A lot of people who are WoW curmudgeons will tell you the older version the better. Their reasoning pretty much boils down to the fact that WoW has gotten progressively easier and they feel that unskilled players have ruined the game. While I can definitely understand that point of view, my reasons for missing the original World of Warcraft are a little more nuanced than that.

My wife and I are avid players of whatever 1.12.1 private server we can find that is stable and remains in operation. Gaming media seems to think for some reason that Nostalrius was one of very few Vanilla WoW servers, but there are actually hundreds. Most of them are just run on someone’s home server and barely meet the definition of playable. As someone who started playing right before TBC was released, I remember how the game played and want something at least close to that experience. Fortunately there are always at least a few 1.12.1 servers in operation that meet my standards.

If you consider private servers piracy, I can live with that. If Blizzard would make this content available in any way, I would gladly pay for it. You see, when Cataclysm was released in 2010, the entire original map was remade. Besides a few time-travel instances, there is no way to access any of this content anymore. So it isn’t just a few old players wanting to go back to older versions of spells and talents, we actually can’t even play the quests anymore that we fondly remember. So that is why I have been begging Blizzard to re-release this content (preferably for a one time charge, with no monthly fee) on any platform. This article is about some of the reasons that even people new to it would love a chance to play Vanilla WoW.


Story and Lore, front and center.


If you have only been playing WoW in recent years, it may be hard to believe that there was a time when it had really interesting original lore. Recent versions have pretty much filled every quest and dialogue with pop culture references and clear nods to movies and television. While there is still definitely a central plot, it doesn’t really concern itself with adhering to any central lore. The WoW universe has become like the Marvel and DC universes, where killing characters and bringing them back to life can be done for convenience.

The Warcraft universe has always taken some inspiration from other series, most notably Warhammer and Lord of the Rings. At its core though, it has always had an original universe filled with different history and factions. It used to be important to know who these people were and what they were doing. If you were a dwarf, the feud with the Dark Iron dwarves was part of your history. Players would recognize factions like the Argent Dawn and the Steamwheedle Cartel that were featured in the plot of previous Warcraft games. You could even decide for yourself how to interact with neutral factions. If you decided that you hated pirates, you could go into your character panel and mark all neutral pirate factions as hostile, so your character would attack them on sight. In modern WoW all of this has become completely irrelevant.

The thing I really miss about Vanilla WoW, was how each race and quest had a plotline that really made you feel that role. Your starting areas would establish your culture, often creating traits that permanently molded your character and how you play them. As you progressed from 1-60, your class quests were also much more intense and personal. While the class quests of today are basically glorified tutorials for the new abilities you get, old class quests really tested your dedication to your role. You were expected to do things like infiltrate higher level areas, using your class skills to avoid certain death. The rewards were actually relevant too, because dungeons were much harder to farm for better loot.

Even some of the things people complained the most about, like globe-trotting quests and quests that required huge spending of gold, often fit in with the plot and made sense. As a servant of your chosen order, it makes sense that your boss would send you with an important message to Theramore, even though you are questing in Stranglethorn Vale. It also helped you discover flight paths and other dungeons, since you were not automatically given the former and there was no Dungeon Finder. Besides word of mouth, these random annoying quests were often the way you discovered new parts of the game.

Overall it just felt more like a real, living world. The reason it was so easy for so many of us to get lost in the World of Warcraft, was because it was such a compelling and deep universe to immerse in. The farmers and their never-ending need for bear asses were still annoying, but the game did a better job of making them seem like people who mattered. I remember fondly the first time I completed the level 12 paladin quest line. One of the steps required you to give a bunch of cloth to the guy walking around begging for cloth for the orphans. He tells you this should be enough to last them all year, but since the game had no instancing then, he goes right back to begging for cloth right after. So we decided he was a scammer and spent the next 10 minutes following him around Ironforge and warning people not to get scammed. It was pure RP gold.


Classes felt unique.


World of Warcraft has really become a disgustingly simple game at the basic level. I’m not mocking the skill of high ranking players, the toughest content is still a challenge. But in the most basic sense, WoW classes have been reduced to different flavors of the roles Healer, Damage and Tank. While other MMORPGs like Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV have fully developed support and crowd-control classes, in WoW these are just secondary functions that most classes can choose to help with. It doesn’t really matter that much if you are a Druid tank or a Warrior tank, as long as you can hold enough threat.

