Imitation is the best form of flattery. That’s a statement that has rung true for a very long time, but in the world of VR, it seems to ring a bit less true than it usually would. When a game as groundbreaking as Blade and Sorcery comes up, it’s going to have its fair share of imitations, some good, some bad. Then there will be the titles that seek to evolve the formula. To take the amazing skeleton that Blade and Sorcery has, and then add your own twist to it seems to be the go-to blueprint for the melee combat title. From this concept, we have The Swordsman VR. A little of Blade and Sorcery, and a little of Hellsplit: Arena that is both a look into what the genre could become and also a somewhat empty experience that promised far more than it could deliver.
The Swordsman VR basically delivers you the experience of the game For Honor in VR form. You’re promised the experience of being able to face off against warriors from other cultures in what appears to be a decently involved story. At least, that’s what the opening interactive cinematic would have you believe. While this sounds incredible on paper, the game’s budget and small development team tend to rear their heads a bit too much for this to truly be a standout title. It starts off with you being given the option to play through the “story” as a knight, a Mongolian, a Samurai, or a Viking. When I first saw this I thought “We’ve got Blade and Sorcery with a story here, this is it. This is the next big thing.” I was very wrong. Turns out the story mode that gets hyped up in the opening scene is just an arena where enemies are recycled and repeated until you defeat them all, which leads you to the exact same arena, again, with pretty much the same amount of and same types of enemies again. The armors change color and look on occasion, but that’s the most you can expect save for the boss battles. The boss battles are a fun diversion, but they feel extremely spongy and they can take a ridiculous amount of punishment before going down. The bosses feel similar in that way to those in Hellsplit: Arena.
Look, I respect small development teams for giving it their all when it comes to likely lifelong passion projects like this, but as gamers, it’s fair for us to demand a little bit more for our money. We barely even get palette swaps here and enemy faces are reused over and over with no difference from level to level. It’s difficult not to notice and it’s hard to really feel immersed because of it.
Enemies come at you with a variety of different weapons which is nice to see and each type you face off against uses their period-appropriate equipment. The problem is that this flashy equipment comes with the least flash combat animations you could imagine. It seems enemies are fighting off a bout of constipation during their sword-swinging animations as things happen painfully slowly and you have to really try to get hit by these lumbering fools. Now, it’s not all bad as the weapon physics are on par with Hellsplit: Arena though they are still a bit behind the mastery of Blade and Sorcery. Blocking is pretty effective and sword clashes happen aplenty. There is also an emphasis on striking the vulnerable parts of the armor and you’re rewarded for hitting the open spots rather than just swinging wildly. The thing is, you’re almost rewarded too much for this as one measly poke to the face is enough to kill most of your opponents. This feels even more ridiculous considering the hefty amount of head armor the enemies generally are wearing. This leads to fights feeling far too cheap and easy to overcome. The boss encounters for each playthrough though do add a decent challenge comparatively and most have unique animations and feel like completely different characters than the previous ones you’ve been fighting. I just wish this care would’ve gone into every level and not just those specific ones. Luckily, there are a ton of options to fine-tune your gameplay experience in the menu. One of these includes turning off instant kill head stabs and this immediately made my experience far more enjoyable as well as challenging.
The combat feels responsive, and the weapons look great as does the armor. There’s also a slick slow-motion feature that triggers when you successfully block an attack, though this doesn’t feel too rewarding when the enemies look and act like robots. Immersion is the biggest obstacle to enjoying The Swordsman VR. If you can get past a few faults, you’re bound to have a good time here.
This is a full-on melee game and that means for every direction in front, to the side, or behind you, there should be ample room to maneuver. You should also have some type of workout mat under you while playing as you can use all parts of the enemy to cause damage so leg shots are not at all out of the question.
Calories burned: 186
Calories burned per minute: 6
Average Heart Rate: 105
Max Heart Rate: 130
Active Minutes: 25
Swordsman VR is among the more intense physical experiences I’ve had in VR. Once I altered the play options a bit to turn on more of a challenge, the physical intensity jumped up a ton and I was feeling it everywhere in my body as I took on wave after wave of virtual foes. The game takes into account your actual physical weight when swinging your sword and this gets extremely tiring and challenging to keep going. The action was exciting enough that I didn’t mind the extreme physical toll it can take though.
It’s hard to think of a VR title that utilizes and demands your arms to be stretched out and ready to go like Swordsman VR. There are no ranged weapons in these affairs, so all the action is going to me mano e mano as you slash and slice your way through several different kinds of warriors. You’re going to need to put actual strength into your strikes, especially if you choose to play with the full weighted mode which I thought gave the best approximation of weapon weight, much like Blade and Sorcery and Hellsplit: Arena does. The lesser weight options allow for the type of flutter and swat gameplay that games like Skyrim VR employ, which is fine if you just want a casual sword fighting experience, but the purists will want to stick to the more realistic options. You’re able to dual wield in this game as well and that’s not only a great way to play, but it balances the workout and gives you some awesome opportunities for counterattacks after a block.
