As 2020 continues to be a time of great change in the world, we see the VR world beginning to change as well. Landmark titles like Half-Life: Alyx are being released to seemingly raise the bar for VR game developers and in the multiplayer space, we’re seeing a particular genre throw its’ hat into the ring. That genre is multiplayer VR Melee combat. Already in April, we’ve seen Swords of Gurrah and Ironlights appeared alongside it to be an extremely unique experience on its’ own that warrants a look.
The gameplay of Ironlights is very unique compared to most VR melee combat titles. It’s got some amazing presentation as you and your opponent have a showdown in a futuristic take on the Roman Colosseum. Your weapon then comes soaring out of the sky at you and you have to snatch it out of the air in a very cool sequence that adds an epic feel to your fateful bout.
How it works is each player attacks or defends, which means that you can’t switch to attacking if you’re in defense mode and vice versa. This is all governed by a blue stamina bar which tells you how long you will have to attack. Each attacking period is determined by that bar and when it runs out, you have to wait or you can decide to charge up your stamina again right away, but in doing so, you risk an even longer wait time the next time you want to charge up. During the attacking period, if your opponent blocks your attack, you have to reach back behind your head to recharge your blade for the next attack and if you’re defending and you get hit, you need to recharge your blade as well to be able to defend against the next attack.
When you aren’t attacking, you can fire energy blasts at your opponent while you decide what to do next which adds a bit of flair and dramatics to the proceedings. The round ends when your opponents’ health bar dissipates and they explode into tiny shards in a very cool effect. The catch to the combat here is that everything happens in slow motion. This means fast attacks and strong attacks have a very blurry differential between them and it’s very difficult to figure out which one you’re pulling off, though there are damage numbers to help. There are 5 different classes to choose from, knight, crusader, ninja, monk, and duelist. Each class carries with it a different weapon. The knight wields a gigantic sword that requires two hands to wield properly. The monk wields a two-handed bow staff that excels in quick attacks. The crusader uses a flail and shield which makes defending easier but attacking more difficult. The Duelist uses a rapier that excels in quick attacks and the ninja uses two daggers which make the slow-motion combat easier to manage by allowing you to have quicker strikes. Each weapon makes for a wildly different playstyle as well. There are both single-player and multiplayer options.
Despite this being a game perfect to be able to move around in, you are limited to a tiny play space that you can identify by a target on the floor. If you leave this targeted space, you begin to take damage so there’s no point in trying to cheat the system. You can play Ironlights either sitting down or standing up and you only need room to do some light body dodging. It is available on Oculus Quest though, which is a nice bonus and gives more freedom to the combat.
I tracked my workout with a Fitbit to get the results from a 30-minute play session.
Calories burned: 222
Calories burned per minute: 31.7
Average Heart Rate: 105
Max Heart Rate: 127
Active Minutes: 27
I burned 222 calories during my play session and found myself working up quite a sweat during the attacking and defending portions of combat. My heart rate hit a peak of 120 during my time with the game as well. I found the single-player challenges to be fun, but far less intensive and sweat-inducing than the online skirmishes. PVP in this game is a fantastic practice in strategy as you have to figure out which time is best to attack and which is best to defend and creates some tense moments as you manage your stamina bar with your own real-life stamina to make that determination.
Despite being slow motion, the game requires a lot of focus and body control as you have to position your attacks precisely otherwise you’ll likely be blocked or miss entirely and the slowly draining stamina bar in the distance demands urgency to deal as much damage as you can in as short a time as possible.
Ironlights is all about dealing as much damage as you can in a short period of time and then defending yourself right after. The catch is you cannot move out of your space so the majority of your defense is going to come from your arms. Depending on your weapon, either one or both arms will be engaged constantly during your playthrough. I found the monk to offer both the most fun gameplay and the best arm workout as you’re having to spin your virtual staff around like a maniac in order to deceive your opponent on where you might strike next. Your angles for striking are seemingly limitless and as strange as it sounds, the slow-motion nature of the combat takes as much of a toll physically as it would if you were moving the same pace as in Swords of Gurrah or Blade and Sorcery. Your arms will constantly be raised so you will feel the burn in your shoulders and triceps the most.
