There were a pretty large number of virtual reality games being shown off at PAX East. Some awesome things were being done with the headsets, but one of the games that we were most impressed with was Frima Studios' Fated: The Silent Oath.
A narrative-focused VR game, Fated sees you assume the role of a mute man as he tries to protect his family during Ragnarok – the end of days in Norse mythology. The most striking thing about the game right out of the gate is that it seemingly puts narrative first. While many VR games in the technology's infancy seem to be prioritising the "experience" over trying to tell meaningful stories, Fated takes more of a "why not both" approach.
The ten minute demo we got to see at PAX was an on-rails segment that absolutely nailed the experience aspect of VR. You spend the demo controlling a caravan that houses your family. Things start off relaxing, as you hear the people around you having discussions. Rather than keep you at a distance, however, the devs integrate you into the conversations by having you nod and shake your head to answer questions from both your wife and daughter. This tactile integration into the environment helps to instantly create a more immersive connection to the game world, but that's not all.
The PAX set-up was actually incredibly elaborate. Instead of a controller, Frima gave us reins to control the wagon. Combine this with the fans that blew on you during windy segments, and mist sprayers for when you were near a waterfall, and the demo created a truly engrossing experience. Now, while you won't really get such an elaborate experience in your own homes – unless you want to have a friend standing at the ready with a spray bottle – the game nonetheless offers an immersive experience. Looking around the world's gorgeous, stylised environments gave the title a genuine sense of place, and doing things like looking up large rock walls or over cliff edges impressed on us the scale of the environments.
Having all the surface elements working is great, but where lots of games really shine is in their subtleties. And this was where Fated really amazed. The dialogue that you overhear from your family successfully builds a strong connection and provided us with a desire to protect our family even in just the short demo. We were particularly struck by one image, where our daughter climbed up to the front of the wagon and sat next to us. During the gameplay, we just looked off to our side and down at her. While it doesn't sound like much without context, something about that image in a virtual setting stuck with us. This seems to have been the goal too, as according to executive producer Vincent Martel, the dev really wanted to explore a narrative environment with a genuine family connection.
We got to talk to Martel about some of the subtleties that went into this game too, which even included a system that needed to be built which wasn't originally thought about: "We had to build a system where we have the characters' [in the game] eyes constantly moving. We noticed that when people tried to have conversations in the games, if their eyes weren't darting around a lot like regular person, it got kind of creepy, so we had to do something about that."
In this vein, we further investigated the systems that Frima maybe hadn't originally anticipated needing to work on, and it turned out that it needed to put way more work into the sound design than originally expected: "We ended up doing two or three times the work with the sound stuff than we expected," Martel added. "Because, in reality, our ears don't both hear the same things at the same time, in the same way, so how do we work around that? Traditional stereo or surround sound doesn't really work in the right way, so we had to put a lot of time into that. Maybe you hear wind in one ear, but only the rustling of leaves in the other. We had to put a lot of work into that."
The demo wasn't entirely conversation and just looking around, though. Eventually things started to heat up, when what seemed to be a frost giant showed up. One of the wagons in the caravan got eviscerated, and we witnessed one of the people in the group get eaten right in front of us. This builds into a frantic gauntlet sequence as we careened down the side of a mountain, with this giant in pursuit of us.
While it might not have lasted long, the little time that we did get to spend with this game was exciting. The sequence with the giant was particularly interesting afterwards, as according to Martel, the game originally started as something more akin to an Attack on Titan style, with giants playing a bigger part. It ended up with Ragnarok and Norse mythology, though, as it felt that it was a better setting for the family connection that it wanted to incorporate.
Fated is going to be a PlayStation VR launch title – it's actually currently out for Oculus and Vive – and even without all the bells and whistles like the reins and wind blowers, we can't wait to get our hands on this game.
Do you think that Fated: The Silent Oath will Ragnarok? Is this the kind of experience you'd like to have on your PlayStation VR headset? Play Norse in the comments section below.