Swordsman VR gives you the full motion of a swordsman to take into battle with you and that means legs are going to be crucial if you don’t want to rely on blocking and countering nonstop. You are fully able to duck under the sword swipes of enemies and it’s often the preferred method of avoiding damage as the blocking mechanic doesn’t always trigger and that’s problematic when just a few hits can end your game early. You’re also able to crouch and take shots at your enemies legs too and this can be beneficial when they’re ready-ing one of their long-winded swipes as you’ll avoid all damage while unleashing plenty of your own. I found certain moments during the game, especially the ones against some bosses actually were helped immensely by employing a jumping attack. This gives you a great angle to come down on your enemies and they rarely are prepared to block it. It’s a bit cheap, but it feels amazing to do and the game doesn’t show any boundaries on letting you do so.
Core/ Balance- 8/10
Most games in VR tend to not really engage your core all that much. Swordsman VR changes that route by requiring you to put the full force of your arms into each swing if you want to deal some decent damage. This will undoubtedly engage your core if you’re swinging like an insane person as I tend to be while in VR. In addition to this, you can use your entire body to maneuver during combat, so this means you can be ducking, doing Matrix-esque dodges to get out of the way of an oncoming blade, or create some weird crab-walking fighting style if you so choose. The freedom the game allows means you are the controller, so if you want to get a good core workout from playing it, you will be able to find a way.
Time Perception- 9/10
You’re not getting whisked away to any majestic landscapes like the initial trailers seemed to promote, but regardless, if you’ve been craving some vicious, up close and personal VR combat, Swordsman VR effectively whisks you away to a small arena where you get to take out your frustrations with 2020. The combat has an addicting nature and despite seemingly a bit easy at first, a few tweaks in the menus can have you sweating profusely as you attempt to take down warriors from the different factions. The enemies seem to attack differently depending on their weapons, so it’s a fun dance to learn when to attack and when to defend and I found it very easy to watch the hours tick away while working my way through Swordsman VR. Despite its faults, it knows how to grip you and stands right behind the titans of the genre.
If the combat does it for you, then Swordsman VR has near unlimited replayability. There are plenty of weapons and armors to unlock, and the tweaks menu gives you so many options on how you want your play session to go. The weapons you get from bosses have unique effects too, and you can take these to the arena any time you’d like to just fight waves of enemies to your liking. To add to this, mods will likely appear in the game at some point as well and everyone knows how much that helped Blade and Sorcery’s rise to fame. The developers have also provided a pretty detailed roadmap that will see bosses being added to the arena as well as a brand new game mode set to launch this October. Swordsman VR is doing everything it can to force itself into your VR rotation and I’m willing to be a bunch of players will be intrigued and satisfied by that dedication.
Fitness Scalability- 8/10
There are an amazing amount of options available to you to scale your workout in Swordsman VR. For starters, I recommend turning off instant death head stabs as they ruin any form of challenge within the game and just feel pretty cheap to pull off. Turning these on means your enemies are going to take a sizable amount of punishment and in turn, you’re going to be working your butt off to take them down in response. The options are pretty numerous and if you explore and tweak it enough you’re going to find yourself a pretty legit workout.
Lack of Nausea- 9/10
I didn’t find any problem playing Swordsman VR and thought it was a relatively seamless experience. There are movement options for those who find smooth movement too overwhelming, but it ran perfectly for me and I found no issue.
Social Competition- 0/10
Swordsman was developed as a single-player experience and there really aren’t any games of this ilk that have figured out how to properly make an online melee experience except for Swords of Gurrah, so for now, this won’t factor into our final score.
VR Fit Score- 8.7
Game Score- 7/10
Swordsman VR is a worthy addition to your VR melee combat library. It uses some unique and well-made armor and weapon textures to engross you in the historical nature of the experience, before taking you into the supernatural realm of lightning weapons and others I won’t spoil here. The challenge is pretty legitimate once you mess with the game settings a bit and I found the combat to be more challenging than Blade and Sorcery at times. The combat feels weighty and realistic when played with the heavy weapon weight option turned on and blocking and counter-attacking the various attacks is something that just doesn’t get old. The boss battles also some much-needed variety after hacking through waves of similar enemies over and over. The replayability is nearly endless with all of the different weapons and content that the developer is preparing to churn out shortly.
The sameness of the enemies gets a bit grating after multiple levels and there are probably a few less bosses than you’d like for a game that claims to have a campaign. The story is nonexistent after being introduced in a way that at least felt a little intriguing. There aren’t a ton of ways to approach combat and it feels like going through the motions after a while.
Swordsman VR is available for $19.99 on Steam and PSVR and playable on PSVR, Oculus Rift, Valve Index, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality Headsets.