Windlands was the game VR needed in April 2016. Amongst launch line-ups consisting of hour-long tech demos and teasers of what could one day be, here was a full adventure that let players explore the world around them with complete agency. It may not have been perfect, but bounding around sun-licked ruins and swinging through lollipop treetops proved to be a shining beacon of hope that full gaming experiences were indeed possible for VR. Now that the VR gaming library has fleshed out considerably, a sequel to Windlands needs to offer something new.
Fortunately, Psytec Games is doing just that.
In many ways, Windlands 2 is a straight-up sequel. Swinging around the first level, on display at Oculus Connect this week, is familiar fun that captures the same Spider-Man-esque thrills you’ve already come to know. Levels are more intricately detailed, though, thanks to buffed up art design on Psytec’s part. Though the overall visual style is the same, there’s a touch more spritely enthusiasm to the vegetation and crumbling ruins.
New NPC characters carry that same amount of charm, and are very clearly influenced by the works of Studio Ghibli (tellingly designed by the team’s Nick Pittom, known for his early work remaking Ghibli scenes for Oculus development kits).
But there’s a side to Windlands 2 that’s wholly new. Specifically, I’m talking about the online co-op, which allows friends to tackle the entire campaign together.
What could you possibly need friends for in a swinging simulator, though? Enter the game’s new combat mechanics, which allow you to shoot a bow and arrow summoned from thin air. In the first level, its used to take out one of the game’s new bosses, a spider-like tank that covers ground in seconds, spurting gunfire and exposing weak points that are tricky to tag with your new weapon.
As part of a team of four players (Psytec hasn’t settled on a player limit just yet), we descend upon the boss like a family of warrior acrobats. As I circle the mechanical beast from the ground, drawing his attention with rapid, inaccurate cover fire, I see two others swinging overhead, raining down arrows with deadly efficiency. One player creates a snipers nest of sorts for themselves, hanging from a tree branch far away and taking pot shots as the rest of us draw the enemy’s attention. When I die I spawn back on another island and have to quickly swing back into the action.
There’s a good bit of challenge to it, relying on the player’s psychical skills to get them through. Aiming with your bow and arrow isn’t as simple as it is in my VR games; I felt like I have to compensate for reduced range far more and constantly adjust my angle, while simply walking on the floor led to countless deaths. It wasn’t until I learned to balance the game’s mechanics, swinging away from danger and getting precious few moments to fire off a few shots, that I found myself, well, not dying a lot.
It’s not just about the bosses, though. Making Windlands a social experience changes up the minute-to-minute gameplay in new ways, too. As we swing through the level, one player suddenly calls for a race, and we’re all suddenly speeding up to cross an imaginary finish line and claim virtual bragging rights. Imagine having the whole world to explore at your leisure and discovering things you’ll want to call your friends over to.
It’s not so much about new gameplay mechanics as it is just sharing a virtual space with your friends and going on an adventure with them. It’s about hanging out in entirely new ways and maybe having your catch up conversations while leaping over chasms instead of Facebook Spaces. Simply put, co-op feels like a natural addition here, and not as forced as it may first appear.
Windlands 2 can still be played in single-player, of course, and difficulty scaling will ensure you have a fair experience, but the inclusion of co-op adds a welcome element of companionship to the adventuring. And there’s still a lot more to see; Psytec promises the first boss is the smallest in the game (and you catch a glimpse of something much, much bigger in the introduction scene), and I can wait to explore some of the new environments its cooked up.
A release date for Windlands 2 hasn’t yet been set but it will be hitting Oculus Rift first. Check back for more from Oculus Connect 4’s line-up of content soon.