It used to be very, very different. It’s not even just combat balancing either. Classes used to be balanced across the entire game, but not in each aspect. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in some ways and that’s why it isn’t like that anymore. Basically, it’s easiest to explain like this: A mage was undeniably better in PvP than a Warlock, but a Warlock got a free mount at level 40. Since mounts cost 80g, which was almost inconceivable back then, this was an enormous bonus. So yes, the Mage could annihilate the Warlock in a duel, but the Warlock was already galloping from dungeon to dungeon, while the Mage was grinding gold to purchase a mount. It was the same with Warriors vs. Paladins. Other classes were balanced in ways like Priests were by far the best healers, but Paladins and Druids could also tank if needed.

There’s also something to be said for the fact that being able to create a portal was once a skill that would make you rich. Before flying mounts, long range travel was a humongous pain in the ass. I could go on and on. There was just this strange sort of balance across all parts of the game, that really required you to get to know a competent player of each class.


Crafting and Professions were actually fun.


These days it’s difficult to understand why crafting even exists in WoW, besides achievements. It has become little more than a boring chore to attend to between expansions, when you have absolutely nothing better to do. Blizzard has even so much as admitted this with recent expansions, by allowing you to craft plot-based weapons that are totally separate from and superior to traditional crafted gear. This all started when level progression got faster and faster. Crafting has been streamlined somewhat to keep up, but it’s like a turtle and hare race. You will blast up to whatever the current level cap is long before you can craft anything useful, then spend hours in low-level zones catching up your crafting to eventually make things that are moderately useful in endgame content (mostly consumables).

Would you believe me if I told you there was a time when even fishing was fun? There are a lot of changes in gameplay that have slowly made professions the awful tedium they are today. The faster progression is the biggest, but not the only one. There is also the fact that before Dungeon Finder, everyone wasn’t farming every instance for the very best gear. These days every single level 40 player is walking around with the best complete set for their class. In the old days, those random green items you would get from your professions would actually be useful. Not only that, the stuff you were crafting was actually useful, because your gear wasn’t already OP. The party leatherworker unlocking the next level of armor kit could literally be the difference that allowed you to complete a dungeon.

It’s really hard to even explain all the ways that WoW has gotten easier and made professions obsolete. Getting adequate bag space used to cost a fortune, so knowing a tailor was almost necessary. Basic potions were essential, even at low levels. There were also far fewer consumables in the game, so things like bandages and the many gimmicks made by engineers, were really useful items to have. This is another area where I could just go on and on. There are so many items and practices that are just made completely pointless in modern WoW and many of them relate to crafting.


Now I want to touch on a few things that are both good and bad. Most of these are things we remember fondly, but have been changed for obvious reasons as games have evolved. There are some things that people just plain will not tolerate, because standards have changed.


World PvP


In Vanilla WoW, there were only what are known today as PvP servers. While in modern WoW, this mostly marks a server where players are focused on competition, it also means that players of opposite factions can fight in contested areas. In Vanilla WoW, this was the only way to play and there were a lot more contested areas. Basically anywhere outside of your starting area, it was open season for the Alliance and Horde to go at it. This was parodied famously in the South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft”. That episode may not make a lot of sense to people anymore, as nobody has participated in much world PvP in years. It’s honestly just more fun to do it in many battlegrounds WoW has made available, with their various level ranges. Just the effort to get enough people in one (non-instanced) place to have any lengthy combat is almost prohibitive today.

There are a lot of good reasons for this. While it’s fun to remember those massive battles we had in The Barrens and the Hillsbrad Foothills, that was like 2% of the time. What constant PvP mostly involved, was higher level players of the enemy faction camping in questing zones and griefing people for hours on end. It was super annoying and caused many a keyboard to be broken and account to be cancelled. So these days, anyone who wants to enjoy the quests and content should just go to a PvE or RP server and avoid this entirely.

