It was a beautiful day in the busy, but beautiful, city of San Francisco. The sun was shining and there was a lovely chill in the air--the perfect weather to stay indoors and try out video games. This trip would be notable for me because it was the first time that I would get to try out the Oculus Rift, a device I've heard so many people give praise. My introduction to the Rift was accompanied by a first look at CCP Game's upcoming EVE offshoot, Vaklyrie. Hosted by design lead Andrew Willans, we were walked through a presentation that outlined the philosophy behind the game and what people can expect from it. One key point that Willans stressed was that Valkyrie is separate from EVE Online. It's more of a standalone action title that doesn't build on, or is supported by, events that shape the online MMO. Instead, the stage is limited to the skirmishes among two factions of space pirates.
Before I talk about my time with the game, Willans discussed the design of Valkyrie. It is an online-only, competitive multiplayer shooter. And like others of its ilk, it promises different game modes to make up for the lack of a campaign. In place of a story, CCP has several PvE experiences that are largely designed to help acquaint players with how the ships work. At launch, there Valkyrie will offer three non competitive modes: Recall, Scout, and a wave based horde mode. Recall has missions that can be pulled from the DNA of dead pilots. (For the uninitiated, in the EVE universe humanity has perfected cloning which has rendered them practically immortal. Pilots don't so much die as have their consciousness transferred to a new clone). Scout lets you explore enemy-free multiplayer maps. Willans said this mode was designed after the community requested a feature that would let them noodle around and take in the sights.
The competitive portion of the game is to be more robust, though the features mentioned in the presentation seemed no different from any other competitive game. At this event, Willans only talked about Team Deathmatch and Control. While the latter is self explanatory, Control involves capturing and defend a map's three command posts. Unlike other games, CCP wants to encourage players to get into the fight and not spend the whole game entrenched in one specific part of the map. In Valkyrie, drones do that work so the players don't have to. They're weak and do need to be protected, but it gets the player away from feeling like they contribute to the game in only one way. The overall goal in both modes is to fight a battle of attrition, to make the other team spend all their clones/respawns in a system that's akin to the ticket mechanic in Battlefield.
There are different classes to play, Fight, Heavy, and Support, and each offers a unique combat role. The Fighter class is the perfect middle of the road ship. It's agile, quick, and has some decent weaponry. The Heavy is the game’s tank class and it shows as the ship is a big, lumbering bomber. Where it exceeds in armor and close range firepower it lacks in speed and maneuverability. The Support class plays a lot like the Medic in Team Fortress 2 because it is equipped with a speal beam weapon that can recharge an ally's shield (or drain an enemy's). I like playing support classes in multiplayer games, so I spent the most time with that class during our gameplay time. So much so that I quickly discovered the joy of draining a ship's shields while blasting their exposed hull with my Gatling gun. At the end of the day, Willans came up to me and laughed. Apparently, I had shot him down repeatedly with this tactic (I was unaware since we had pre-made callsigns) and riled him up.
Andrew’s excitement about he game was palpable, as he rushed though the presentation so that we could see what CCP had cooked up. It was infectious because I hurried over to the nearest PC station as soon as they let us loose. I was nervous, though. This was my first VR experience and I heard the stories of people getting sick. The last thing I wanted was to throw up. After getting the device strapped onto my face (I got to keep my glasses on!), I almost felt like throwing up out of sheer awe. Holy shit, people. Like magic, VR headset took me from a meeting room inside a posh hotel to the interior of a massive EVE-style battleship. A large holographic menu screen filled my immediate vision but after being spurred onto look around, there was so much more to see. I turned my head right and looked out a bulkhead window, watching two large cruises glide past our ship. I looked behind me, actually turning around in my chair, and saw an entrance to a bar. I looked down and saw my arms, legs and torso (I was skinny!). All of it was so spectacularly nuts.
With the equipment secured and everyone locked in, we started our first round of Team Deathmatch. If I was wowed by a menu screen, imagine how I felt seeing my spaceship get catapulted out of a carrier tub and thrown right into the middle of a debris field. The experience was pants wettingly awesome (no, I didn't wet my pants). This was the absolute best way for me to experience VR. People talk about using it to explore new places and ride roller coasters. Screw that noise, I want to fly in space! The ship's controls were easy enough to grasp (we were using an Xbox 360 PC controller, though I yearned for my Saitek) and before long, I was doing my part to take out the enemy team. At one point in the presentation, Willans encouraged us to look around and take advantage of VR. To prevent tunnel vision in their players, the design team implemented an ingenious Look To Lock system for the ship's secondary weapons. Instead of steering the ship towards an enemy for a lock, all you have to do is maintain eye contact with the target. It's a great idea that works incredibly well and has the side effect of imparting a sense of the game's scale. It did make me feel dizzy at one point, though I never felt sick to my stomach. Any time I started to feel dizzy or overwhelmed, I found that maintaining a slow, level flight path for a moment was enough to curb feelings of nausea.
We played two rounds of Team Deathmatch (I came in first place in the second match) before switching over to Control. I wasn't too jazzed with this mode because I've played it so often--most recently with Battlefront. I was dazzled by the new maps, both of which were huge and intimidating at first glance. Accidentally ramming into wreckage and asteroids is just as deadly as getting shot at and it was something I did often during the Control matches. After about an hour of play time--which went way too fast--we were handed by the CCP staff for coming by. I asked, in my most professionally pleading voice, to play more because this was some really cool stuff.
My time with the Oculus sold me on its technology. The only thing that concerned me was the overall jaggedness of image quality. Maybe someone can tell me if this is inherent to the VR experience? Or perhaps it was nothing more than something to be attributed to the game's pre-Alpha state. The picture didn't look bad, as the whole thing was simply gorgeous, but it looked like someone was trying to run a 1280 x 1040 resolution on a 1600 x 900 monitor. Still, it was really damn cool. If EVE Valkyrie stays the course, it could grow into a really fun alternative to EVE Online. Valkyrie could be a great alternative for people who don't want to get their feet wet in what is the most ambitious and intimidating MMOs on the market. For me, it was a watershed moment that proves VR to be a viable platform for gaming. The Oculus Rift is a hot piece of tech and I want one. I...need one.
Disclosure: CCP Games paid for travel accommodations for this event.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.