Out at the EVE fanfest, where I'm out talking to the movers, shakers and griefers of EVE Online, CCP have just announced an update that takes the VR multiplayer dogfighting sim from the wide open spaces of...space...to ground-based scenarios. Going by the title Groundrush, it launches April 11th with one new map, Solitude, which I've spent some time with today. Solitude is set around a series of structures in a snowy canyon-type environment. There are other changes too, including "weirder and wilder" temporary game modes, as originally introduced in the Wormholes update, and expanded co-op to include the Control and Carrier Assault modes.
I crashed into the ground. Of course I crashed into the ground because what is the point in having a ground if a spaceship doesn't crash into it?
This wasn't my first experience playing Valkyrie and it served as an excellent reminder of what I enjoy about the game. It's simple - ever since I first saw spaceships zipping across screens large and small, I've wanted to be a zippy space combat pilot. Valkyrie does dogfighting well, capturing the sense of speed and occasional delirium of pursuit and avoidance. Flight is managed with a PS4 controller and with some weapons, aiming is handled with your face.
Valkyrie is precisely the sort of VR game that I can get on board with very quickly. Cockpit-based games, where my in-game avatar is seated in a similar position as I am in real life, have a natural home on VR. As pure spectacle, Valkyrie is a crowd-pleaser, but it's the way that aiming and flight function through a combination of head movement and traditional joypad controls that really make it sing. Looking from left to right and tracking enemy fighters with line of sight is intuitive and precise, but can also lead to chaos and confusion when your view is busy with ships in combat against one another, and peeling away from their squadrons.
In 5 vs 5 fights, it's possible to formulate tactical plans and stick to formations, but in our play session people were experimenting with ships and exploring the map rather than working in sync. Proximity to the ground, which has tunnel networks beneath as well as large natural and artificial structures complicating the sky above, adds a new wrinkle. There's an 'up' and a 'down' now in a way that makes the game feel very different; the ground itself isn't a real threat, despite my ability to plant my face into it, but features of the landscape serve as both obstacles and convenient blocking points to evade pursuers and their missile locks.
Valkyrie has had terrain features before, in the form of structures in space, but Groundrush brings another aspect of the space dogfighting fantasy to life. Buzzing close to the ground or luring enemies into a death spiral game of chicken brings new possibilities, and adds new tactical wrinkles as well as a different kind of spectacle.
We'll have more on Valkyrie soon, as well as interviews exploring CCP's VR division, and the thoughts of some key members of that team. And much more on EVE Online's big players and the Fanfest itself.