For a game that’s been in development for almost three years, that Eve: Valkyrie‘s public appearances have been limited to little more than extensive tech demos is a concern. Sure, they were smooth and very nice tech demos – and some of the best demonstrations of the nascent virtual reality platforms – but they were all clueless as to how the game could actually function if a gamenever mind giving fans a compelling reason to strap an expensive piece of plastic around their faces for an hour or two.
But with the Oculus Rift, for example – true Eve: Valkyrie will be bundled with pre-orders: HTC Vive and PlayStation VR will all be released in the first half of 2016, Valkyrie has finally had a more complete outing. Officially the game is in “pre-alpha”, but the features are mostly complete.
There’s been a lot of confusion and mixed messages about what’s actually in it Eve: Valkyrieso here are the facts: Valkyrie is primarily a competitive, team-based multiplayer game, but PvE content will be available from the start. That PvE content does not include any kind of campaign mode, although some light stories exist.
There are three PvE modes to choose from, each designed to provide a slightly different experience. With “Recall” you dive into DNA fragments recovered from dead pilots to relive their memories, providing a pretext for competitions against bots. I played a Recall called Convoy, where I had to protect a small fleet of friendly ships from an enemy ambush, complete with little bits of story shaping the world as I played.
“Survival” is, you’ll be shocked to hear, all about survival. It’s the same mode you’ve no doubt played a thousand times before in many other games, pitting you against wave after wave of enemies that get stronger and stronger in quantity and quality. For quieter moments, there’s ‘Scout’, which removes enemy cards and focuses instead on exploration. Perhaps you want to brush up on your flying skills by making tight turns and rolling around a space station, or spotting the nuggets of information that pop up as you fly past key structures, which in turn help shape Valkyrieworld.
Suffice to say, none of the PvE modes are quite as exciting. The main event is competitive play. While the game modes and gear options mimic those of any number of first-person shooters, the virtual VR environment adds a whole new dimension (sorry) to the action. Indeed, after getting my hands dirty with the blood of spacefaring foes, it’s hard to complain about the inclusion of familiar rules and options. There are enough new interactions and perspectives to worry about mastering as it is, making the inclusion of some recognizable elements more than welcome. This, in turn, provides a non-threatening gateway into what is an entirely new way to play a video game, and indeed an entire medium.
At its core, competitive play boils down to shooting everything red, and working alongside everything blue. For example, in Team Deathmatch, distant enemy ships are marked with a small red square that silhouettes them against distant stars and planets. As you get closer, that square turns into a circular crosshair that helps you aim, with specific visual quirks used depending on your chosen ship and gun combination.
Teams consist of up to five players, with each death depleting a set number of tickets assigned to each team. Lose all your tickets, lose the game. However, if you play under a time limit, the team with the fewest tickets remaining loses once the clock hits zero.
The “Control” game mode (a work-in-progress name) is what Duty players may be familiar with Domination, the goal of which is to take ownership of up to three control points scattered around the map. To encourage players not to camp, deploy stationary drones to passively control the area for you. The team with the most drones at a checkpoint can score points with it before the opponent gets their act together and destroys them with their blasters. As with Team Deathmatch, you can’t go wrong if you stick to the “kill red stuff” mantra. Enemy drones glow red to prevent smart players from hiding them in positions or against backgrounds that would otherwise make them invisible.
A whole new way of dog fighting
While the rules are familiar, the moment-to-moment action is anything but. Moving your head is key to getting lots of kills and reducing your kills, the full field of view allowing you to track multiple targets in a way that simply wasn’t possible with a single monitor. If an enemy rushes past you, you don’t need to turn your ship around to follow it – which would make you lose sight of the target already stalking you – you can simply turn your head to look above and behind you.
This allows you to keep an eye on dangers all around you while at the same time moving on to your next objective. It sounds like a small thing, but its impact on how you move is surprising. The players who realize the huge gains that can be made with VR and the more immersive point of view will be the ones who dominate Valkyrie‘s online arenas next year.
Of course, specific strategies will vary depending on the card and ship. The first map I played was sparsely populated, with a few very large ships scattered around the place that were too far apart to use for cover. Staying alive meant keeping a sharp eye out for danger and moving quickly before enemies could outflank me. Taking an active role in triggering others to respond to my attacks was a good tactic for controlling a larger portion of the battlefield.
Another map was much messier and centered around the scaffolding-like structure of a massive space station. There were plenty of docks, connecting tunnels and large capsules to both escape from an enemy’s crosshairs and launch surprise attacks on them from unexpected angles. Although you can move slowly, however, you cannot stop and float in space. Those who want to hide behind a clump of metal until someone happens to wander by are out of luck.
The maximum movement speed is determined by the ship, with three options to choose from. Fighters are good all-rounders, offering a medium balance of speed, armor, and firepower. Support ships are essentially medics that are slower but capable of polishing friendly shields and – if you’re feeling adventurous – deplete enemies’ shields. The Heavy option is the tank of the Valkyrie fleet, with incredibly robust armor and powerful short-range weapons that take precedence over everything else. However, that concentration on defense results in incredibly poor top speed.
Within these three classes, there are multiple ship options that unlock as you level up, some of which are a hybrid of the three core types. For example, you might prefer a Fighter-class ship that can offer limited healing capabilities at the expense of offensive options, or one that sacrifices speed for better armor.
Before starting a battle, you’ll be prompted to select four ships from those you’ve unlocked, with each death giving you the option to switch to one of the other ships. This basically acts as your loadout, which you’ll need to change regularly depending on your teammates’ map, game mode, and ship preferences. As tempting as it may be for anyone to pilot the nimble Fighters, you’ll struggle with something like Control if you don’t have a Heavy or two ready to defend the drones from close range attacks.
The first and most important VR game
Which Eve: Valkyrie now being part of the pre-order bundle for Oculus Rift means CCP’s space shooter will be the first VR game many people play. That is a huge responsibility for CCP. But if my time with the game is anything to go by, Eve: Valkyrie will do a great job of gently guiding players into the VR world. Most impressive, though, is that accessibility comes with a genuine sense of awe. Sure, that thrill won’t last forever, but it’s strong enough to convince me that VR is a way to consume games that are deserving and worth indulging in.
CCP’s job now is to focus on the game’s long-term appeal and encourage players to return to deep space once that new car smell has faded. If it only achieves half of what it has done Eva onlineI do not doubt it Eve: Valkyrie becomes a success. That is, if enough people buy a VR headset at all.