Asgard's Wrath Review
When I purchased my Oculus Rift over two years ago, my first great adventures in the headset consisted mainly of instant classics like Superhot VR, Robo Recall, and Lone Echo. Immediately, I saw the potential in experiencing games from true first-person perspective rather than just controlling your character remotely. But I wanted more. Even as I longed for opportunities to go on adventures in virtual reality, I also equally longed for the depth and production value that I’d grown accustomed to throughout my lifetime of playing traditional games on PC and consoles. Having now spent 25 hours in Asgard’s Wrath from the beginning to the rolling of the credits, I’ve finally gotten the grand-scale VR adventure I waited so long for – and it’s been worth it.
From the opening sequence of this Norse mythology-themed action-RPG, I knew that I was in for a treat. Everything about Asgard’s Wrath drips with personality, courtesy of some of the most detailed and diverse graphics and art direction I’ve ever seen in a made-for-VR game. Each zone is made up of several major landmark locations, and every one of them has clearly been created with an extreme attention to detail. Whether you’re battling the kraken in the Sea of Serpents, having a drink with Loki at the Aegir’s Hall tavern, or standing before the great world tree Yggdrasil, there’s always something eye-catching and impressive going on. On that note, the soundtrack by Rob Westwood is beautiful and often mesmerizing, fitting cleanly into each major location like a block in one of many intricate puzzles.
As the title suggests, Asgard’s Wrath is a tribute to Norse folklore – and actually quite a faithful one, with one of the fullest in-game codexes on Norse mythology I’ve seen in any game. I say this as somebody who is currently halfway through God of War (2018) on PlayStation 4, which largely shares the same background and lore, and which I’m thoroughly enjoying. Any similarities between the two series are no more than a passing nod, however, because what Sanzaru has crafted here is very much its own interpretation of the legend of Odin, Thor, and the rest: it’s a gorgeous, handmade world that’s best experienced through the medium it was made for.
I’m delighted that Asgard’s Wrath keeps its larger story simple. You enter the world as the fledgling God of Animals, Loki takes you under his wing, and the rest is history. The gods are busy with god conceits, they have their dramas and political snafus, and you’re just there for the ride. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no grand exposition. Quite the opposite. While your character is vaguely defined (allowing you to inhabit them and make them your own) the void of a backstory is effectively filled in by possessing – and literally stepping into the shoes of – a series of mortals embarking on their own personal quests, and Asgard’s Wrath competently fills the emotional void that other games would try to fill with one big dramatic arc by positioning itself as a platform for many possible stories.
Asgard’s Wrath is the first game of its kind in the way it exemplifies VR storytelling; it’s a mythological pantheon, fully animated and placed within reach, and often gently nodding you towards its myriad secrets. Just as VR is a relatively new medium that invites developers to find new perspectives on how stories are told, Asgard’s Wrath knows that it, too, needs to be adventurous. And, despite spending an unprecedented 25 hours hopelessly embedded in its critical path, I never once felt that it overstayed its welcome.
The main quest arcs for each major character only lasted for about five hours, side pursuits notwithstanding, and then you’re shuffled off to the next one. This was brilliant, because not only did the frequent shifting of perspectives break up the potential monotony of needing to stay in one character role for too long, it also gave Asgard’s Wrath a reason to frequently introduce different environments, characters, lore, and playstyles.
Refreshingly, the main quest sequences are also further broken up by periods where I could return to my god form and take on a bird’s eye view of the entire world – where you can literally grab, pick up, and move objects around the area. There’s a remarkable amount of awe to be had when what previously seemed like a towering obstacle suddenly appears small and manageable like a toy piece, or when I would move an object in god mode and return to my mortal form to see just how different everything looked. This feature hits a crescendo in Stikkan’s campaign, midway through the main quest, where you have to reorder a series of canals to move through and unlock each part of the level. That said, I was disappointed that the mechanic didn’t have more functionality than solving puzzles and moving preordained puzzle pieces around. There’s so much potential in this idea but it’s barely explored.
Back to possessing mortals, though. I found that almost every side quest or hidden trophy had some personal relevance to whoever I was playing as, just as long as I was exploring in the same region that corresponded with their critical path. I did notice that there were certain places where the voice acting came across as cheesy and overdone. For example, mortal characters tend to vocally recite their hatred of the gods at awkward and random points even after you’ve completed their critical path, and even when you’re doing something as simple as clearing a path through a dungeon or smashing open a barrel. But I was willing to put up with that because their narration of their experiences made each mortal hero feel more lively, as if I was building a friendship with them as they narrated their own experiences to me. Without those monologues, certain areas might have lacked context and certainly would have felt lonelier.
