When it comes to close combat fighting in virtual reality (VR) there are already some good examples out there, such as Swords of Gargantua, Shadow Legend VR or Until You Fall. These do tend to revolve around fighting NPC’s so for those after a PvP experience, indie developer E McNeill’s latest VR title Ironlights offers a suitable alternative whilst adding a little of its own flair.
Ironlights is certainly a step away from his previous videogames which all tend to be in the real-time strategy (RTS) genre, titles like Astraeus and Skylight. Offering a bigger budget feeling with flashier looking visuals and a control scheme which plays into the modern VR penchant for immersive motion controls, Ironlights might look to be all action but a strategic element still runs through its veins.
This is a videogame designed for those who love melee weapons, whether that’s a massive two-handed broadsword, a nimble rapier and shield combo or the majestic staff of a monk. You select your desired class, customise them with new colours and armour combos and then step out into the arena for some duelling.
Now here’s where things get interesting. Ironlights is by no means a brawler. Flailing wildly may work against a brand new player but against anyone who has played a couple of matches that just won’t work. Because you can’t go full bore, getting a sweat on in the process. The hook is that all the fighting takes place in slow motion and that if one person is attacking all the other one can do is block. And vice-a-versa until their blue stamina bar is depleted.
This is also coupled with a health bar which can be used to boost your stamina bar quickly, getting back in the fight at the expense of reduced armour. The system works well enough when both players are healthy, as they can scrap it out fairly fluidly, the problem comes when those bars are minimal. With a drained blue bar and low health, you’re left awaiting a slow death as you can’t attack or boost. If you’re both in the same predicament then the end of a match can become a long draw out affair as you wait for even the smallest amount of stamina to attack. Which can get a little frustrating.
As for the weapons, these automatically break on contact with each other, no matter the size and weight. The only way to replenish them is to move them behind your back which of course can leave you open to attack depending on your weapon class. This can create a mesmerising ballet of blades in slow-mo, like watching the epic final scene in a martial arts film against two masters. But it does take some getting used to. Swing too fast and the weapon will be out of sync causing little damage if it hits, too slow and the attack will continually get blocked. So the learning curve can be steep in some classes.
These close quarters back and forth are offset by the ability to fire a few ranged attacks. Using less stamina, these are far less damaging and destructive than the melee encounters, each weapon has its unique long-range attack. The staff, for example, doubles up like a bow, whilst the rapier can fire a volley of energy projectiles.
Naturally, this means the core mode in Ironlights is its multiplayer PvP, where you can select open random matches or create a private one for you and a mate to duel it out. Thankfully, E McNeill hasn’t gone down the pure multiplayer route even though the title will support PC VR headsets and Oculus Quest for plenty of cross-play action. There is a single-player section which is packed with matches, great for getting acquainted with the various classes as some are harder than others to master.
Packed is an understatement. There are seven levels to unlock from amateur to legend and within each of these levels are Bronze, Silver and Gold leagues. Each of these leagues is then further split down into Tournaments, Exhibition Matches and Duels which can earn you coins for customisations and XP to unlock the next level. So if you can’t find an online match there’s plenty to keep you busy elsewhere.
However, there is a lot of repetition as this is a one-on-one duelling videogame after all. The arenas all look the same and the single-player fights aren’t exactly the most diverse due to the five classes available.
One genius feature is the ability to create a GIF of your favourite part of the fight (usually the end as the losing opponent explodes) which can be exported and shared if you so wish. This will be a boon for those players wishing to showcase their Ironlights fights as they have several recording options when it comes to camera angles and panning.
There are plenty of impressive elements to Ironlights which give the videogame a unique presence in the market. While the style of gameplay can be repetitive and a little frustrating at points, it can also be rewarding and satisfying once the kinks are worked out. There’s also plenty of potential there for expansion both in the single- and multiplayer modes. Ironlights biggest draw is that it offers something a little different from all the FPS and puzzle titles, and that’s no bad thing.