Devolver Digital, the Austin based publishing outfit, invited the Tom’s Hardware Community Team to an all-access look at its upcoming games for 2016 and 2017. With its focus on small, indie developers, Devolver stands out from other behemoth publishers. The company’s independent streak was on full display with its “booth,” which was a series of airstream trailers parked behind a Hooters restaurant across the street from the LA Convention Center. This unique locale set the stage for a hands-on preview with three of its upcoming titles: Absolver, Serious Sam VR, and Shadow Warrior 2.
Of the three games we previewed, Absolver was certainly the most unique. Sloclap tried to distance its game from other action-RPGs, opting for the “Online Combat RPG” moniker instead. You begin the game as a masked and nameless Prospect, one of many warriors training to become an "Absolver," which is an elite corps of unstoppable fighters who will bring justice to the fallen Adal Empire. And that’s about where the story ends, taking a major backseat to gameplay.
Like other action RPGs, Absolver is all about making your character beefier, better, and just plain harder to kill. However, unlike in any other ARPG, there is no constant hunt for loot. Instead, players quest for new fighting moves to add to their character’s repertoire. This is the greatest difference between Absolver and other games of the genre; players primarily fight with their fists instead of a shiny, electrified, or flaming metallic object. This difference adds a skillful and rewarding depth to combat--a depth often lacking from the mindless, button-mashing gameplay from the likes of Diablo or Torchlight.
Despite lacking weapons, and no character classes to speak of, Absolver will allow players to craft numerous unique character builds based on the fighting stance and arrangement of fighting moves they choose. The developer assured us that there would be a nearly limitless number of builds based on the game’s four fighting stances and large number of unique fighting moves. Combat will involve both PvP and cooperative questing. Sloclap hopes to have up to 50 fighters per game in the final build, but was unsure if it could hit that lofty goal.
We came away quite impressed by Absolver’s unique game mechanics, combat system, and art aesthetic. We were, however, a little unsure of the lasting appeal for the game’s heavy reliance on skill- and timing-based combat. Will this be enough to make up for the dearth of addictive loot? I’m not so sure, but it may be too early to tell considering that it's such an early build of the game. Absolver has a tentative release date set for next year.
Serious Sam VR
With its simple, yet oh so fun run-and-gun gameplay, Serious Sam is a beloved IP by many in the Community, and I can't say I don't agree with the enthusiasm--which is why I was a bit disappointed by this preview of Sam’s first foray in VR.
In Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope, players are put in the shoes of the titular character, and once again tasked with saving the galaxy from total destruction by massive swarms of alien enemies. To aid in this quest, players have access to a range of weaponry, including assault rifles, rocket launchers, miniguns, and all sorts of outrageous weapons that have become the series’ trademark. Even better, players get to dual-wield any combination of guns, making for a very satisfying experience in this arcade-style shooter.
Unfortunately, that’s mostly where the fun ends. Gone are the run-and-gun mechanics signature of the Serious Sam series. Instead, players are stuck in a stationary position, leading to fairly tiresome gameplay (as well as a tired arm).
Serious Sam VR is platform agnostic and will be available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Let’s hope the fine folks at Croteam add a bit more features before the game’s release later this summer.
Shadow Warrior 2
Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior 2 is a super-fast cooperative FPS with a gameplay style that's sort of Left 4 Dead meets Borderlands. The game takes place five years after the original Shadow Warrior, with gamers once again playing as the “corporate shogun” Lo Wang. The developers told me that their number one goal was to make a fun game. From this hands-on preview we, can confirm that they are well on their way to achieving that goal.
Players can take on the demon hordes alone or duke it out online in four-player co-op mode. Along with procedurally generated environments, the game includes more than 70 types of weapons, ranging from katanas and short swords to miniguns and rocket launchers. Players can customize not only their weapons, but also their special abilities and character stats. These RPG-lite elements add a bit of depth to the otherwise simple yet satisfying gameplay mechanics.
The enemies ranged from the cute to the grotesque, but what was most fun about killing them were the varied ways in which you could do so. I particularly liked slicing enemies to bits with the “warsaw,” a massive chainsaw weapon with a name alluding to Flying Wild Hog’s hometown of Warsaw, Poland. Other members of the Community team opted for heavier ordinance, such as the shotgun and rocket launcher. These weapons would blow a hole right through the demon hordes, giving them the appearance of Swiss cheese. Needless to say, the game is heavy on the gore.
Shadow Warrior 2 is clearly a game you'll want to play with your friends. It’s fun, fast and funny. At one point, my team was tasked with finding the “demon rod,” a quest item that resembled a --actually, I’ll leave that one up to your imagination. If Flying Wild Hog can nail down those procedural environments, making sure the enemies and quests are varied, they will likely have a hit on their hands. Shadow Warrior 2 is set for a release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later this year.
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You are right about the motion sickness issue. All of the VR developers I talked to were aware of this issue and were desperately searching for ways around it. One such way was to allow players to teleport around the level, usually with a cool down (put in place mostly to prevent motion sickness and not for game balancing purposes).
My biggest qualm with Serious Sam VR is that the stationary gameplay is such a strong departure from what Serious Sam is known for. I expected an exciting action game, not a basic turret shooter.