In order to bring old players back and introduce new ones, something would have to be done about this. I think it’s essential to bring that conflict back for a successful Vanilla revival, but it would have to eliminate the griefing issue. The best methods I can think of is by making battles timed events, like Battlegrounds, to draw players in to compete at certain times. The other would be to just make certain zones contested only at certain times. Say for example you could have contested zones become PvP during peak hours on a server. So if you are questing in one of these zones and it hits about 7-10pm local time, you know it’s time to evacuate if you don’t want to fight.


Some Classes Sucked


What I said up above about class skills balancing out combat effectiveness is true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s also the part where you go into a dungeon and all of that is useless. If you are playing a Warlock or a Paladin, it’s easy to look around at the other classes and their abilities and just think “F**k, why do I even exist?”. That was just the reality back then. For Warlocks especially, you were pretty much the black sheep of the whole community. Nobody wanted you in a party if one of the many other classes who could do everything better than you were around. Sure, they would take you if there wasn’t already a rogue and a mage, but you would never be selected over another class unless you were an absolutely godlike player.

Now that is a really sh*tty feeling.

I think for the most part, the class balance by patch 1.12 was decent, but there are a few changes that really should be made. Warlocks should be slightly better in general and Paladins should be able to excel in a role as long as they specialize. There is a reason that Paladins are now focused by moving the best bonuses way down each talent tree. The first solution Blizzard tried during WotLK was to just make them better, which lead to broken tanks that could also cast Lay on Hands every 20 seconds. It was really great after sucking for so long, but I admit it was a terrible solution. You could just have a party of 3 Paladins, that could steamroll anything intended for a party of 5. For Warlocks though, it worked very well, because they just got screwed on everything besides the mount.


The Graphics need the “Rose Tinted Shades” effect.


There is a practice in re-releases and remakes that I like to call the “Rose Tinted Shades” effect, after the similar term in psychology. Basically this means you shine up the graphics enough to not be an eyesore, while still preserving the look of the original. Nintendo did probably the best example of this with Wind Waker HD. The game looks exactly the way you remember it, without the crappy tube tv effects it actually had back then.

It would be pretty easy to put in things like better looking water and shadows, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. Really all Vanilla WoW needs to be functional on modern hardware is an HD facelift. To my mind that would mostly have to do with draw distances and textures. On modern higher resolution monitors, it’s easier to make out just how awful the terrain in the distance looks. It’s also quite noticeable when NPCs pop into view. Just a few little tweaks (much like what can be achieved with console commands already) could make it very playable, even by modern standards. Similarly it would be very easy to upscale the menus and UI a bit.


Make Meeting Stones Matter


You may have noticed those funny looking obelisks with Hearthstone emblems on them near Dungeons. Those actually used to do something. You see, before Dungeon Finder, someone would trek out to the Dungeon (often in hostile territory) and put out the call for their friends to join them. It was a pretty crude system, but it lead to many fun and frustrating moments. Obviously there were too many of the latter and that’s why we don’t use them anymore. I’m not saying I have the solution, but something would need to be tweaked.

I would be strongly against just adding Dungeon Finder. I think that was probably the biggest thing that changed how it feels to play WoW. There must be baby steps we could take in between though. Like maybe making it possible to create portals to meeting stones with a consumable item or something like that. If players didn’t have to spend up to an hour and risk death to get a party together, it would make the experience much more approachable. Not saying I don’t miss some of those random conflicts around Deadmines and Wailing Caverns, but it was definitely something best left in the past.


I just want to wrap up me love letter to classic WoW by saying it is just plain stupid not to make money on this content. Almost every other game Blizzard has made is available for sale in some shape or form, yet there is no way to play a version of WoW that is only 13 years old (well besides private servers of course). Sure, I can see that you would not want to cannibalize sales of modern WoW, but that’s not very realistic. Nobody is going to only play the tiny bit of content in Vanilla vs. the giant buffet that is modern WoW. Realistically it should have no monthly cost or be included with a retail WoW subscription. I would totally see it as an experience like Diablo being patched to run on modern systems. You may crack out on it for a while, but you aren’t going to stop playing newer games.

Realistically, Vanilla Wow could run on mobile platforms, but it would still require a keyboard. Most tablets can be equipped with one though, so I don’t really see this as a significant barrier. In an ideal world, it would work similar to Gameloft’s very WoW-like Order and Chaos, where you can play it on both PC and mobile, preferably on the same servers.

