Elemental Combat exclusive alpha preview: master the elements in VR!

Today I’ve had the pleasure of trying the alpha version of the upcoming game Elemental Combat by Avrlon VR. It’s one of those games that exploit the awesomeness of VR immersion, so keep reading!

I had the ability to try the alpha version of this game because VR Enthusiast David Gattig, with whom sometimes I chat on Twitter, asked me if I wanted to try the game he’s developing with his little game studio. A game where it is possible to fight using the 4 basic elements: this surely caught my attention. He added that maybe the game was in a too early stage to be reviewed by me, and reading that sentence I immediately thought this

elemental combat meme gif
(Image by Know your meme)

and that’s why I’m here writing the review now!

Game first impressions & alpha caveat

Launching the game, I immediately found myself on a platform hovering in the outer space. Being on a platform in the void was cool… I also tried to fall down into space, but the platform dimension was calibrated well to exceed my play area. Damn, I had to leave my virtual suicidal proposals for the next time.

Floating in front of me there was was a little 3D “isle” with a little river and some trees. Between me and isle there was a 2D menu offering various gaming options (2D? Damn, I hoped for something cool in 3D like with VRobot). Only two buttons were active: one for the tutorial and the other one for the single player campaign. Others were grayed out. While I was there, a cool voice started telling the plot of the game.

elemental combat virtual reality game review
Initial menu. A bit too rough for a SteamVR game

The first impressions I had while watching the world in front of me has been of something not good looking. I mean, something was really good (like the little river on the isle), other things were pretty bad and rough (like the menu items). This is the sensation that I had during all my experience with the game. If this was a finished game, I would be very critic. But this is just an ALPHA version, after which will come an Early Access version (to be released on November, 16th), after which there will be the official release.

So it is a bit like watching bricklayers building up a house: of course, something is already almost finished and looks cool and other things are not completed or still looks awful. So I think that the most important thing of this review is underlining the spirit and the potential of the game and not the actual implementation. I will highlight the problems that I’ve found to make the review complete and to help developers in improving their program. But don’t consider them as persistent problems, they’re just present-time problems. As a developer myself… please, don’t do that!

Tutorial & input mechanics

I launched the tutorial and I found myself inside some kind of arena. The same voice that I could hear in the menu stage guided me towards the process to learn the basics of the game.

You have your two hands with which you can trigger 2 basic commands:

  • Attack ball: a fireball that you can use to hurt your opponents. You just point the fist towards the ground and press the index trigger (I played using my Oculus Touch) to make the fireball to grow around your hand. When you’re ready, you launch them by punching the air and releasing the trigger. The fireball has an automatic aim feature, so it will start taking the direction of your initial fist, but then it will start to slowly aim towards your enemy;

    elemental combat virtual reality game review
    My right hand is on fire!
  • Shield: pressing super-fast the middle trigger button, on the hand appears a magical shield that you can use to defend yourself from the enemies’ attacks.

Apart from this basic commands, you have also 2 special moves:

  • Shield barrier: pressing the middle trigger buttons of both controllers and making a movement with both hands from the ground-up, you see a big barrier to grow up and protect you from frontal attacks;
  • Super-attack: this is a special move that can trigger a very powerful attack. In the tutorial, the voice asks you to choose only 1 of the 4 special attacks and it explains you only that one. I chose the mega-rock attack (related to the Earth element) and I learned that I could perform that by putting the Touch controllers in front of me, pressing the A and X buttons and moving the controllers upward. This triggered a big rock, that I could punch to have this enormous attack, able to hurt a lot the enemies.

    elemental combat virtual reality game review
    The mega-rock, ready to be punched towards the enemy!

In the game, you can use all the 4 elements: earth, fire, air, and water. Using the thumbstick of the controller of each hand, it is possible to choose the element with which that hand has to be associated. So, for instance, since thumbstick-forward is associated with air, moving the thumbstick forward on the left Touch does so that the left hand is able to summon an air-shield and an air-ball attack. The selection of the element of the hand affects all its mechanics, so it changes the attack ball, the shield and the shield barrier associated with that hand. It is not associated at all with the super-attack gesture.

Notice that each element has its strength and pitfalls: for instance, earth is very powerful, but also very slow; fire is great for attacking, but not that much for defending. Furthermore, every element has its nemesis element: fire and water are a great example of this association.

You have a heart meter and a mana meter (mana serves to throw Super-attacks). You can also trigger a pause menu during the game… but trust me, at the moment it doesn’t actually pause the game… so if you trigger it, your enemies will continue attacking you and you’ll die!

The tutorial is useful to begin mastering the input mechanics and to have your first fights. I admit that while the spirit of the tutorial is perfect, actually it had just taught me the commands and nothing more. When I made the fights with the sparring partners inside it, they died almost without an actual reason, not because I’ve learned how things worked. I think that this has to be fixed… the player should come out from the tutorial that is sure to have understood completely how to use the input of the game… he/she should master it. It was not the case for me, I learned how to master the various commands while actually playing the game.

