfect timing, you'll need to use your sword to block attacks, cut tentacles, and parry to create openings. If the game was simply a series of these epic, large scale battles with gods and monsters, I would be really impressed and probably recommend it as a polished experience. Saga 1 ends with the conclusion of this Kraken fight and the introduction to your mentor, Loki. When Saga 2 begins, the full scale of the game is revealed. I still can't believe how big this game is, and how well it plays from beginning to end.
In Saga 2 you'll meet your first hero, "the shield-maiden," who's village has been sacked by the god, Tyr, and his army. She needs your god powers to defeat Tyr and take revenge on him for killing her brother. Possessing heroes gives you full FPS control to move, fight, and puzzle solve your way through each area. All of the RPG trappings are here: there's loot to collect, inventory to manage, weapons and armor to craft, and companions to level up. Combat is both melee (swords, shields, etc.) and ranged (bows and crossbows), and though the enemy armor and parry mechanics take some time to get used to, the combat is really incredible.
All told, there are four different heroes you'll control, and each one has a unique pair of hero weapons to master. Describing the heroes and their abilities veers into spoiler territory, but suffice to say the weapon and ability variety is deep and satisfying and includes magic casting, weapons that change functions depending on how you wield them, and robotic projectiles.
There's a ton of enemy variety with different attack patterns to learn, and each one drops valuable materials for crafting, junk to sell, and disposable (yet powerful) weapons to wield. There are elemental weaknesses, consumables buffs, and individual character stats and abilities. All this to say: this is a full-fledged AAA-quality RPG. No concessions were made to fit it into VR or dumb it down. You get a full, robust role-playing experience with exciting VR combat.
Leave No Stone Unturned
It's hard to ignore the overlap between Asgard's Wrath and God of War, which entered the zeitgeist so intensely last year and really took ownership of Norse mythology in games. In terms of level design though, Asgard's Wrath draws from God of War to a considerable degree.
There are more challenges, side quests, optional puzzles, hidden chests, arenas, and secret bosses than I could ever fit into this review. I started the game doing every single side path I could find, some taking me hours away from the critical path for the promise of rare crafting materials and riches. Eventually, I had to actually finish the game, which took me 36 hours. I finished with less than 50% completion.
God of War really is the best comparison to make; not just for setting and story, but for mechanics and puzzle solving as well. Yes, you get an axe you can throw and call back to you. It also has the Metroidvania-lite quality where you'll need to pass by tons of inaccessible paths and chests until you acquire the ability (via new companions) that you need to access it. Personally, using GoW as a blueprint was the best decision they could make. It's efficiently designed to move you through the critical path if that's all you're interested in, but offers so much extra content throughout that you could get sucked in for hundreds of hours, easily.
Pushing Boxes And Pulling Levers
To solve 99% of the puzzles, you'll need to rely on the abilities of your anthropomorphized animal companions. Each of the ten companions has a different power. The bull can push blocks, the bear can pick up heavy objects and place them on pressure switches, the dragon can burn thorns with fire, and so on. Towards the end of the game, there are some really cool sections where you need to utilize almost all of your companions, but most of the time, the puzzle solving amounts to: see a fire, summon your turtle, point her at the fire to block it, move on. It doesn't feel like puzzle-solving as much as it feels like roadblocks constantly in your way. I think there's probably too many companions and the fact that they each only do one thing one very specific way means there just isn't that much room for interesting interactions with them.
That said, there ARE some really interesting puzzles, and all of them revolve around the interaction between your hero and your god. At certain points you'll be able to switch freely between your hero and your god, giving you a birds-eye-view of the world and the ability to interact with and manipulate objects with your massive god hands. You can pick up your companions and move them somewhere out of reach, then switch to your hero and command them to use their ability. These sections take legitimate brainpower, spatial awareness, and memory skills to overcome, and I hope they lean into these types of puzzles more in the inevitable sequel.
Throughout this review, I talked very little about the game as a "VR experience," and that's because unlike other VR games (which are incredible games in their own right), Asgard's Wrath is just a damn good game, period. No asterisks, no conditional statements. I don't need to tell you, "It's a good VR game." Asgard's Wrath is a highly polished, deep, and interesting RPG. This is the kind of game that should get hyped up at E3 along side CyberPunk and Death Stranding. When VR goes fully mainstream, this game will be remembered as one of the greats.
A review code for Asgard's Wrath was provided to TheGamer for this review. Asgard's Wrath is available now on the Oculus Rift.