Unfortunately, Ironlights restrictive play space doesn’t allow for any movement around or away from opponents. Instead, it allows you to duck (you’ll be damaged if you go too low though), jump, or, do whatever you’d like to try and get your strikes in or block your enemy. This means your legs are as involved as you want them to be. I found that if I presented my 6’3 frame to other players standing straight up, my lower half became the go-to target and I couldn’t block too effectively. When I took a 2 point stance though, I was able to defend much better as well as create more angles for my attacking. After 15 minutes of this stance, my legs were absolutely on fire and it brought me back to the feeling I had during drills in football camp. The flexibility is in the gameplay to allow your legs to be as involved as you want and you will be rewarded for the aches you’ll feel after.
Core and Balance- 9/10
Core is integral to your success in Ironlights. Because of the slow-motion nature of the fighting, your arms have to be held that much longer in place and this gives your core and absolutely ferocious workout. During offensive and defensive modes, you will be gyrating and rotating your body all over the place to find openings to attack and defend. This gives the equivalent to an intermediate ab workout based on how I felt after a few fights. Your core will also come into play as the energy waves are fired at you as you have to dodge with your body or block them to avoid taking damage. The most effective weapon to make sure your core gets a great workout seems to be the bow staff as it makes sure your entire body is engaged during combat.
Time Perception- 9/10
This game is a great one for whether you want quick few fights and be done with it or to really sink your teeth in and give up a day in the virtual world. If I wasn’t tracking my time with the game, I would’ve lost hours to its’ addicting loop of gameplay and desire to get better. Like any combatant, training makes you more effective so it’s pretty easy to disappear amongst the virtual coliseum and become absorbed in the unique world of Ironlights.
Like most great multiplayer games, Ironlights provides the framework for an everlasting sequence of battles that provides as much of a workout as it does fun and the single-player mode is exciting as well as it lets you take on multiple opponents at once whereas multiplayer is currently just 1v1. The modes are very sparse, but the ability to change up your appearance is fun and it seems like this is a game that will be updated along the way and the developers are very engaged with their fans on Discord.
Fitness Scalability- 8/10
There is a healthy variety in playstyles here so depending on the weapon you choose, your workout can be very different. Playing as a monk requires the whole body to be involved while playing as a duelist is a lighter workout that doesn’t involve the core as much. The difficulty of your workout depends on the skill of your opponent. If they are going to rush you every time they get a little bit of stamina, you are going to be into one sweaty battle. If they take their time and wait to build a large amount of stamina before coming in for an attack, then you will have an interval-style workout with a heavy stress load for 30ish seconds followed by some downtime to recover.
Lack of Nausea- 8/10
I don’t usually get sick in VR games and the only times I do are during ones that have locomotion. Here, there is none and the environments are pretty basic so that your eyes aren’t assaulted with colors or effects which can sometimes lead to dizziness. The only thing that threw me off a bit was the slow-motion effects and although it didn’t make me dizzy, it’s a bizarre feeling to have your hands in VR not following your real-life hands at first.
Social Competition- 6/10
VR online combat is here in Ironlights and you can challenge friends and strangers alike to take down in this intensely strategic duel. There are no leaderboards currently and there is no voice chat during the duels from what I’ve experienced, which makes playing with friends not nearly as fun. It would be great to see how you stack up against other players or what your win-loss record is. According to the developer, these things will be added to the next update.
VR FIT SCORE- 7.8/10
Ironlights provides a unique combat experience that feels like nothing else on VR while providing a strong workout and various options for play style. It also has a fun single-player and an addicting multiplayer mode that encourages experimenting with different attacks and each match feels different because of that. Because of its’ restrictive play area, not much room is needed so that helps for players who have limited space available to them. There are confirmed updates on the way that will include everything from modes, leaderboards, levels, and cosmetic changes too.
The slow-motion combat may not be for everyone, and players used to more responsive combat of similar VR melee combat games might be disappointed. The lack of a voice chat feature in multiplayer is a bummer and makes playing with friends and against strangers not as fun as it could be.
Ironlights is available for 19.99 on Steam, Oculus Store, Oculus Quest and playable on Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, Valve Index, and HTV Vive headsets.