By | December 19, 2023
VR games lost me in 2023 and then totally won me back |  Digital trends

If you had asked me where I stood on VR gaming at the beginning of May this year, it would have been a terrible conversation.

A little over a month into the PlayStation VR2’s lifespan, I felt completely disillusioned with the technology. Headsets like Meta Quest 2 had stopped delivering fresh experiences that felt like they could surpass the technical gimmick, and PSVR2 felt dead in the water on day one. Despite being a staunch follower of VR for a decade, I felt the train was about to leave the station for me.

That attitude has completely changed in a month. Almost as if VR game makers could sense they were losing me, the last two months of 2023 have brought some of the most impressive VR experiences I’ve ever had. From a great Ubisoft game to the incredibly impressive Asgard’s Wrath 2, now I feel excited to play in a headset for the first time in years. While 2023 almost felt like a death knell for VR at times, companies like Meta stuck the landing when it mattered most.

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Ups and downs

You can neatly track the trajectory of VR this year thanks to two very different headset launches ending 2023. The year kicked off with Sony’s PlayStation VR2 in February. The PS5-compatible headset was supposed to be a big moment for mainstream VR. Sony delivered a more powerful headset with clearer resolution and a simple installation process compared to its messy predecessor. On top of that, it would deliver a real killer app Horizon Call of the Mountainteased that Sony was ready to support the hardware with big franchise games with deep game systems.

Things didn’t quite go as planned.

A $550 price tag would make the headset a non-starter for many, and Horizon wouldn’t earn the kind of reviews that sell a headset. It didn’t help that PSVR2’s launch outside of that title consisted almost entirely of ports, with very few original games to sell the headset to VR veterans. It would have been nice if gamers had a lot to look forward to, but Sony didn’t have much in the way of a post-launch plan. To this day, the company still hasn’t announced another major first-party game coming to the headset, instead relying on third parties to fill out the headset’s library.

Sony

During the year I would try to find as many excuses as possible to dust off the system. Although I had a few new games to try, few really impressed me. Pixel Ripped 1978 felt like a step down compared to its predecessors, whileThe 7th Guest VRs messy controls reminded me that VR is still in an experimental phase. VR modes in games like Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil Village were perfectly fine experiences, but not impressive enough to draw me back in. My fascination with technology had stagnated; it felt like I had seen it all before.

Through the slow period, I experienced only one hopeful bright spot. PSVR2 would quietly get a true system seller in May thanks to Humanity. The puzzle game has players commanding walking waves of people by laying down commands in diorama-like levels. Although it can be played outside of PSV2, the headset really enhances the experience. The otherworldly atmosphere and unique puzzles created a VR game unlike anything I had played before. The high level carried me through months of VR burnout, reminding me that the technology still had plenty of creative mileage left.

My patience paid off. The floodgates would open after Meta Quest 3 launched in October. While the first month on the market wouldn’t yield any must-play games, those experiences started pouring in soon after. Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR would quickly become one of my favorite VR games ever, taking everything I love about Ubisoft’s series and turning it into satisfying, tactical gameplay. I would make up fun decapitations of zombies and pet my virtual dog Arizona Sunshine 2 too, although it’s not the most polished experience. I even have a bit of a backlog now, as I still want to get into mixed reality tennis games Racket club before the end of the year.

Meta

However, VR’s biggest moment would sneak in under the wire. Asgard’s Wrath 2, which launched just in time to prematurely destroy Game of the Year lists last week, is Meta’s true killer app. The massive 60-hour RPG feels like a culmination of all VR games up to this point. It’s loaded with motion-controlled interactions that feel smooth and natural, from fast-paced swordplay to tight traversal puzzles. It feels like that kind of base game — The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Timefor example — that other developers will learn from for decades to come.

It helps that the Meta Quest 3 itself is a much better platform for VR than previous headsets I’ve used. Its higher resolution, slightly lighter design and vastly improved throughput technology combine to create a platform with a lot of potential. The fact that we’re already seeing defining games being built on it just months into its life says a lot about where VR is at.

There’s a running joke in the gaming journalism scene that every year brings a different article about how VR is about to have its breakthrough moment. To be honest, I think that moment has passed. Devices like the PSVR2 have burned gamers too many times, to the point that something as critically acclaimed as Asgard’s Wrath 2 will not convert the masses. I know the technology will remain in a niche for a long time, hopefully growing its audience with each new upgrade or great game. I find myself content with what comes out of a mixed 2023.

Despite a rocky start, this year showed that there are many developers committed to making first-class experiences for those stuck with the technology. Until that well runs dry, consider me a reborn VR convert.

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