What standard should a VR title be held against when critically examined? We’re mere months into the life of a brand new format, and while many of its projects don’t share the complexity of your average first person shooter, the novelty of actually aiming down sights or painting with your own hands is undeniably potent. But VR doesn’t exist in a vacuum: if you own a Vive, you buy and run VR games with the same application that distributes some of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. Like it or not, the proximity means comparisons will be made, and some VR titles don’t fare well when brought under such scrutiny.
FATED: The Silent Oath plays into the magic of the format, handing you the reins (sometimes literally) of an episodic Viking adventure that features family, gods and one hell of an aggressive giant. Sadly, it ends in an alarmingly short span of time and puts so little trust in your abilities that you might as well be walking through an interactive storybook.
As it turns out, being revived from the brink of death by a god is an easy way to excuse the storied trope of the silent protagonist. In exchange, she takes your voice and gives you an oath of secrecy, leaving you with a joyous-yet-frustrated family torn straight from Pixar’s sketchbook. They have fled their ransacked village, travelling to greener pastures as a caravan and bringing along a soothsayer who acts as a half-decent dowsing rod for danger.
The betrayals, trials and kinship all tap into the ingredients of a solid fantasy epic, but the quarter of plot you’re given simply doesn’t have the room to sink in. Characters are introduced and killed off in roughly the time it takes to bake a frozen pizza, and though the presumed antagonist is spoken about regularly, you never see or hear him for the entirety of the episode! I found myself clinging to the moments with my muted lead’s daughter, cherishing her genuinely heartwarming personality before being rushed to the next set piece.
Fortunately for FATED, it has plenty of eye candy to steer attention away from its ghost of a plot. Most VR titles at this early stage are content with simulating pool halls or stationary shooting galleries: here, you’ll find a variety of actions closer to a genuine, fully-fledged adventure, escaping certain death on horseback or zipping across a particularly deep chasm. Yeah, we’ve seen it all before, but gazing off a cliff ledge or jolting down as a bat darts for your noggin takes on another life when depth and presence are applied (I admittedly kept my eyes shut as I crawled through a spider-filled crevice, my one weakness as an arachnophobic critic). It’s a lovely showing of VR’s moment-to-moment power, and inspires hope for an even brighter future.
I would have liked it even more if I could interact with its world beyond its largely “Look, don’t touch” approach to gameplay. You’re given control of your left and right hands early on, but unless you’re standing at a waypoint, you can only move them up and down in an unsettling strangler’s pose. Despite being given a bow, it and any other hand-based tool can only be utilized after stepping into a waypoint in one scene, and can only affect the predestined targets. Responses (and in a few rare cases, choices) are left to nodding or shaking your head: it feels natural for someone who just lost the ability to speak, but as soon as the game confused my nod for a shake, the whole system fell apart. If a second part is in the works, they would do well to expand beyond Simon Says puzzles and rethink our agency within the world.
It would also be wise to pop a few tablets for motion sickness before donning the headset. Despite your abominably slow walking speed and a completion time of less than two hours, I could only in for 30 minutes at a time before heeding my upset stomach and taking prolonged breaks. It’s an intense level of nausea second only to sprinting through Quake in VR, and regardless of whatever I was doing, it only took a bit of walking and strafing before my brain hated me for it. I dug through every accessibility option available, but no matter how I tweaked the movement or orientation, it never came close to keeping my body at ease. I was always gritting my teeth by the end of these sessions, cursing whoever thought to force me into a leisurely stroll instead of a jog.
With a little more time (and a lot less motion sickness), FATED: The Silent Oath could be one of the few flagship games that sells VR’s merits beyond shallow representations of table tennis. Until we see a second chapter, it is a flawed romp through a slice of Viking mythology that somehow simultaneously rushes to the end at the breakneck speed of a sloth. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to crouch by this corner and clutch my head until the room stops spinning.
FATED: The Silent Oath is $19.99 on Steam. A review code was provided for this title.