Asgard’s Wrath Screenshots
Something that native VR games often lack in comparison to their traditional counterparts is a sense of progression (in part because they tend to be so short) but this is an area where Asgard’s Wrath shines. It’s littered with dungeons, labyrinths, and side quests, each of which offers equal parts challenge and reward – often generously doling out currency, rare crafting items, and other loot. But what I’m most impressed by is how subtle they are. For example, the only way to unlock each of Yggdrasil’s Blessings, which are permanent buffs, is to avenge the deaths of other fallen players in exchange for seeds, similar to how you can avenge your friends in Middle-earth: Shadow of War. That’s a cool optional feature, but something which can be ignored or overlooked entirely if you so choose.
Channeling elements of The Legend of Zelda, each of the four explorable worlds is filled with secrets that require varying degrees of progression into the critical path in order to discover and unlock. This is a completionist’s dream, especially since Asgard’s Wrath neatly and conveniently keeps track of each area and quest in your world map and quest book. Following the credits, I found that I only had a 52% completion score, which implies that there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t found yet even after 25 hours. It’s an astonishing amount of content relative to what we’ve all come to expect of a game tailor-made for VR.
Combat is another major aspect of the action-adventure-RPG genre that Asgard’s Wrath nails. There’s a rhythm to it; a sort of dance with each weapon and enemy type that necessitates different tactics. The common draug can be satisfyingly cleaved apart without much thought, but advanced enemies equipped with Runic Armor require skill and tact to defeat. Melee combat with armored opponents in Asgard’s Wrath is primal and exciting: successfully parrying an opponent’s strike, dashing away from them, dashing back in, and busting through their defenses to land a fatal blow feels great. And because every battle ties into a larger sense of progression as enemies drop valuable loot and useful crafting materials, I never found that combat got old or boring for me. And even if it did eventually wear thin, I could simply change my fighting style and stance (in real life) or switch weapons.
Ranged combat also has its own ebb and flow, and I felt it necessary to master both ranged and melee tactics to take down some of the bigger enemies, like the ominous Draugar Queen. I was surprised by just how many ranged options I had: explosives, bows, crossbows, and throwing weapons all made the cut. Likewise, each of the unique Hero weapons have a personality that make them delightful to play and develop fighting styles with. It’s nifty that Ingrid’s throwing axe, for example, spins right back to you when you hold your hand out and squeeze the grip button (yes, just like Kratos’ Leviathan Axe). It’s equally ingenious that Stikkan’s spears detach and turn into dual throwing blades connected with a magical laser wire. And oh boy, did I cut up my fair share of baddies with that laser wire.Asgard’s Wrath also gives you a whopping 10 different animal companions to unlock and party up with, each of which is upgradeable and conveniently swappable on the fly. I was surprised by how varied each one was, offering a different approach to combat and a unique ability to clear a different type of obstacle. For example, throughout much of the game, you run across red brambles covering entrances to doorways and treasure chests that can only be cleared by Fafnir, the 10th and final companion. Meanwhile, the frog companion Siggi can pull items – such as valuable keys and levers – from behind locked enclosures with his long tongue. Even the way that you get to interact with your animal companions feels fluid and satisfying: when you give them a thumbs-up, they gesture right back at you. When one of them is hurt in battle, you can throw a potion or a food item to them and they’ll catch it midair and consume it before throwing the empty bottle or food husk on the ground. This was neat, especially when a companion responded to my care by gleefully offering a high-five in return.
I did run into some issues with the animal companion AI not always acting the way I wanted it to, however. Sometimes, to my displeasure, I needed to micromanage my furry friends and repeatedly point them toward specific tasks – both in and out of combat. At the worst moment, a stubborn companion threw me off from a clear solution to a certain late-game puzzle, where I spent roughly 15 minutes unnecessarily retracing my steps.
Aside from rocky AI at times, I yearned for some miscellaneous and relatively minor quality of life features, like being able to skip through the lengthy crafting animations at the blacksmith or a way to send items directly to the storage box without returning to the tavern once my inventory became too full.
Tying it all together, Asgard’s Wrath has one of the friendliest interfaces that I’ve used in a VR game to date. The button layout felt great and made perfect sense for the Touch controls. There’s no teleportation option but you’re given multiple options for movement, including comfort blinders and snap-turning. The fact that you can look down and see your own body is a cool grounding touch that makes it seem less like you’re floating around. I was initially disappointed in the lack of an ability to sprint, but the lack thereof made dashing so much more important and useful that I forgave it, especially once I’d gotten a chance to level up my stamina pool later into the game (letting me use several dashes at once).
I also adore the art direction of the interface. Everything, from the world map and the quest journal to the quick-slot select panel and the combat HUD, is equally informative and beautiful. Each of the interface interactions is snappy and sound great as well. Not to mention, I found that the text was crisp and clear on my old Oculus Rift CV1 without appearing gaudy or tacky.