Early Access Hands-On With Medieval Combat Simulator ‘Blade & Sorcery’
This is how VR swords and sorcery games should feel.
Offering some of the most realistic gladiatorial battles currently available to owners of PC VR headsets, physics-based medieval combat simulator Blade & Sorcery rolled in hot at the beginning of April with early access Update #5.
Keeping an early access title such as Blade & Sorcery in the spotlight should be a hefty task, but lone wolf developer WarpFrog (aka KospY, the handle he uses on the official Blade & Sorcery Discord channel) continues to hold down the fort, adding new content and keeping bugs squished while remaining elusive to his ever-growing base of fans.
“Being a solo dev is a good challenge because you must do everything by yourself,” KospY told VRScout. “I’m also working at home, and finding a balance between work and personal life can be difficult. The first two years of dev were hard because I worked on my free-time only as I had to keep a full-time job. During this period, I had to reduce all my vacation and social meetings close to zero. But things are a lot better now. I have been working full-time on [Blade & Sorcery] for one year, and I also got some external help. It’s a great accomplishment for me to be able to live from my passion.”
Since we haven’t covered Blade & Sorcery before, we figured the latest major update is as good a time as any. Here’s our overview of the game in its current state.
CREATE YOUR CHARACTER
Your very first task in Blade & Sorcery is to calibrate your height and create your character. There are no races or classes, but you get a thorough opportunity to modify everything from hair and beard styles to the proportions of your avatar’s face and body.
While the options are decently robust for a VR game, you don’t ever see your PC (player character) more than three times: that is, when you boot the game up, when you’re flexing in front of the mirror, and when you die. You can capture your virtual vanity via a third-person desktop camera, but, in its current state, it doesn’t do justice to Blade & Sorcery’s hectic (read: ultra-violent) arena battles.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR SETTINGS
The comfort and graphics options in Blade & Sorcery are quite accommodating; you can access the menu tome by hitting the Y button on Oculus Rift, or the left menu button on HTC Vive/Pro. Keep in mind that while you can tweak almost everything about the game including enemy spawn settings, comfort settings, graphics settings and even some experimental things like physics-based climbing and slow-mo speed, your system needs to be able to handle a decent number of reasonably intense physics calculations at once. For many PC VR owners, that isn’t much of a problem. But I can still see Blade & Sorcery having issues with lower-end VR-ready systems that have no trouble running other games.
The level of customization in the settings menu is comprehensive otherwise. For instance, you can change the gender composition of enemies that spawn, or you can completely tweak how two-handed interactions are calculated. If you don’t like how it feels to swing a claymore or a battle axe, you can mess with that setting until it’s to your liking.
Locomotion in Blade & Sorcery is based on thumbstick or trackpad movement (there is no teleportation here whatsoever), and you can only run by pumping your arms as if you were running in place. Pumping your arms and actually running in place are both ways to combat motion sickness in some cases, so this feels like a way to offset the lack of teleportation while promoting natural movement that feels immersive.
EXPLORE YOUR HOME
Your house is the central hub for everything you do in Blade & Sorcery. Not only does it provide the menu from which you choose combat arenas, it also features a training area on the second floor that includes every weapon in the game plus some physics-based pincushion dummies. Speaking of pincushions, the house is full of wooden objects that you can mess around with, pick up, throw around, and/or drive bladed weapons into (at your leisure). I filled a chair with daggers, then used telekinesis to smack my blade-riddled chair into a dummy that the daggers then pinned the chair to. I’d say that that experience certainly prepared me for the trials to come.
There’s even a secret hidden in the house for you to find. “The drawing near the bed in the starting house is a screenshot of the map of the first alpha test of the game back in 2017,” KospY informed VRScout.
