If videogames like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Dark Souls prove anything, it’s that gamers love fantasy role-playing games (RPGs), and especially when it comes to the latter that they’re not too easy either. While PlayStation VR owners will be getting The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR soon, when it comes to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (reviewed) players have the choice of specifically designed for virtual reality (VR) titles that obviously don’t carry the same weight and prestige as Bethesda’s juggernaut. Hoping to make a mark in the genre is indie studio Strange Company with its Dark Souls inspired horror RPG Left-Hand Path.
Having been through a year of Steam Early Access development some gamers may already be well versed in Strange Company’s magical RPG, which tasks players with mastering the arcane arts, uncovering the sprawling story and hopefully not dying too much.
Remember that inspiration? Well first and foremost Left-Hand Path teaches patience as you will die, and die and die. Certainly at some points it can feel like a proper slog as you try to learn the magic that’s going to help you on your travels, killing enough enemies to earn enough husks to upgrade at the screaming skulls and then moving on. Whilst this won’t be to everyone’s liking these type of difficult videogames definitely have their own reward. If you put the hours into Left-Hand Path then you won’t be disappointed.
No part of the title is easy going, from getting to grips with the movement to accurately performing the correct spell with its gesture system. Players are equipped with a staff in one hand – from which all your magic emanates – whilst the other activates said magic. In a similar fashion to The Wizards, you need to draw symbols in the air using your free hand to fire projectiles, illuminate surroundings, cast defensive barriers, and more, much more. There’s a significant amount of spells to learn, some of which are more intuitive than others. You’ll soon find a particular roster of spells to use in combat or for certain foes. Whilst making for immersive gameplay – you do feel like a powerful mage – the mechanics don’t work as well when a battle gets particularly fraught. Thankfully you have your trusty Grimoire spell book which automatically updates when you learn a new spell so remembering everything isn’t required.
For intense battles you need to learn to move and there are a couple of options available. As standard, Left-Hand Path features teleportation which is activated on the HTC Vive’s touchpad. While this is fine, seasoned VR players will want to active trackpad smooth movement, the direction of which is controlled with your magical staff. Unlike other VR titles where you have to choose one system, Left-Hand Path allows you to use both – one on each controller – mainly due to how the levels are laid out. Some areas are only accessible via teleportation, whereas being able to strafe or quickly move backwards is very handy in combat.
There are a few little issues here and there. Collision detection can be a bit hit and miss when dealing with simple things like opening doors, or if you pick up a book it can drop under a bed, seemingly lost forever. The same goes for melee combat, with staff swings never really feeling or looking like they connect, so it descends into wild flailing until an enemy dies – or you do again. Another gripe would have to be enemy AI. Monsters aren’t generally highly tactical in most videogames but something more than seeing you and running straight at you would be nice.
At points Left-Hand Path is a little rough around the edges, it’s not as polished as The Mage’s Tale for example. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a charm of its own. Strange Company has created a massive world that you can spend far too many hours in – the studio claims around 15, depending on deaths it’s going to be more. If you’re an RPG fanatic who wants to head out on a brutal adventure then Left-Hand Path is the videogame for you.