The Setup:

Even though games are always on the mind, I’m still way behind the curve on VR. Prior to this PAX East 2016 experience, I’ve only tried VR once and that was on the first development kit for Oculus Rift. While the experience did not blow me away, I still remain on the sideline cautiously optimistic. Throughout my life, I’ve always been prone to motion sickness. I joke that I get sea sick in the shower, and while things might not be that severe, I do limit my exposure to rides/vessels which will make me sick. Now with the VR hype reaching a fever pitch, I consider PAX East to be the time to throw caution to the wind.

The very first appointment I make this year is for a game called Fated: The Silent Oath. The game is being developed by Frima Studio, who is probably best known for their game Chariot. Now when the invite arrives, I’m like a fat kid in a candy store. I don’t see the fine print, all I see is Oculus Rift, HTC VIVE  and PlayStation VR. I guess out of some internal fear of not being able to see the game, I hastily book an appointment.

As the day draws near and I’m preparing my notes, it’s not till then do I realize what I’ve signed myself up for.

The Experience:

First, Fated is being billed as a first-person virtual reality episodic action-adventure game. The backstory is you’re a viking during the time of Ragnarök. However, you’re not a hero, but instead a simple man, a father who is trying to save his family from the destruction of mythical giants. In speaking to Executive Producer Vincent Martel, he’s always wanted to build a story where you as a paternal figure interact with your child. As a father himself, protecting his family, or kin, is very important to him. At the same time, he feels the rich world of Norse mythology is not used enough in games and therefore wanted to combine the two.

As the day drew close, I finally read through the entire email and quickly realized what they have in store for us during the appointment. Here is the direct quote from the email: “The PAX East demo will give press and attendees an opportunity to meet the developers and get hands-on gameplay with FATED. The booth will feature three simulation Virtual Reality rigs including reins to control the horse cart, wind fans, vibrating seats and a mist dispenser.” Quickly, I went into a state of panic, as again I get motion sickness very easily. Now the added pressure of playing a game where I need to control a horse cart had me very nervous.

I was somewhat comforted by the fact that Jay played the demo first and seemed to have no issues. Once I was done with my interview, it was literally my turn to take the reigns. First, the game was running on the Oculus Rift. In order to get the headset on, I had to put my glasses inside the headset and then put the headset and glasses on at the same time. The fit was perfect and the headphones were snug and comfortable as well. Vincent gave me some minor instructions and then I was off on my adventure.

In this demo, I started off on my horse drawn carriage being pulled by a horse that was probably larger than a Clydesdale. With the chair vibrating as I rode over some bumpy terrain, I was having a pleasant one-way conversation with my wife. When my daughter appeared, I quickly realized that for some reason I’ve lost my ability to speak. The girl innocently enough asks me if certain events have caused the loss of my voice. The only way I could communicate with her was by shaking my head in the affirmative or negative. A trio of large ravens landed on the front of my carriage, much to the amusement of my child. However, this was short lived as something large and nefarious was causing everything to shake. The birds sensed it too and quickly flew away.

Now, as I made my ascent up this mountain, the fans in the booth started to kick on as the elevation rose. I was amazed how the sensation perfectly matched the action on screen. This wouldn’t be the first time that the booth’s amenities aligned perfectly with the on-screen action. The other occurrences happened when we passed a waterfall. Here a pleasant mist was sprayed by a fan, which was then followed by an earthy aroma. By this point, I was totally immersed in the action.

Once one of the gods appeared, he was quickly causing terror by smashing into the mountain side. This caused the horse to immediately quicken his pace and race to safety. Here is where I probably struggled the most in the demo. While the action intensified, I felt it hard to control the reigns. I think after a few failed attempts, I learned to try not to control the horse so much but let the horse travel naturally while ever so slightly dictating the direction. Of course, because this is in VR, the action seems that much more believable. Therefore, I panicked and had an emotional reaction when I saw the carriage before me fall off the side of the cliff. Curiosity got the better of me, and I too had to see how the game would react if I steered my family off the side of the mountain. While I did want to see us descend to our bloody death, I was somewhat relieved that the game is not programmed to do so. Instead when you go over the side, the screen slowly turns to white and you’re returned to your last checkpoint. With a few more twists and turns, I was able to get my family out of harms way and the demo was over. I can safely say despite everything it threw at me, there was no sense of nausea. My fears were relieved.

The Takeaway:

I must say that Fated: The Silent Oath felt like my first true VR experience to date. The other games I have tried felt more like a tech demo or gimmick. Instead, Frima has created something special which had me completely invested in the action on screen. From the rumble of the seat to the tugging on the reigns, I really felt like I was on a bumpy trail and controlling the horse’s actions.

With all this immersion, I’m now naturally concerned about the experience without all the bells and whistles. What happens when I get the game home and I don’t have the reigns, and I don’t have a rumbling seat with a spraying mister? In speaking with Vincent, he didn’t seem too concerned about this issue as he feels the reigns of the horse cart control very well using the triggers on a controller. As for the other features, I guess I could always get my kids to turn on a fan when the game calls for wind or spray a mist bottle when I pass a nearby waterfall. I have to hand it to Frima, they spoiled me rotten with this experience. I’m now anticipating the arrival of the Oculus even more.

Fated: The Silent Oath released today for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It will also release in October for PlayStation VR. The game is currently $19.99 on the Steam Store.