When you think about virtual reality gaming, turn-based strategy isn't the first thing that leaps to mind. VR is usually best suited to fast-paced, nausea-inducing, environment-exploring adventures. The great thing about this new technology though, is the ways developers are exploring implementing both new and old game types.
That's just what Vertigo Games and Wolfdog Interactive have done with Skyword. This title promises to bring classic strategy gameplay into the VR universe. But does it work, or is it just a tad too unadventurous?
A miniature world at your fingertips
The premise of Skyworld is simple enough: you're dropped into a magical land full of demons, dragons and floating little kingdoms. You act as a giant floating head and hands hovering over a disc-shaped mountainous world that's floating in space.
Obviously a demon horde has burst forth from an angry little portal and is wreaking havoc on peaceful lands. It's your job as king of the realm to defeat these monsters and return peace to the lands.
Each level within Skyworld is split into areas that need to be liberated, captured and defended before you can move on to battle and banish the enemy from the land.
As with any turn-based strategy game, success requires resources in order to pave the way to victory. In Skyworld, those resources come in the form of food, wood, iron, stone, gold and magic (each with its own benefits and use). Keeping a healthy stock of food, for example, helps ensure workers are happy and productive, while wood stockpiles are essential for building new buildings.
Resource management is a system you need to learn as you go and the game is pretty good at teaching you in the early stages. Though we did find it was also pretty punishing on the higher difficulty settings.
Balancing your resources requires a fair amount of micro-management. This includes everything from how much tax you're levying on your subjects to how much food you're letting them eat.
You start out with a single general who can be moved a set number of spaces across the land in a single turn. Moving the general to a region allows you to capture that area and build a tower to defend it. The idea being to smash down enemy towers and defend your own as you fight towards the enemy's stronghold and the final battle.
Once a region is liberated and captured, you are then free to build more resource gathering buildings on it. Those then help you to collect the resources you need to expand your army.
An army is made up of little soldiers, medieval artillery pieces and flying combat units. These are managed by a pretty nifty looking card system. You spend resources to build a deck of cards that represents your army. You can spend resources to unlock new unit types or choose to upgrade your current load-out to improve their attack stats.
Moving your general to an enemy tower, castle or near an enemy general begins battle. This transports you to another world which represents the battlefield, you then send out your various units while sussing out what the enemy is going to do. Each unit card costs a certain amount of Mana to deploy, meaning you need to balance defence with attack order to win these mini-games.
A victory or defeat here means the end of the attacked item back in the main Skyworld. If you lose, your general or tower falls, if you win, the enemy will fall. It's pretty straightforward, but it's also a tricky business.
There are several routes your troops can take to fight their way to victory, but if you send them all the same way they might meet a quick and untimely end. You also need to judge what you send out based on what the enemy is sending against you. Some units are more effective against enemies than others and that depends who they're facing off against. Standard infantry are useless against battle balloons (arrow firing hot air balloons), while fire archers are a lot more effective.
Longevity and multi-player
You can choose to play in a fair few different ways and that makes for some interesting gameplay. We'd spend one round upgrading all the basic infantrymen, while another might be spent trying to unlock an ultra-strong dragon to do our tower smashing.
The main story campaign of Skyworld is limited to around 10 hours. It's wonderfully designed, with lots of detail, and the effort invested in the voice-overs is also impressive. So while there are skirmish battles to play, the main appeal for replayability comes from battling with your pals.
Things get really interesting against human players. With so many different ways to play, there's no end of surprises in store. You might try to quickly capture an entire map or slowly grind your way to a powerful army while hoping your opponent isn't doing the same.
Although we were fairly sceptical about how a turn-based strategy game might translate into the VR world, Skyworld has shown us just how well it can be done.
A well-implemented design, beautiful graphics and intelligent mechanics make for an interesting and easily-accessible game that almost anyone could enjoy.
Turn-by-turn gameplay might make for a lazier gaming option in virtual reality, but it's far from dull. With so many different ways to play, a multitude of different resources, troops and more to manage, Skyworld is a lot of fun.
However, it's not cheap and with a short campaign you'll need to be sure you have friends to battle if you want to get your money's worth.