By | December 14, 2023
Asgard's Wrath 2 is the new pinnacle of VR gaming |  Digital trends

I still vividly remember my first experience playing a video game in VR. I was working at Rolling Stone when HTC came to the office to demonstrate multiple experiences on its Vive headset. After playing some basic arcade games I commented that I could really feel the technology was in its Atari era. The simple game design made it clear that this was just the beginning for VR gaming, and that I shouldn’t expect it to match console gaming anytime soon. It was an experimental ride I was ready to take.

Playing Asgard’s Wrath 2 on a Meta Quest 3 a decade later, it feels like I’ve jumped 30 years into the future. Although games like Horizon: Call of the Mountain and Half-Life Alyx has delivered equally impressive adventures over the past few years, Meta’s grand exclusive technology takes it to a new peak. If the early games I played in my first VR demo were analogous to Atari 2600 games, this massive RPG sequel takes me all the way to the Xbox 360 era. That’s a quantum leap forward in just 10 years.

Although I have only scratched the surface of what it has to offer so far, Asgard’s Wrath 2 delivers a real killer app for Meta’s headset. It’s a complex action RPG with everything I’d expect from a modern console game, but one that’s still easy to understand thanks to crisp and intuitive controls. It’s the crowning glory of this era of VR, but Meta won’t be able to rest on that achievement for long. Dated story and design make it clear that the race up the mountain is not over; just kick into another gear.

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To reach the top

As someone who missed the series’ first game, Asgard’s Wrath 2 can be very overwhelming out of the gate. I end up in a god-filled story that’s already four layers deep into its story when I boot it up. I have no idea what’s going on other than the fact that I need to traverse the universe in search of Loki. Before I can unpack the nuances of that story, I’m thrown into the fire of an awe-inspiring boss fight against a giant bird that teaches me the basics of slashing. My next few hours are spent rooting through the menus as I learn to take advantage of my gear, unlock new skills, juggle quests and bounties, navigate maps full of activities and crafting.

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It’s not a game for VR newcomers, but rather comfortable experts ready to take off the training wheels. To developer Sanzaru Games’ credit, however, the studio knows exactly what works in VR and what doesn’t. Instead of messing around with complicated control ideas, every move I make feels natural enough that I don’t have to spend a lot of time learning how to exist in this sweeping digital world. It’s not long before I’m opening chests, grabbing resources, and throwing my ax at switches without thinking about how to pull off those moves first.

It’s when I lightly resort to its motion controls that I realize Asgard’s Wrath 2 is the culmination of an experimental era for VR gaming. In early puzzle dungeons, I find myself able to navigate smoothly running over walls and pulling myself up ladders without much technical friction. It is especially fine-tuned next to something like Horizon Call of the Mountainwho seek to pursue their ambitions with more complicated moves that turn combat into a whimsical mess of confusing movements. Asgard’s Wrath 2 has its own complexity, but it builds to it more gradually, making me more comfortable with new ideas before introducing more. An early puzzle teaches me how to grab chains and hook them onto solid objects. A few hours later, after gaining the ability to turn green air into passable objects, I complete more involved puzzles that have me combine these two learnings.

I can feel how everything from The climb to Moss built to this moment. For example, the game’s DNA can be clearly felt in Asgard’s Wrath 2s God’s perspective puzzle segment. In these occasional moments, I switch from my character’s first-person perspective to a larger, top-down perspective that turns the room into a puzzle diorama. A puzzle has me pick up a giant hammer and chisel from that view, chip away at a rock, and unearth a statue’s missing arm that forms a platforming path for my protagonist when I switch back. It’s a moment of genius that feels like a sharp iteration of lesser VR projects.

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Combat is just as effective, though it’s still the area I struggle with the most in terms of technique. Sword fighting is more responsive than anything like that Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR, but it can still feel like I’m waving around an inflatable pool noodle sometimes. Blocks and parries are difficult to pull off with total precision, leading to a lot of swinging. Even with that question, Asgard’s Wrath 2 still delivers some of the most satisfying melee combat I’ve experienced in a headset to date. In early battles, I can throw axes at flying bugs, nail their weak stingers, then quickly reach my left hip and draw my sword just in time to slash a charging lizard. I don’t need to think about that plot after a certain point; I just react on the fly and everything works as expected.

Asgard’s Wrath 2 is filled with such moments even during its opening hours. I’m hit with a bolt of awe early on when I’m given the ability to ride a giant panther as a mount and then stomp through a vast Egyptian desert, giving me a sense of just how vast the sequel’s explorable spaces are. Later I find myself at the feet of a huge God, who picks me up from the ground to bring me closer to his face. It’s an ongoing series of glasses that are only possible in VR.

To the future

The more I play, the more I appreciate Asgard’s Wrath 2 as the work of engineers who have expertly combined multiple blueprints into a fully realized megastructure. Because of that, the adventure almost feels like a treasure trove of blueprints in itself. Running on walls and dodging spike traps, I feel like I’m playing something that will become the basis for an eventual Prince of Persia VR game. Likewise, I can see how a great God of War game is made when I throw my ax at a moving lever and swing it around with my godly powers to unlock a door. Every little piece feels like it could form the basis of another game.

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It leaves me in a weird place when I take the headset off after a long session. Although Asgard’s Wrath 2 clearly sitting on top for VR gaming, I can’t help but see the next peak on the horizon. For every high-quality part of its controls and gameplay core, there’s something begging to be taken to the next level. That’s especially evident in its meandering fantasy story, which comes with dated voice acting that pales next to modern PC and console games. It’s easy to ignore right now given how far ahead it is compared to other VR games, but I’m keen to play something like this with more attention to a thematically rich story, rather than the kind of dense lore soup that games have moved away from the past decade.

The very ambition of the project also creates some questions. While I appreciate that Sanzaru Games swung for the fences in creating a 60-hour RPG, I’m not always convinced that it’s the right fit for the technology. I love my Meta Quest 3, but I can still only wear it for an hour or two before my head feels like it’s going to burst like a grape. The reason I’m not writing a full review is because I haven’t gotten too deep into the massive story yet. Even with a few weeks of testing, it still wasn’t enough time with a game that I have to play in very short chunks.

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Sanzaru Games tried to design Asgard’s Wrath 2 around that idea. Frequent auto-saves ensure that players won’t lose much progress if they have to tap out early. The developer also tells me that missions are built in 20-minute chunks to ensure players can progress even in a short session. I’m not sure I feel that in my adventure so far, as I often find myself quitting mid-mission after struggling to reach a clear end point. It’s amazing that I can play a full-length RPG in a VR headset, but do I really want to? At the moment, I’m convinced I’ll never see the end of it unless I spend several months picking it off – although that might be exactly what a Meta Quest owner would want given how few and far between experiences of this scale can be.

Asgard’s Wrath 2 feels like a maximalist vision of everything VR gaming can deliver at its current level. Its massive, full of complex systems, has satisfying gameplay and is packed with blockbuster action made possible by a technologically advanced new headset. While that arguably makes it the most impressive VR game ever built, I’m more interested to see what happens when developers start deconstructing it into more digestible experiences that bridge the gap between it and the early “Atari” VR- the experiences that impressed me a decade ago.

Asgard’s Wrath 2 is as much of a starting point as it is an end. Forward and upward.

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