Review: Skyworld01 Nov 2017 0
Released 17 Oct 2017
Virtual Reality may not be getting the traction many had hoped, but the new-found technology is still inviting a wave of unique applications. We're always excited by the idea of conquering the virtual worlds we inhabit through VR, and the folks behind Arizona Sunshine have taken a crack at it themselves.
Skyworld is a hybrid strategy title that makes use of just about every layer of VR strategy that we could hope for. It's equal parts turn-based and real-time strategy with a neat little card game mechanic thrown in. Thankfully, the cards come into play during the real-time segments rather than becoming yet another tacked on CCG component. As soon as you pop on your VR headset of choice, you're whisked away into one of the titular Skyworlds – represented by the circular playboard in front of you.
Each Skyworld typically consists of multiple 'regions' for you to conquer across a single mission. You start with a few and have to reclaim the rest from your opponent. There are no dice here, so your turns play out similar to a 4X strategy title, like Civilization, where you manage your buildings and resources, move your units across tiles and issue attack orders. Once you've issued all available commands, you simply end your turn and watch the resulting actions play out.
Your role, at the start, anyway, is simple; recruit a General (your primary attack unit) spend resources on a few production buildings like the Mill or Quarry, drop some workers into them and reap the rewards over time. You use these resources to upgrade Towers that act as your claim over annexed land and to buy and upgrade the cards that make up your unit composition for use in battle. When looking at resource management, you're constantly juggling whether to use more food to hire more workers or strip them of more Gold per turn in exchange for a dwindling workforce. Battles are issued by having your General move to a tile shared by an opposing General or Tower. When you end your turn, the table literally turns to reveal the battlefield where your sole purpose is to overpower your enemy with enough troops to eventually reduce the HP of their towers and Keep to 0.
You start a battle with 4 cards in-hand representing anything from Knights, Archers and Battering Rams to Firebow Men and spells like Freeze, Rally and Fireball. Similar to card games like Hearthstone or Shadowverse, each card expends a set amount of 'mana' upon use. Different to those, however, is how the real-time flavour here has mana gradually regenerating every few seconds. Your 'deck' consists of around 10 chosen cards and constantly rotate when used, so the aim is to use those macro talents picked up in other RTS titles to pressure your opponent into submission. Brute force can only get you so far, through. When deployed, units roam forward through one of three lanes. You're able to dictate which they travel down before pulling the trigger, but there's no micro-management available, outside of spells cards, once they're on their way.
To speed things along, whichever team successfully sends a unit over the half-way point of each lane will gain a flying Turret that fires at a nearby tower to help apply that much-needed pressure; a double-edged sword as you'll constantly fight for control over this handy aid when enemy units walk the same path. Spells like Fire and Ice are cast by hand, allowing you to control large enemy groups from afar. It can feel like a game of rock, paper, scissors, but the generous selection of units, mana management and unpredictability of your opponent's attacks ensures each skirmish feels like a worthy flexing of the brain.
The only issue here, however, is how quickly the difficulty seems to rack up. With only 8 single-player missions, there isn't a whole lot of content for battle-hardened strategists to sink their teeth into outside of running through multiple difficulty levels. Even at the Normal setting I struggled to fend off the advances of my opponents without some sweat-inducing clutch moments. Some of these are tied to the narrative, yet other-times the threats come fast and leave little time to conjure up the materials needed to upgrade viable units in preparation. Constantly re-evaluating your income and its uses takes time, and when you're being flung into somewhat lengthy battle sequences more and more often, the whole experience starts to take longer than you may have originally planned for. I welcome a good challenge, but not when it starts to derail a devilishly simple core element of gameplay. I don't want to hate what I loved at first sight.
As transformative as VR can be, most don't want to spend hours at a time in these restrictive goggles thanks to a mixture of toasty equipment and the need to stand up when you'd usually want to be sat down. Skyworld only puts more pressure on the feet due to it being a far less movement-intensive experience; paired with the somewhat sluggish pacing, it left me feeling fairly uncomfortable around the first hour or so. With the Skyworld table being easily rotated and pulled forward for accessibility purposes, it's a shame this doesn't always feel viable in the main attraction – battle. Sure, you can swing the table around to line up a Fireball shot, but in hectic moments it doesn't feel precise enough to reliably pull off without potentially jeopardizing a crucial battle or move that could take far too long to fix.
Control-wise, everything feels natural; just as designed. It's a full-body experience that means no traditional controller is going to cut it – you're expected to reach out, grab and hit things in a playful manner. Menus are plucked from a selection on your palm and placed freely into any position around you; you can do this for all menus at once or just the ones you see yourself frequently using so that you're not cluttering things up. What this means is your build menus and resource management screens are always available in the corner or your eye or by lightly turning your head. Crafting and upgrading cards becomes a minor minigame that has you grabbing to select and pulling levers to complete the process. But best of all, you get to smash enemy buildings once you annex one of the many regions on the board. Gained by attacking a defenceless Tower, any production building lost by the relinquished land needs to be removed, and that's done by bashing the smouldering remains with your trusty hammer. It isn't exactly a demolition simulator, but it certainly adds a flavour of child-like imagination to the mix.
Covering a genre we feel is a perfect place for new and innovative strategy experiences, Skyworld manages to make a fine case for the platform's future as an exciting creative space. Its colourful world and kid-friendly threat may be a turn-off for more serious strategy fanatics, but it makes great use of some of the defining traits of virtual reality to create a hybrid well worth your time.With the first QOL update having arrived before the turn of the month, it's clear Vertigo Games are committed to making this the success it rightfully deserves to be.
Difficult and long-winded on occasion, Skyworld may feel a tad short for the price. Free DLC planned for the future may help justify the asking price over time, but if you're up for a 8-part story and multiplayer Skirmish section for now, you're all set. If you thought virtual reality was without any captivating strategy titles, Skyworld is ready to prove you wrong, and things can only get better.