DO BATTLE, ATTAIN VICTORY
Right now, Blade & Sorcery sequesters you to a selection of four different combat arenas: the Arena, the Market, the Canyon, and the Ruins. When you load into a map, you’ll spawn with any weapons and health potions you’ve holstered while preparing in your house, but there is no short supply of weapons, potions, and shields scattered around. There are no missions or scripted scenarios to pursue, but instead, you’re given a list of combat encounters that you can select from a pedestal tome. Each encounter is varied by difficulty, but there is no scoring system or metagame that tracks anything outside of immediate gameplay. The hardest encounters are the most physically demanding, and beating them is a challenge unto itself. But make no mistake, Blade & Sorcery is a wave shooter with (extremely competent) swords instead of guns.
The game’s realistic physics simulation generates resistance that causes your weapon (and your player character) to act independently of your own movement. And because of this, you’re forced to treat weapons and objects in Blade & Sorcery like they actually weigh something; which means you can’t simply tickle enemies and deal damage to them as you could in earlier VR titles like Skyrim VR. Using broad movements to telegraph the real weight of a sword, for example, causes you to build more momentum and do more damage. Many of the objects in Blade & Sorcery also allow you to grip their handle(s) at different points with one or both hands, even letting you slide your grip up or down without dropping the object. The physics system really comes alive when you flip a sword or a dagger over and grip it backwards before landing a killing thrust on a downed opponent.
Every weapon handles a bit differently and feels appropriately wieldy based on the weight and shape of its real-world equivalent. In terms of weapon selection, you already have a well-stocked arsenal to choose from. There are a mess of different blades, polearms, axes, shields and bludgeons to enact virtual carnage with. In addition to melee weapons, you can also employ bows & arrows, a lightning spell, a slow-mo ability, and a telekinesis ability (which works on all objects—especially any big, heavy ones that could theoretically cause serious hurt if thrown or dropped at a high velocity). On that note, any part of any object can deal damage if it collides hard enough with an opponent. This means that you can beat an enemy to death with the hilt of your sword or you can drive an arrow through their head with your bare hands, like the monster you are.
And while you can’t replenish your lost mana by any other means than waiting for it to pool up again, there are always health potions nearby that you can use to quickly restore lost health. You can grab one at your house and holster it for later, or you can find a couple waiting on a table nearby in each of the arenas. The game’s liquid physics aren’t quite perfected yet, but the mechanic of uncorking a potion and attempting to slam its contents back while dodging incoming blows can make for a good laugh. Especially after you look down and realize that you’ve managed to spill half of a potion on the ground.
FOLLOW THE ROADMAP
As of Update #5, KospY added dismemberment to Blade & Sorcery, a feature that will surely fulfill those of you who want more—shall we say, “creative freedom”—to vent your primal impulses. But how much further does he plan to go with his production? “I have already been working with other people for a few months now,” KospY told VRScout.
“There is a 3D artist doing weapons and environments, and another dev is helping me from time to time on some specific stuff. I got some plans to add even more people to the production, but I need to be cautious. VR is still a tiny market, [large dev teams] are expensive and [they don’t] always speed up game development as you would expect. In order to reach my objective with [Blade & Sorcery] and go further after that, without taking too much risk, I need to stay suited to the market size.”
Blade & Sorcery does not have a story mode, a campaign, or any sort of context for its brutal arena combat at the moment. When you win a battle, you hear an audio cue and that’s it. There is no currency or progression system to speak of. Blade & Sorcery’s battles are the game, but I can’t imagine how great a fully-realized narrative RPG would feel if it ran on top of these mechanics.
“With my previous experience from modding, I see Blade and Sorcery as a personal project that I share with others,” KospY relates. “I’m the first fan of the game so it’s not difficult for me to continue working on [Blade & Sorcery]. The community and the great feedback also help me to keep going.”
According to the official roadmap, Blade & Sorcery has already reached the endpoint of its first phase of development in early access. Following the roadmap, you can expect a bevy of new items, spells, equipment and mechanics to reach the game in further updates. And if things go particularly well, Blade & Sorcery may someday evolve into a much more engrossing realization of what it first promises to become.
Here’s hoping for a multiplayer update—if not, at least, so we can commit medieval atrocities amongst friends.