I’m not really expecting Blizzard to read these posts, but if you read them and also want to play Vanilla WoW again, spread the idea!


It’s hard sometimes to go back and remember what it felt like when you were first playing a game you loved. The memories tend to grow on us and also subsequent playthroughs and press coverage change the way we view the game later. I can however, remember almost exactly what it felt like to experience the major plot twist in each Shock game. Whether it was revelations about Shodan in the original series, or the secret of “would you kindly?” in the Bioshock series inspired by System Shock, they always leave an impression.

So anyone going into the very Shock-like Prey would expect a major twister in there somewhere. The game does not disappoint, well actually it does. Prey completely drops the ball on timing, if not content of the major plot twist. I’ll get back to this later, but first I want to explain how important the timing has been for each past game. If you think back to the final act of each Shock game, then remove the story parts, you will probably realize something: on the surface they’re kind of weak. It’s really hard to come up with good challenges for the player once they have all the best upgrades. So the final acts of these games often just involve throwing lots of the toughest enemies at you, in difficult situations. Since you are just trying to chase the plot at this point, it totally works. Then at just about the point where you would get sick of it, some amazing revelation happens, followed by some mind-blowing cutscenes.

This is pretty much the final act of every game ever ending with Shock, as well as the similar Deus Ex series. We expect it at this point. I guess Prey does not end with Shock or Ex, so maybe it’s just me that feels it carries this heritage. Regardless, Prey totally botches its late-game reveals. The plot twists taking place at the end are really predictable and accompanied by some awful room-clearing segments that feel straight out of Aliens: Colonial Marines (no, that is not too harsh). The boring, kill waves of enemies gameplay is actually not that different from the end of the previously mentioned games. It’s just that what is happening to drive you forward is nowhere near as interesting.

And then, after you have spent 10 minutes watching the credits and debating with yourself if you just wasted your time, the post-credits scene has a totally awesome plot twist. Like, after many people probably pulled the disc out and returned it to the store. As cool as it was when it finally happened, that is almost tragically bad placement. Making me play through a nearly worthless 2 hours at the end that almost made me hate a game I was loving, then finally, if I watch the credits, blowing my mind. Makes no sense at all to me.

I often wonder what games looked like in the minds of their creators, at various stages of development. I wonder how many huge cuts and changes completely altered the final experience. Prey made me wonder this intensely. In the end, the alarming and exciting twist came too late to save my experience of the game. I would have almost preferred to have a shorter game that didn’t include the extra tedium.

Regardless of how it happened, the timing of the major plot twist made all the difference in my gaming experience. It took Prey from what I would have called the next Shock game, to something I will probably move on from quickly.


“This, is the arm. We made it out of the money the studio sent us.”

I recently got around to watching the new Twin Peaks episodes and while I loved the raw David Lynch on display, they added to a sinking feeling I’ve had recently. I’m also going to lump Alien Covenant and the recent X-Files continuation in as well, since I saw them recently and contributed as well.

You see, I’ve had this growing unease while watching the rebirth of some of my favorite series and it can be summed up pretty simply; I don’t think these guys can tell a story anymore to save their lives. While they expertly show us the beauty of the camera, they seem to struggle to fit even 10 lines of meaningful dialogue into a scene. What’s worse, when they do get heavy on the exposition, it seems to range from creating holes in their own canon to outright breaking the mythology of the series (that’s you X-Files). As a fan, I haven’t just been hanging on all these years to see more of your amazing cinematography. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO FUCKING HAPPEN. That is why we have been buying your DVDs and keeping those royalties flowing all these years. Not to give you time to find ways to build steadycams out of bamboo.

As an amateur writer myself, I generally take the side of the creator and say “it’s their thing, they can do whatever they want if people buy it”. We can come to an extreme though, especially in the case of the Alien prequels or the X-Files, where you basically just throw out the window everything the fans loved about the story. That isn’t good in any sense of the word. It’s just kind of selfish and egotistical and makes me want to remind them that creation is a life of sacrifice and selflessness. You give everything of yourself to influence people’s hearts and minds for what you hope is the better. Even if your purpose is just entertainment, you need to at least deliver that. Art that is entirely selfish has no place being paid for by others.

