Try sticking your arm straight out ahead of you and, while keeping it straight, rotate your hand left and right as fast as you can. That’s about the extent of the nuance that virtual reality sword fighting has had in games released since I tried on my first headset four years ago.
Virtual reality has made for many great and interesting experiences — even some with swords like the must-play “Beat Saber” where you slash blocks to the tune of a song — but when it comes to simulating anything close to hand-to-hand combat, it’s by and large fallen flat. We’re so far into VR that I had nearly written off VR combat as an impossibility, surely limited by near-weightless controllers, charitable targets that reward wild flailing and the fact you’ll always be swinging through your target.
At least that was the case until the release of “Until You Fall” on SteamVR, Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR. Combining tried-and-true concepts from traditional video games with a healthy dose of innovation, “Until You Fall” is the first time that a VR combat game has had me coming back.
The set up of “Until You Fall” is simple. You’ll be set up in a small arena with about a half-dozen enemies you’ll need to defeat to advance to the next arena. The difficulty in each arena will ramp up as you advance and when you die — and you’ll die a lot — you’ll have a chance to upgrade and unlock new weapons for the next bout.
Where other VR games have made combat feel both weightless and mushy with free-form combat where waggling your controllers around is the most effective playstyle, “Until You Fall” has found a way to make combat feel precise and satisfying by ditching the free-form combat in favor of more choreographed battles akin to what you’d see in traditional video games.
Enemies will attack with big, predictable swings, requiring you to parry their attacks and dodge others. While they’re on the attack, they’ll be guarding themselves against your attacks and you’ll need to wear down their guard by landing blows and blocking their attacks. These openings create prompts where you’ll need to swing in certain directions to land the most devastating blows.
By putting some limitations on the combat, “Until You Fall” is ultimately easier to understand. You’ll know when you’re landing great blows on the enemy and you’ll know exactly what you did wrong when an enemy lands a killing blow. No more waggle.
And while all of this may sound simple when you’re facing off in one-on-one combat, it quickly gets complicated but manageable and, importantly, exhilaratingly fun thanks to these underlying mechanics.
Enemies in early arenas can be quickly defeated while they politely take turns fighting you, but the game quickly ramps up its difficulty. Enemies will pile on at the same time while ranged opponents take pot shots from a distance in a way that requires you to make quick strategic decisions to handle the hordes.
It feels not only satisfying on the physical level of fighting but also when it comes to the strategy of handling each arena’s challenges.
I’ve never had as much fun in VR combat as I’ve had while going toe-to-toe with two brutally deadly knights while knowing that a pair of rogues is getting ready to hurl throwing knives at me. Using the game’s handy dash mechanic (which alleviates a lot of the traditional discomfort with VR) I quickly closed the distance to one rogue, knocking the others’ knife out of the air, landed a few shots and then dashed back into the fight with the knights.
The underpinnings of “Until You Fall” is also an excellent and smart understanding of the limitations of playing games in virtual reality. I think virtual reality is suited to pick-up-and-play arcade-like experiences where you’ll play for 20 or 30 minutes. Each foray into the arenas feels like the right amount of time to be in VR, which is great because it means I’ll be coming back for a long time.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If You Play
Game: Until You Fall
Rating: 5 stars
Platforms: SteamVR, Oculus Quest and PSVR
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2020