OrbusVR shows the promise of MMOs in VR

As someone that grew up playing MMOs like EverQuest, Minions of Mirth (an obscure indie one), Runescape, Guild Wars, and more, a high-quality VR MMO is one of my ultimate dream games. Anime like .hack//sign and Sword Art Online have done their part to instill the excitement around the concept and now with consumer VR finally here, it feels like the prospect is finally within reach.

Having played (and loved) Skyrim VR, it seems we’re closer than ever to that ultimate fantasy-themed VR MMO that I’ve always wanted. While it’d be a drastic overstatement to say that OrbusVR is that game, it’s certainly one of the first steps on a path toward that game. We wouldn’t have Zelda or Diablo without Atari’s Adventure preceding them.

Someone’s got to be first, so OrbusVR is here to lay the groundwork for realizing the future of VR MMOs.

Visually, OrbusVR is far from impressive. After spending a few hours inside its jagged, flat, and unattractive world the art style never really grew on me at all, but it’s something you get used to. It might look off-putting at first, but I’d encourage you to look past that if at all possible.

What I found beneath the surface is a mostly bare bones MMO that would have been unremarkable had it been released outside of VR, but that’s the whole point. This game wouldn’t exist without VR and it’s clearly built from the ground-up with that in mind. That design philosophy is evident across the entire gamut of the game’s experiences.

For example, to speak with an NPC you physically wave at them using your hand. You can grab a compass on your chest to find the direction of party members and points of interest. You open buildings by grabbing and pulling on door knobs. You gather crafting materials by leaning over and hitting them with your pickaxe. You fight enemies by aiming your gun, knocking your arrow, drawing runes to cast spells, or slashing with your sword. Each and every facet of the game is designed to foster a high degree of kinetic player interaction to eliminate the barrier between you and the game.

The new player tutorial does enough to get you started and explain the basics of the three main classes (Warrior, Archer, and Musketeer) before you set out on your own. However, a lack of voice acting and reliance on using on-screen text subtitles was disappointing but understandable given the small team and tiny budget.

In OrbusVR I gravitated toward playing as a Warrior, which defies convention by being one of the more difficult classes to play in this game. I reach behind my head to grab my sword and shield from my back and then combat plays out just like you’d think — lots of arm swinging. The trick though is that the developers didn’t want you to just mindlessly waggle your arm around with little rhyme or reason, so the Warrior has a series of “combos” to master.

So I’d do things like slash to the left, then upwards, then to left and back to the right all in rapid succession. If done correctly, an enemy might start bleeding slightly and will take a big chunk of damage at the end of the combo. There was a combo to provoke enemies and keep their attention on me as well, plus a handful of others I could cycle through during combat. Remembering them all isn’t easy, but it was extremely satisfying to pull them off correctly in the moment.

Archers work just like you’d think — nocking and loosing arrows feels as great here as it does in any other VR game. Differernt abilities are assigned to different arrow types this time. You equip them to your bow directly and select them by looking down at your waist and grabbing the special one you want. My favorite rained down fire in a big circle after a shot. You can also charge up your standard arrow for big damage — as long as you hit. There is no targeting system in OrbusVR, so you can’t just mindlessly slaughter enemies without thinking like you do in most other MMOs.

The Musketeer is probably the easiest class to play as you just point and shoot a gun. Similar to the Archer you equip special abilities to the weapon, but this time they’re floating orbs. Some will heal your allies, some will damage enemies, and some do special things like pop up shields. It’s very much the “support” class of the game, with Warriors functioning as tanks, and Archers functioning as ranged DPS.

The wild card is the Wizard, which isn’t unlocked at the very start like the others. Instead, you’ve got to go on a special quest to uncover the secrets of using magic in the world of OrbusVR. Even if you don’t plan on being a Wizard as your primary combat class, it’s absolutely worth unlocking just for the useful functionality of opening up portals to teleport across the game world.

There’s a lot of stuff to take in with any MMO and OrbusVR is no different. Zones are much larger than you’d think and people are scattered across the world liberally. I tried playing in the evenings on week days and weekends, as well as midday on both as well and never went more than a minute or two without seeing someone — even in the middle of large forests. The main starting town was always full of people.

OrbusVR uses proximity-based voice chat like many other VR apps, but in the context of an MMO it’s really satisfying. As I’m walking around town, talking to NPCs, turning in quests, and just exploring I can overhear actual conversations like people are really around me. One man is talking to his party members about where they should go next. Two young kids are competing to see who can cast certain spells faster. One woman is trying to help a friend learn Warrior combos. Other groups are discussing their plans for the weekend — which dungeons they’ll tackle together — and reminiscing about past adventures.

Seeing all of those discussions in other MMOs means looking at scrolling words in a chat box, but in OrbusVR it feels like a real community. Thousands of people are playing OrbusVR and it’s incredibly involved for such a seemingly “small” game — the Discord server is always active, for example.

According to SteamSpy at least 10,000 people own the game on Steam, which doesn’t account for any Oculus Home owners either. They raised over $ 30,000 early last year on Kickstarter and then in a matter of a few months managed to surpass that number in straight sales. Steam Charts says the all-time peak is a little over 300 players with right around 50-100 going strong at any given time, but again, that doesn’t count Oculus Home at all.

Anecdotally I can verify that, like I said, I never had trouble finding someone to talk to if I wanted. A lot of the game can be played solo if you desire, but this is very much a social game. Before long you’re going to have to group up with other players. The “holy trinity” is in full force here and you’ll absolutely need a group of at least three for much of the mid-game and late-game content. Luckily there are plenty of active guilds and a more than friendly Discord server to help you out.

As someone that has a background in playing and writing about MMOs a lot over my life, OrbusVR checks all of the “must-have” boxes for any basic MMO at this stage of a new platforms’ (VR) lifecycle. Combat works great. There are decently written quests with objectives and completable tasks. You can add friends, have guilds, and chat/hang out together. There’s a level-based progression system, multiple zones, and end-game focused high-level content. There are even four distinct classes to play. There’s PvP too, but I didn’t get to try that yet.

While it will never be as functional as social VR apps such as Bigscreen or as creatively flexible as the likes of VRChat, OrbusVR is here to deliver a true-to-form MMORPG (with an emphasis on the ‘game’ or ‘G’) experience for all VR gamers and its laying the groundwork for VR’s bold and ambitious future.

OrbusVR is now currently available in Early Access on both Steam and Oculus Home for $ 39.99. It’s technically playable and mostly complete without any future character wipes planned, but the team is still working on some harder difficulty settings and end-game raids. And of course there are still some bugs as well. A full release is expected by this summer.

This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2018

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