by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
The VR conundrum
I’m a happy early adopter of the HTC Vive last May, but it’s no secret that virtual reality has been suffering a bit from “Tech Demo” syndrome. Many of the best games, while incredibly fun, are, right now, very limited in scope and content. It’s unfortunate for gamers but it makes sense. The tech’s small user base makes it difficult to commit financial resources when there just aren’t that many people capable of playing your game- no matter how good it may be. That’s why I get excited when I see games coming out with both a standard and VR option, allowing them to sell as fully featured traditional games while giving gamers with VR tech the added bonus of playing their way too. This is the case with Siegecraft Commander, a real time strategy/tower defense game playable both with or without VR, each presenting their own array of contradicting strengths and weaknesses.
Connecting the Web
Siegecraft Commander is a game about constructing various buildings to ultimately reach the base of your opponents and destroy their main keep. Various buildings serve as anchor points from which others can be built. Some shoot projectiles and explosives, and some produce units or defensive structures. This itself would be a satisfying, although simple competitive tower defense game, but the “web” element is a unique twist that adds a pretty big aspect of spatial strategy into the mix. Starting with one sole building, you must launch other buildings using a bow and arrow-like launching tool. When they land, which they only will if the path from the old building to the new has an unobstructed line of sight, they will raise up and stay connected via a wall. If a building is destroyed, all buildings further down its web are destroyed along with it. That means that in addition to the rock-paper-scissors of basic offensive and defensive creation, managing lines of sight and real estate is just as important. Throw down too many buildings and you might not have room to launch another outpost (the “base” building that spawns most others). Leave your hub buildings exposed and you might lose half a dozen buildings in one blow. The entire system is very satisfying, and is definitely the strong point of the game.
Getting much further into discussion of the game requires a split in play style, as both traditional monitor play and VR play are saddled with their own strengths and frustrating shortcomings. In traditional play, with my trusty mouse and keyboard, the game is certainly enjoyable, landing somewhere on the upper end of average. The gameplay is still great, but I constantly felt like I was in a battle with the camera when space got tight. It was easy to spin my view around, but it was incredibly slow the camera is limited in its ability to zoom in and out. Moreover, the angle downward with which you view is not adjustable. Without the ability to zoom particularly far out, and lacking an overworld map, it’s impossible to see what’s going on in other parts of the map as you’re building. This might be intentional, forcing you to discover as you progress, but it made things difficult as my web grew larger and further away. This resulted in a lot of situations, particularly close to mountainsides, where I could not see what I wanted to see without spending valuable seconds adjusting.
The traditional mode also gave me a weird sound glitch every 20-30 seconds, on and off. I’d get a loud distorted metallic sound, like playing a Transformers movie too loudly through crappy speakers. It was strange, very unpleasing to listen to, and quite a bit louder than the rest of the game. At first it was annoying, and eventually it got to the point that I had to mute the audio. Rebooting seemed to remedy the issue for a while but it would eventually pop back up randomly. This is definitely something that needs to be addressed.
On the positive side, aiming your building shots and selecting building types are best done on the monitor. The aiming mechanic is more crisp with a mouse, and distances are more easily judged with more fixed point of view.
Playing in VR
A major draw for Siegecraft Commander is that it’s finally scratching the itch for a VR real-time strategy/tower defense game that I’ve had since I first purchased my Vive last year. The genre has been criminally underrepresented so far.
With a Vive or Oculus on, the presentation is fantastic. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the UI no matter which way you play, but it’s clear that the developers put extra effort into tweaking the menus and text screens for virtual reality. Siegecraft Commander doesn’t just stick menus in front of you, but integrates them. The static book-style menus become an actual book with turning pages in your hand. Prompts are written across the sky. A soldier and dragon are there to greet you at the start menu. Cut scenes happen around you, and I found myself moving around my VR room to follow adorable little dragons and airships. I felt like a little kid.
The manual size scaling is breathtaking. While the traditional view only gives you a small amount of zoom to work with, in VR you can - at any time - shift the map from the size of a boardgame to lifelike. It’s incredibly cool to zoom out to get a look at the map, then shrink down and look around among your buildings and units and gawk at what’s going on. Somewhere in between is the most practical, but it’s worth toying with for the pure spectacle of it. You truly feel like a Greek god walking around the battlefield.
That being said, VR presents itself with a few glaring issues that hold the game back. Moving around when zoomed in is a bit of a janky chore. With no teleportation option for your viewpoint, if you want to stay zoomed in it’ll take you a fair amount of time to drag the map around you. Plus, for as nicely mapped as everything else is, the aiming mechanic is a bit unintuitive and sometimes difficult to work with in VR. Turning and aiming isn’t a natural turn of the hand, and aiming the shot means moving your arms at strange angles.
Best in VR
Siegecraft Commander is a fun game no matter how you play it, but it’s best in VR by virtue of the lack of anything similar for VR. I do wish that some of the issues, both in virtual reality and with a keyboard and mouse, will get ironed out. They’re relative minor and surface-level so hopefully we will get some post-launch updates. At the end of it all, fun, engaging gameplay elements overcome these annoyances to deliver a game that’s good, but held back from being truly great.
ense of scale, visibility, and immersion are fantastic in VR.
Odd audio glitch, certain controls in VR mode, camera in standard mode