I’ve always been deeply fascinated by VR. Even from my first introduction to the tech—which, in hindsight, was a rather uninspiring VR car ride at a KIA sales tent—I was thrilled by its potential. Then, as the years passed and VR became more accessible, even the most rudimentary experiences could be thrilling, terrifying, and utterly game-changing in respect to immersive gaming. And for a while, Swords of Gargantua, the multiplayer sword-fighting game from developer Thirdverse, felt like all of those things, as I held my battered shield close and my trusty sword, poised to pierce any that dared to come close enough.
Swords of Gargantua begins with a static yet epic introduction to its world, where false gods must be defeated by mortal men. With its star-swept and battle-teasing intro, you really feel a sense of scale that VR manages to capture so well, as the evil Gargantua looms above you with a sword twice your size. Yet any facet of story is quickly forgotten for the self-described “rogue-lite” experience, which players will recognize from games like the immensely popular Hades.
While deliberately hands-off in its game design, you are set loose on a gameplay loop that players will immediately settle into. The uninspiringly designed levels (or floors) of the Tesseract Abyss are filled with waves of enemies that become progressively more difficult as you ascend, with your ultimate goal being to reach the 101st floor and defeat Gargantua. Death will send you back to the hub, where you can select your loadout and spend points you’ve earned from your latest run to upgrade weapons and purchase stat boosts before returning to the fray.
If you are thinking all of this sounds like a familiar yet fun gameplay loop, you wouldn’t be wrong. In Gargantua’s opening hours, you are inspired to roll up your sleeves and dig into the game’s systems and progressively more difficult combat encounters. Those first couple of runs are incredibly fun, as you don attack positions, hear the clang of perfect parries, and slash away at an enemy standing at double your height. It is a testament to the power of VR, as it captures an unparalleled epic sense, and the mere action of raising your shield above your head to block a heaving attack while thrusting your sword forward brought a massive smile to my face.
As you progress, new enemies are steadily introduced, and there is a nice variety of weapons, from nun-chucks to two-handed axes, maces to deadly boomerang-like blades. Weapons feel different as well, leading to alternate playstyles and various scenarios of combat encounters that can be incredibly fun. Retreating with your shattered blade as its durability finally gives out or panicking the first time a dual-wielding enemy leaps metres in the air over your head meant that I couldn’t help but feel a childlike fascination—especially as someone who filled their early years slaying orcs and riding broomstick horses out in the garden.
However, while this may be an entirely personal experience, I did struggle with motion sickness throughout my first few hours with the game—something I hadn’t experienced since the fast-paced mania of DOOM VFR. The game’s allowance of free movement, controlled with directional and rotating buttons, meant that walking to the other side of the map to face a newly spawned enemy would often lead to well-needed breaks. Free movement can be turned off, and increased tunnel vision upon movement does help, but throughout the many VR games I have played, this caused the worst doses of motion sickness I have experienced. Hopefully this will remain a personal experience—and it did eventually recede—but considering I rarely fall victim to motion sickness, I felt it had to be mentioned.
Sadly, motion sickness was only the start of my issues, as the entire experience begins to feel like wool being pulled over your eyes. While it all felt fun, packed with content, and had a real sense of progression in those first few sessions, that promise of more to come begins to feel weaker and weaker as the game struggles to stretch its progression in the later game.
Those steadily introduced enemies make way for similar versions of older ones, with more stubborn health bars and newly coloured sheens to their armour. The gameplay too begins to falter as the limitations of the tech begin to rear its head. Swarming enemies getting too close result in those epic sword swings being replaced by awkward clipping and the momentary de-syncing with the PlayStation Move Controllers.
Once all of these little elements began to chip away at my immersion, the charade of playing knights also faded. Before, I was parrying, ducking, dodging, and swiping, yet in my last couple of hours with the game I was merely flailing the Move Controller around with minimum effort until an enemy’s health bar diminished and I moved onto the next—sort of like realising you didn’t actually need to move your whole body in Just Dance on the Wii, only the controller itself.
It was at this moment I dove into the game’s co-op, in which you and three other players can face the many floors of the Tesseract. And watching how other players played—players of a significantly higher level than me—it became clear that the easiest (and effectively dullest) way to play seemed to be the norm. When our team was eventually defeated around the 70th floor, I was relieved because all of those smiles, those giddy child-like moments, had been eradicated in place of complete and utter boredom.
Swords of Gargantua is a short thrill ride of an experience that tries to stretch it out to a length it simply doesn’t have the legs for. Between momentary bouts of motion sickness, dull and uninspiring enemy variety, and a flawed form of gameplay that strays far from the supposed “hyper-realistic swordsmanship” that was slapped on its trailer, I became entirely deflated from my time with the game and simultaneously disappointed that I kept playing at all. Those early hours reminded me of why I love VR so much, and just how well those short burst experiences work for the format. Alas, Swords of Gargantua is like a once-great TV show that simply will not end.