It’s an all too familiar story when it comes to VR. An interesting concept on paper fails to translate into an enjoyable experience within the virtual playing space, and that’s the exact issue at the heart of Vertigo Games’ Skyworld. The studio’s latest PlayStation VR title may be slightly more original than its previous outing – the zombie shooter Arizona Sunshine – but that doesn’t mean this strategic battle for territory is of any greater quality. Frustrating controls, awkward menus, and confusing mechanics make for a less than stellar time on the throne.
The game can be split into two distinct pieces, whereby one aspect fuels the other as war breaks out. Taking place atop a gigantic spinning compass, you’ll take up the role of kingmaker as you fight against the evils of the world. The turn-based strategic side of things plays out in the early game as you claim land, build structures that produce resources, and upgrade outposts for further protection. But once you encounter an enemy general, it’s time to do battle upon a war table in real-time from a whole different perspective.
Here, you can deploy the army you’ve been building up throughout the mission for an assault on the enemy base. In order to do that, you’ll select units from your hand and place them on the battlefield, sort of like a deck of cards that can be upgraded outside of bloodshed. Operating on a mana cooldown, each card has its own value, meaning you can’t unleash your entire battalion at once. They’ll all follow a simple objective once distributed, though: destroy the enemy base and any combatants they encounter along the way.
There’s nothing too complex about it; you’ll succeed more times than not by simply spamming as many units as you can, but it’s a bit of mindless fun that makes for a great break from the more baffling mechanics the game has to offer. There’s definitely an enjoyable time to be had as you lay waste to the enemy, but the lead up to doing that is anything but.
The game’s first mission acts as a tutorial, but from there you’re on your own. The goal is to work your way around the map, building up resources as you go, claiming land for your kingdom, and battling any generals you come across – but an insurmountable number of issues crop up along the way that will leave you feeling befuddled and thwarted. The workers you assign to buildings randomly disappear, your general’s progress across the map is halted by barriers that don’t explain themselves, and the in-game economy feels far too harsh even on the easiest difficulty setting. Countless times we were unsure of what to do next simply because the game doesn’t teach you its more intricate mechanics, or makes them vague enough to the point where tool tips are essential. It feels like a convoluted mismatch of ideas and mechanics that don’t quite work in unison, always taking away from one another in a clash for exposure rather than harmony.
It’s a real shame too because it’s not like the experience is lacking in charm. You’ll get to stamp letters as you sign off on upgrades, enemy buildings can be destroyed with a giant hammer, and the board-like nature of the map lends itself well to the pieces you place upon it in order to reclaim ground. It’s clear that a good degree of love and effort was put into crafting a satisfying environment to do your biddings in, which means it’s even more of a letdown when the game fails to match that with clear and concise core pillars.
The most frustrating part of the experience though has to be the controls. While using the DualShock 4 controller is an option, it's the PlayStation Move controllers where this experience is supposed to feel at home. However, due to their clunky and bulky nature, clashes with the small and intricate design of the menus are all too common. Holding the Move button will bring up a bunch of options, from Building that allows you to place units to Cards which gives you the option of making new decks and upgrading existing ones, and each of the four can be selected by simply hovering over them. However, due to the large size of the Move controllers in relation to the user interface, it’s possible to open up the menu and select an option you weren’t looking for all in one quick motion. It’s a small fault that can be corrected in a matter of seconds, but when it’s happening over and over again, it becomes yet another hassle you need to deal with.
Outside of the eight missions that make up the campaign, a Skirmish mode lets you face off against the AI on a variety of maps across three different difficulty modes. Elsewhere, a 1v1 online multiplayer mode lets you duke it out with other players while a persistent rank covers all three methods of play. It’s a decent package when everything is taken into account, although we can’t help but wonder if you’ll even be able to find an online match a couple of months after release.
Skyworld is a somewhat charming title of two halves. On the one hand, its real-time battles for territory make for some mindless fun, but on the other its turn-based grab for resources and progress is nothing short of baffling. Along with clunky controls that frustrate all too often, you’ve got an experience that will struggle to please.