Another downside of the tutorial is that graphics are still rough, both in the environment (something seems just downloaded from the Unity Asset Store) but especially in the writings, that are just text labels attached here and there.

elemental combat virtual reality game review
The part of the tutorial teaching me how to change elements. Notice how writings are super rough
Single player campaign

After the tutorial, I couldn’t master the elements, but at least I knew all the commands. So, I started the single player campaign. I found myself in the same arena of the tutorial, with an opponent at the opposite side of the courtyard and a countdown for the match to begin.

elemental combat virtual reality game review
Prepare to die…

When the match started, I began creating fireballs and throwing them at him. He started doing the same, so I made a shield with the left hand and stopped the attacks. It was my turn for the special attack: using both controllers, I summoned the mega-rock and punched it towards him. In the meantime, one of his attacks reached me. Damn. Anyway, he died pretty easily… victory! After that, I was surprised to see that the game practically began again presenting me a new enemy, in an endless loop. The more I went on, the more the enemies became resistant and smart. Furthermore, they used different elements and I had to understand which was the best element to choose to fight against them: for instance trying to protect me using an air-shield when he was attacking with a rock was not that smart. I understood that during the game there was no label to help me in selecting the right element: I had to look that little spheres surrounding my hands to understood what was the element currently selected!

elemental combat virtual reality game review
Look at the 4 spheres rotating around my hand: they’re orange, so the element on this hand is fire. To change it, I have to use my thumbstick

In the end, I died, so I restarted the game again. I continued playing to beat my record of 3 enemies killed in a row… and I arrived at the fantastic number of 5! The problem of this way of playing are two:

  1. Since there’s no way to restore the health, you are basically doomed to die soon. Considering that shields usually don’t block 100% of the power of the attacks, every attack hurts you and attack after attack, enemy after enemy, in the end, you die;
  2. The game is super-monotonous: the enemy is always the same; the location is always the same; the rules are always the same. This is terrible and after some time, I felt bored.

    elemental combat virtual reality game review
    This is part of the arena where all the matches happen. As you can see, graphics is not at the same level of Robo Recall, for instance

Point 1 could be solved in various ways: a health-restoring mechanism (e.g. +20hp after each match, or 1hp earned every 30sec). Point 2 by changing the gameplay over time. When I played Dracula: Vampires vs Zombies, I felt bored until the game started changing, evolving and becoming more challenging. Possibility to implement this are various:

  • Making available all the elements and attacks only over time (e.g. at the beginning it is not possible to summon shield barriers and mega-rocks; or at the beginning, the player can use only the fire and learns the other elements over time);
  • Changing environments over time: for instance, after the first 3 killed enemies, the player has destroyed all the Earth-enemies and so have to fight in space to destroy the air-enemies;
  • Changing enemies over time: exactly as the above points, enemies could change according to the locations;
  • Changing gameplay: at some point, I could have to defeat more enemies at the same time… some could fly, other could stay on the ground and so on;

Another thing that I found frustrating is that a lot of attacks of mine were blocked by myself! For instance, if my hand holding the shield was too near to the one casting a fireball, the shield blocked the fireball and I was not that happy…

Why I found it cool

I can imagine that from the above review you can’t be that excited, but actually, I’m impressed by this game, for three reasons:

  1. Playing with elements is cool. Graphic of the environments is decent, but the one of the elements is well made. It conveys perfectly the consistency, the shape, the temperature of the various elements. For instance, I loved to summon the water shield, because it felt like it was there, wobbling inside my hand… I had really the impression of mastering water and having a damn water shield controller by my hand.
    elemental combat virtual reality game review
    The water shield in my left hand. The only way to describe it, is seeing it in VR: it is f*cking awesome!

    The same with airballs… seeing all the leaves moving inside a vortex and concentrating in a ball of air was impressive. The game exploited the immersion of VR to make me really feel as a wizard. When I raised the barriers, I felt really powerful. I loved the sensation of being able to have this kind of superpowers: the way they implemented the various elemental animations gave me better sensations than a lot of other VR games;

    elemental combat virtual reality game review
    Half water, half fire barrier! This is another awesome image to be lived inside VR
  2. Gestures are well conceived. When I played The Wizards (awesome game, btw), I found that some gestures were pretty weird. In this case, I had not this impression: to raise a barrier, you just move the hands upwards as you were really raising that barrier… this enhances the immersion. Furthermore, they’re very simple and easy to remember and that’s great for playability;

    elemental combat virtual reality game review
    Earth + Air barrier
  3. Combat action. You can defend with one hand and attack with the other. You have to think which are the best weapons to use for each enemy. You have to think when barriers have to be raised. So, you have to think about how you have to fight. But another thing that I loved is that, since the fireballs of the enemies have auto-aim, they all follow a curve trajectory that sometimes makes hard to predict where the ball is going to hit you… so you have to wait and then defend at the last moment with the shield and this creates a sense of action and fear that only virtual reality can give you.

    elemental combat virtual reality game review
    A fire shield… it is very hot here! I have to block the incoming waterballs with this…

So, the game exploits at its best virtual reality: a similar game on PC would just be mediocre. And since the game has been made using Unreal Engine 4, it has the potential to reach an awesome graphical level, that enhances, even more, the immersion sensation in the virtual world.

Furthermore, the final version will also allow a 1-vs-1 multiplayer interaction! Playing with the AI is cool, but playing with other players is surely better! And maybe you can make new friends in VR…

Conclusion

Elemental Combat is a game with huge potential, since, even in this preliminary stage, it really gives you the sensation of being a wizard able to control all the 4 basic elements. But I think that it has still a long road to go to come from this buggy and incomplete alpha version to an awesome game that can have lots of downloads and Steam VR positive reviews. If Avrlon VR guys will take their time and will develop and polish the game in the right way, I think that this game can have success.

elemental combat virtual reality game review
At some point, the enemy started moving in a bizarre way, then he moved behind some trees. Do not know if it is a bug, or if he was tired of playing with me

If you’re interested in the game, go to its official website and ask a key for testing it by yourself! The developers are willing to hear your feedback and understand what they can fix. They really believe in the power of the community to make VR better! So, let’s all support them in their VR dream.

And I believe in that power, too, so please join my community by subscribing to my newsletter using the form on the right! Cheers to you and good luck to Avrlon for its great project!

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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I’ve still not waken up…