When it comes to virtual reality (VR) titles employing close-quarters combat, there are plenty of decent examples to choose from. These range from the more realistic Blade & Sorcery or Asgard’s Wrath to the more outlandish Gorn. Indie developer The Pixel Mine has entered the dungeon crawling, melee combat genre with low-poly styled The Morrigan which can hold its own in a sword fight but not in other areas.
The Morrigan offers a classic fantasy adventure where you play a heroic knight tasked with rescuing the queen from an ancient evil. Before she was born her father made a deal to save his kingdom, with payment being his child when they reached a certain age. The Morrigan has now called in that debt, it’s up to you to save her, battling hordes of enemy skeletons in the process.
You start from a quaint little village where you learn the basic gameplay melee mechanics, using a sword and shield or going full blown attack mode with too blades. Right from the outset The Morrigan highlights a feature that sounds obvious but is rarely mentioned – or possibly employed – in sword fighting titles, angle of attack. It’s common sense that when using a sword you want the sharp edge hitting an opponent yet how often is it the case that you pay particular attention to that, especially when flailing big broadswords around.
It’s all part of a very well put together combat system which you might not expect looking at the visual aesthetics. Hitting with the flat of the sword does little damage but a mighty swing to a helmet can easily displace it using the edge. The Morrigan encourages this physical effort in every close combat engagement, parrying attacks before launching your own suitable blow.
Unlike Gorn or The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners most of the weapons feel fairly weightless, so while they each have varying damage stats, wielding them doesn’t require any change in how you use them. There is one giant axe which goes against this, wobbling all over the place if you don’t use both hands.
While there’s a decent variety of weapons to collect, allowing you to use varying tactics, the enemies themselves aren’t the smartest bunch. Mostly consisting of skeletons either with or without armour, they don’t parry attacks so don’t expect any longwinded battles. It’s more a war of perseverance as you whittle down their health. This may sound a little dull but in sections involving multiple opponents which can also include archers, the battles can get quite intense and become a lot of fun.
You can also use a bow for those moments where thinning down the herd or picking off another archer is required. Unless you really love using bows, the one in The Morrigan should be considered a secondary weapon, it’s not as good as the one in Apex Construct for example. It feels flimsy and at very long range the enemies just don’t react to getting hit. One neat little feature is that if you get hit by an arrow you can pull it out your body and fire the sucker straight back.
The bow also suffers from an issue relating to a lot of the objects in The Morrigan. The title supports roomscale, however, leaning over a small wall or table pushes you back, making it impossible to grab an item towards the back. This problem isn’t everywhere yet in relation to the bow, there were a number of occasions where stepping around a corner to fire an arrow saw it ricochet off an invisible wall, even with clear line of sight to the enemy.
What’s weird is that other areas are so well thought out and designed. Left-handed players are well catered for with a right-hand movement option, there’s some beautiful music used to great effect throughout and the stylish low-poly design makes The Morrigan a pleasure to look at over its 4+ hour campaign.
The Pixel Mine has also ensured that there’s still stuff to do after completing the story. Each level has a completion ranking based on time, damage taken and secrets found. Collected cash can be spent in the town on useful items such as an unbreakable shield, or buffs to health and strength. And then there’s the Arena if you just want to fight, unlocking weapons for the campaign in the process.
The dungeon crawling experience isn’t without its bugs with a little finesse needed here and there. The sword mechanics, story and visuals are all notable highlights while the bow and enemy AI could be improved. Even so, The Morrigan is one of those indie titles with bags of character, a plucky adventure which makes good use of VR’s features and sometimes maybe that’s enough.