Things have been a little bit slow for the Gear VR over the last few months. We had the occasional bigger release tossed in among much more casual and in some cases pointless affairs. But that all changed this week with Oculus seemingly going crazy and releasing everything that they have all at once. Ten games were released this week, if you count the concepts, and honestly, sometimes they are better than the full releases so you should. But easily the best of the bunch are the two that did not get a soft-launch. Wands and Smashing the Battle.
Some people have been waiting for Wands for a while. When it was first announced there was talk of positional tracking and using another phone as your actual wand. This has been removed from the game and instead you use the trackpad or the controller. This is fine, though it would have been better if they had managed to work the other stuff in.
Wands is a wizard duelling game and, though I’ve only played a few matches, most of them against an AI opponent, I have to say that it’s a pretty good game. You start by selecting your wand and adding attachments. The attachments are purchased with Relic Dust which you earn during the competative matches. You have a limited selection of attachments at the start, but you can see what the others are going to do once you manage to gather enough dust to buy them. There are not a ton of add ons, but with the amount of Relic Dust earned each match and the fact that the cost of attachments goes up as you buy them, it could take a long time to see them all.
I will admit that I wasn’t really following Wands that closely. In fact, until I was reminded of it last week I had completely forgotten it existed. But when I did look at it I was getting a very different idea about the game than what was delivered. I was expecting some sort of story, some spell crafting and a world to explore. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case with it though. It is basically a multiplayer deathmatch game with the option to fight an AI if you’d rather, or presumably if you can’t find a match.
As fun as that sounds, there have been other multiplayer games in the past and for the most part, they seem to be ghost towns after the first couple of days. There is an option to fight against friends, which I haven’t checked out yet. I hope that it will let you browse who is online and invite them, but I’m not really expecting that. I’ll be sure and report back if that is the case. If it is, that would be amazing.
Aside from dueling with friends, strangers and AI, there is a basement with a couple of practice dummies for you to test out your attachments on before you bring them into the fight. It’s a neat idea I suppose but I would have rather had some sort of an obstacle course to train on. It would have been more interesting. I suppose that’s what the AI practice mode is.
You get around in this game by teleporting. That makes sense here because you are wizards and that seems like something wizards would do. But if you are the sort that has been waiting for full freedom of movement then this is not the game you have been waiting for. There are a few things that annoy me about the way that they chose to implement the teleportation. The first is that it uses mana. You need mana to cast your spells and quite often after finally managing to find my opponent I don’t have enough mana to do anything to him. And if you try to do something, it will drain the mana you have have and the effect will not take place, meaning you have to wait for the mana gauge to fill again. And it takes its sweet time. I’m not sure, but I think it might actually hurt you to try and cast a spell when you don’t have enough mana. I take enough damage from my opponents without having to worry about hurting myself.
It’s also annoying that you have to activate each element of your wand individually to use the effects, including teleportation. So you have to teleport to your spot, then bring up the selection wheel and choose your attack, then target your enemy and fire. This all takes too much time and while it might add an element of strategy and planning to the game, it seems more frustrating than it’s worth. And it’s made even worse by the fact that only two buttons on the controller were put to use. This is probably to keep matches a little more even between those with controllers and those without, but it’s still pretty annoying. Honestly, it’s time for Samsung to bundle a controller with the headset and for devs to assume you have a controller.
I realize it sounds like I don’t like Wands. That’s not true. I do. It’s a gorgeous game, it runs smoothly, it controls well, even if the control choices are not what I would like to see, and it is, for the most part, fun. If you look through the library on the Gear VR, these become pretty significant points. There are a lot of games on there, but not many of them are of the caliber of Wands.
I have not been in contact with the developers of Wands, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that they are planning to port the game over to Google’s Daydream when it releases. If I understand correctly, all Daydream headsets will have the motion tracked controller bundled in which seems like a no brainer here. I think anyone who plays this game will immediately recognize how much better it would be with a tracked controller.
Finally, I want to talk about, what might be the coolest part of this game. Spectator mode. By pointing your browser to http://www.wandsgame.com/site/ you can watch people play the game. There are two camera options. One is a mouse controlled camera that looks over the battlefield. The other splits the screen downt he middle and shows the point of view from each player. When I first learned about it I was expecting it to be buggy and broken, but it’s not. It works really, really well. And you can check to see if anyone is waiting in a game for an opponent and see what map they are in. That way you can join a game where you know someone will be there. It’s just such a cool idea and it’s pulled off so well that even if the game was total garbage, the developers would deserve kudos for this. If you haven’t checked it out, I strongly suggest you do. You can leave the search field empty and it will show you up to 20 in progress games or you can search by username if you want to find yourself or your friends. It’s just genius.
So that’s it. I was going to talk a bit about smashing battle but this article went a lot longer than I expected so I will save it for another article. I should play it a bit more before writing about it anyway.
If you are a regular reader of the site then you will probably have noticed that it’s been pretty quiet here. Honestly, I was thinking about just packing it in and calling it quits. I don’t have as much time as I used to and there are so many Gear VR sites now that I didn’t think I would be missed. But when VR Giant went down the other day and several people contacted me to let me know, I realized that even without new content people were still coming to the site. I also realized that I didn’t want to stop completely. But I’m going to change it up a little bit. I will write a more thorough explanation when I figure out exactly what I want to do, but for now I will say that it will be more blog and less review site. I don’t want to score games any more. It adds a lot of work and it’s always felt pretty arbitrary. Instead I’m just going to talk about what I like and what I don’t like. Then you can decide yourself how good you think it is.