Now I don’t want to be too harsh and say ‘how dare they’ or some such other entitled crap. It is their thing and they can do whatever they want with it. As a fan though, I have to just ask why? Why not just tie up the loose ends people want resolved in a manner that is reasonable, while still being unexpected?

I started this article talking about Twin Peaks and I do want to mention that I think it’s the least offensive of these examples. While it is true that I’ve seen about 10 minutes worth of plot in 4 hours of screen time, what filled the other frames was often breathtaking. David Lynch has not only wowed me with some unconventional film-making, but also an unexpectedly excellent performance in the cast. I never would have imagined that the creator’s silly character on the show would deliver my favorite scenes in front of the camera as well. His awkward compassion is 4th wall breaking and makes me appreciate the depth of the man on yet another level.

That being said, I think he’s being pretty damn lazy moving the plot forward and it makes me wonder if the cause is stubbornness, delusion or just plain lack of story ideas. I wonder that much, much more so with the other two examples. With Ridley Scott’s recent films, I often wonder if a bunch of producers are trying to wrestle him to the ground and failing, as he crawls to the mail slot to dump his demented final cut. Covenant was another breathtakingly beautiful film, that made absolutely no sense, even to someone who has also read the novelization and seen every theory video. With the X-Files, I often wonder if Chris Carter just passionately hates us all and wants us to stop liking the X-Files. It’s just that awful (except the Lizard Man episode of course).

I really do want to say that I feel terrible even writing this. These guys literally built my childhood and it’s really difficult being so critical of their work. It’s also really difficult to watch their work recently though, so I kind of feel obligated. Like a friend that doesn’t want you to drive home drunk anymore. Maybe the creators of these properties are just playing on some higher level that I am incapable of comprehending. Maybe these films will be like the works of Nicola Tesla, unappreciated until decades after his time. It kind of feels like they are just screwing around though and blowing millions of dollars to do it.



If you haven’t played the new Prey yet, I highly recommend it. Especially if you are a fan of Bioshock. This should come as no surprise, as Arkane Studios developed Bioshock 2. They also developed Dishonored, which is a lot like Bioshock as well. So it shouldn’t seem strange for the game to share a sort of central DNA at all.

There was this one moment though, when they made the ol’ “door code is 0451” reference. It could just come as a nod, as it appears in several Warren Specter games and most of the games inspired by them. It started (as far as I know) with System Shock and has been in Deus Ex and several other games in series Specter started or inspired. So it’s kind of like the Warren Specter fan in-joke at this point. It’s originally a reference to Fahrenheit 451, System Shock is full of sci-fi references.

It got me thinking though, that Prey is a LOT like Bioshock. I mean, sure, so is Dishonored, but Prey is A LOT A LOT like Bioshock. Not just gameplay, but pacing and plotting as well. It made me wonder a bit if 2K was originally planning to go a Call of Duty route and have two different internal studios make alternating Shock games. After all, Arkane had already made the well-received Bioshock 2 and the sleeper hit Dishonored, so it makes perfect sense. Then whatever happened at Irrational Games, causing them to be dismantled. Somehow that resulted in the death of the Bioshock series (at least for now) and suddenly there was a Prey remake in development that had nothing to do with the original Prey.

It may all just be coincidence, but it seems a bit too well-timed. Right about the time you would think a new Bioshock game would have gone from planning to production, the Bioshock brand dies and there’s suddenly a very Bioshock-like game going from planning to production. It worked out perfectly timing-wise for Bethesda, as their prolonged struggle developing Prey 2 had just resulted in cancellation. Since the game we now know as Prey suddenly bust onto the scene as an in-development game, it seems odd that they would have been writing and designing it alongside Prey 2 as a plot reboot of the series. The original Prey 2 was intended to continue the plot of the first game, so another game coming out a few years later and undoing all that would be total nonsense.

This is just my newest industry conspiracy theory, but I have a strong sense about this one. Not the least bit because I was part of a very active thread on the Bioshock forums, right before the collapse of Irrational, where we fans suggested the moon or a space station as the location for the next game. The title Lunarshock was floating around and I personally was pushing for it to be a secret Russian station abandoned on the dark side of the moon. Prey is on a space station and not exactly following the most popular ideas on that thread, but the connection is unmistakable. Everything from an alternate history where JFK survived, to a more System Shock like gameplay was discussed at length between developers and fans. This was in 2013, right about the time the seeds for Prey would have been planted.

