Welcome to the third installment of Going on an Oculus Quest, a series which covers the Oculus Quest standalone VR headset. If you’re interested in a more in-depth review of the headset itself along with setting it up, check out part 1 by clicking here.
Last time, we took a look at one of the Quest’s exclusive (for now) games, Vader Immortal. While it made for a nice experience, this time, we take a look at a meatier launch title that’s also currently exclusive (although will be making its way to Rift at a later date), Journey of the Gods.
Amount Played: Completed the game on normal difficulty
I’ve seen Journey of the Gods described in numerous VR outlets and even by Oculus themselves as being “like the Legend of Zelda for VR”. Indeed, there are several similarities between the two. You go on an adventure fighting monsters with a sword and shield, you get some abilities along the way, and you have long ranged weapons. However, I don’t feel like the comparison works as Journey of the Gods differs in numerous ways both good and bad.
The story of Journey of the Gods is very simple and pretty much vanishes for a majority of the game after the introduction cutscene. Basically, bad cataclysmic thing is about to happen, dark forces appear to ravage the land, and you as The Chosen One (it’s literally what you’re referred to) must gain the powers of the Gods to stop it. The introduction is voice acted and while not very complex at least sets the stage nicely. Unfortunately, it’s the last time you hear any voiced dialogue as everything else is told via text boxes and Banjo-Kazooie style sound effects to simulate talking.
From here, rather than include any real introduction where you are selected as a chosen one or something, you’re instead immediately dumped into a tutorial where you get your sword, shield, crossbow, learn how to use golems, and get your first God power (more on those last two in a bit). It really seems like the developers weren’t interested in any story building at all which is disappointing: I’m not the kind of person who believes games need a big story to be good, but it does help keep me more engaged as you approach the end of the adventure so the near total absence of it hurts.
After the tutorial you’re rushed into the hub world where you can head out into the various levels of the game. Rather than any real Zelda style overworld, the game is broken into levels each about 20-30 minutes long save for a couple shorter and longer levels here and there. The level length is usually spot on and works well for the Quest: generally, I felt every level ended almost exactly when I was ready for it to end and I felt ready to tap out of the game after completing a single level each time.
Thankfully, the core gameplay is a lot of fun. The sword is balanced in a way where you’ll need to put a bit of effort into your swing so you can’t easily waggle enemies to death, but not so much that it becomes tiresome. The shield can reflect some shots and absorb damaging lasers. Once it runs out of energy, it breaks temporarily so you can’t rely on it forever. The crossbow allows you to fire several shots before having to turn a lever to recharge it. There are some collectable limited use powerups to add homing or piercing capabilities to your arrows. It mostly works well, but I did have some issues getting the reload to work when trying to move quickly in intense situations which was frustrating at times.
While these combat options are nice, Journey of the Gods adds a few more unique options to the table. Every now and then you’ll find areas where you can ride a Golem. You’ll suddenly have two giant fists which mimic your hand movements allowing you to punch distant objects and beat down larger enemies and obstacles with ease.
Last, we get the game’s sort of marquee feature, God powers. At any moment as long as you have faith (which in this case is a literal collectable that charges a meter) and have open sky above your head, you can hold both grip buttons to suddenly become a giant invincible God. While in God form, you can do various actions like slow down time, throw lightning bolts, raise trees, teleport people, and so on. These abilities are fun to use as the scale of the world completely changes while in God form, and some get used to do some nice little puzzle solving. However, I found some of them to be underutilized. A couple of the abilities are also rather dull and the gestures requires to perform others had trouble registering in a pinch.
There’s a decent variety of enemy types and bosses to take on and each are fun to fight, but they’re introduced to you so quickly that it feels like more could have been done. They could have spiced things up a bit by introducing harder variations of older enemy types to mix things up as you got further into the game, but instead they focus more on throwing larger numbers of enemies at you at once to increase difficulty. Don’t get me wrong, these later encounters are fun and keep you on your toes: I just wish they hadn’t been against enemies we’d already been fighting for over half of the game already.
Most of the levels are long and some feature some neat designs that require backtracking after meeting certain characters or obtaining certain powers. There’s some nice set pieces like the appearance of the second boss in the forth level or some moments in the final area that see the developers really taking advantage of the thrill of seeing an enemy or object tower over you in VR. There are a couple of more gimmicky levels thrown in there to mix things up like a tower defense level and a level that’s entirely one big boss fight, but I found these levels to be less compelling than the regular levels.
There are collectables along the way which you can collect to power up your base abilities which adds a little bit of exploration although not as much as one might hope. The main reason for this is one of Journey of the Gods’ worst design decisions: once you beat a level, you cannot go back to it. It seems like a horribly missed opportunity for replayability to not let you go back and find collectables you missed or to find new routes with powers you obtained later in your adventure. It’s even stranger given that collectables are tied to weapon power-ups: if you reach the final area without a powered up sword and shield and find yourself running into difficulty beating it, tough luck.
The game also doesn’t really tie collectables to completion percentage: I never found everything, but my file still says 100% completed and trying to re-enter it simply plays the ending cutscene. Given that the main adventure only took me 3-4 hours to complete, that replayability is sorely missed.
I also wish there was more Zelda-esque puzzle solving in the game. One late level sees you using a variety of powers to explore what feels like a Zelda dungeon and requires more thought than the rest of the relatively straightforward levels. It’s by far the best level in the game and really made me wish the rest of the adventure were as inventive.
As for performance on the Quest, the relatively simple visuals means there’s virtually no performance issues to speak of and resolution is native or close to it. The only real indication you’re playing on a portable device is the pop-in of distant trees and other scenery pieces which is rather noticeable.
I think the best and worst thing I can say about Journey of the Gods is that it made me really want a sequel. Running around on an adventure in a colorful world, beating up a bad guy with a sword in one hand while reflecting a shot with a shield in the other is a lot of fun, and the idea of switching perspectives and using powerful abilities helps make the game feel unique. However, it feels like there’s a lot of potential that goes untapped here which is disappointing. Journey of the Gods is good. Hopefully, the next one will be great.