With the major gaming VR headsets been available for a little over two years now, there has been enough time for players to adapt to the new perspective and the problems it brings. Many people are stricken with motion sickness in VR once the player’s perspective starts moving and much effort has been put into reducing this. Between better techniques to mitigate this by developers and players getting used to the sensation of moving in VR, the initial impact of VR sickness isn’t as bad for many of us these days. Borderlands 2 VR shows that many people can now handle traditional first person games in VR with a couple comfort tricks by the developers, leading experienced VR gamers to be able to play almost identically to how they would on a 2D screen.
I’m one of the lucky people who have a naturally high tolerance to VR problems. The first game I played on my Playstation VR headset was Thumper, an intense psychedelic rhythm game. While the flashing visuals and banging soundtrack border on sensory overload, the player is restricted to on-rails forward movement and is never encouraged to look around. It is exhausting to play for extended amounts of time, but it hasn’t made anyone sick that I’ve showed it too.
Resident Evil VII, on the other hand, made my roommate sick almost immediately after she took a few steps forward. The game features free movement, but the pace is slow and there is essentially no vertical movement. Despite this, it is too much for many first-time VR players and for those prone to VR sickness. Clearly enough people could handle it to make developing the VR mode viable for Capcom though, and I personally played through the game in one to two hour sessions despite still being new to VR and never got sick, only a bit fatigued.
Many people are still skeptical about free movement in VR because of the reactions of people who aren’t used to VR in the first place. Some players like myself we able to handle the more taxing games like Resident Evil VII early on, but it’s commonly accepted that traditional movement in games cannot work in VR due to the fact that most people can’t. To assist new players, most games heavily limit the camera movement through various means, such as having fixed camera positions, limiting player movement to discrete teleportation, or having the player stuck in some kind of cockpit that limits visibility. All of these were essential to introducing most people to VR, but over time players get used to the sensation of movement. Now that serious VR experiences have been available for a few years, that general level of tolerance, mixed with new techniques that were developed, is getting to the point where we can have less limiting movement options without sickness kicking in so quickly. Simply put, there are many VR gamers who have already passed that initial struggle and can handle more.
This is where Borderlands 2 VR comes in. By default, the game uses a mix of point-to-teleport and free movement. Like Resident Evil VII, rotation with the right stick is on discrete intervals that the player can set. The player can move with the left stick like any first person game, but the jump button from the original BL2 is replaced with the teleport function. This is because vertical motion is what generally causes the most immediate nausea reaction from the player (used to good effect in some games like Superhot.) As I played through the game though, I found that I almost never used the teleport and was mostly played the game as I did originally, strafing and moving around to dodge bullets.
Flipping through the options menu later on, I found out that I could disable teleport and activate jump again. Surprisingly, jumping had almost no effect on me, none of the usual roller coaster sensations or sudden dizziness. I began strafe jumping like usual in these kinds of shooters and I felt fine. I tried jumping from buildings to the ground and I found it completely tolerable. At this point I realized, I want to play all my games in VR now. It feels natural and doesn’t make me sick.
Given the overwhelmingly positive response to Borderlands 2 VR, I know I’m not alone. There are many cases of people who can’t handle it for long or need to increase the comfort options at first, but there are many gamers who find the game completely playable at the default settings or with less limitations active. I wouldn’t recommend trying to jump and strafe around to a VR newbie as their first experience with a headset on, but for those who are experienced and have built up a decent amount of VR tolerance, it’s a nice change of pace from the usual static VR games out there.
Most VR games are so heavily limited by lack of movement options and slow speeds that they can’t get past a tech-demo feel to them. There needs to be more traditional gaming experiences for those who have gotten tired of the slow walking sims, stationary arcade games and on rails shooters that make up most of the VR catalog. Borderlands 2 VR proves that recreating traditional AAA first person games is doable and that many gamers can handle it. I hope we start seeing more ports of traditional games and all new experiences that cater to those of us who are ready for it soon, or else I’m not convinced VR will get beyond a small enthusiast userbase.