Believe what you will dear readers, but you read it here first.

Hellpoint: there is life after Dark Souls

Posted: April 25, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Features


For many of us, the conclusion of the Dark Souls series left us, for lack of a less punny term, feeling a bit hollow.  Personally I would search constantly for new games that would scratch that itch for a complex, difficult, dark and cryptic game.  Every time I would end up disappointed, finding nothing but games that took all the most basic aspects of From’s seminal series, but none of the genius.

Then, last Sunday afternoon, I discovered the answer to my muttered prayers to dark deities: Hellpoint.

The thing that sets Hellpoint apart from the many pretenders to the abandoned throne, is its dark and mysterious tone and lore.  I don’t want to imply it’s just a ripoff of the approach taken by From either.  CradleGames had developed their own dark mythology, with complementary gameplay systems to match.  Hellpoint has a new and unique approach to spooky NPCs, creepy locations and obscure lore.  What’s more, it doesn’t steal Dark Souls’ gimmicks, just its basic gameplay style.  The Quantic System used to determine timed game events and enemy behavior is similar to, but completely more interesting than Demon’s Souls’ soul attribute system.  It has the potential to suddenly unbalance gameplay, but not in a poorly designed way like Breath of the Wild’s blood moons that broke the game at launch.


The most important thing that Hellpoint nails absolutely perfectly, is the give and take of Souls combat.  I think most of us can agree that other Souls pretenders, like Lords of the Fallen, fail at that absolutely essential thing.  Hellpoint pulls it off effortlessly, even in the current pre-alpha state.  Combat has that same frenzied, give and take feel that is not unlike real fencing.  Although the gameplay is not an exact copy (and features a dedicated jump button!), I felt immediately at home.

While the currently available demo is in a very early state, I honestly had more fun playing it than all of the From Software betas I have participated in.  One of the biggest reasons for that, I saved for halfway through the article to share.  This game has drop in couch co-op.  Yes, that thing that only Salt and Sanctuary has managed to bring to hungry fans.  You may have to steel yourself for the horrors of the singularity, but you don’t have to do it alone.  CradleGames even has all sorts of mischief in mind for PvE and PvP features that are inspired by, yet unique from what we are used to from Souls games.

The final main thing that Hellpoint does that others don’t, is creep you out with quality dark art design.  Everything in the game looks like something that crawled out of a Clive Barker movie or the equally evil black hole in Event Horizon.  It’s definitely reminiscent of what a mix between Dark Souls and Dead Space would look like, but still with a horror all its own.

Hellpoint is currently a little over halfway through their Kickstarter and a little more than halfway funded.  They already have a demo up, that has swallowed almost 20 hours of my life.  If you have a giant, black, Dark Souls sized hole in your heart, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Hellpoint Kickstarter:


Hellpoint Steam Page:


I have created a petition for an Armor movie.

Posted: March 8, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

Change.org petition for Armor movie.

I’m pretty much out of ideas on this one.  This is my last ditch attempt.  I’m hoping that all of the people who have emailed me and commented about Armor over the years will sign this.  Maybe a large expression from fans will be enough to make this happen.


Playstation VR Review

Posted: February 12, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Technology


I will be following this with a video review on my YouTube channel, will just take a bit to put together.


Once again, it sucks sometimes being just a dude who writes about games, instead of someone who is paid to do it.  In general I like playing and writing what I want, but on the other hand, companies rarely send me their products early and for free.  In the case of the PSVR, which Sony apparently only sent out 15 or 20 of to the entire world at launch, it seriously took me this long to get one.  I live in a little town that got very few units and wasn’t willing to pay inflated prices to scalpers on craigslist and eBay.

The plus side to this is that like many of you, I am a normal consumer who has to buy this stuff.  My rating of this device is based on how realistic it is to upgrade my gaming PC and buy the competition, versus buying this in a real budget.  Like the average PC gamer (real average, not average snob on forums) I have a gaming PC that is upper midrange for about 3 years ago.  So I could barely handle any high-end VR games without some very costly upgrades.  I also needed a new PS4 though and the Pro model had just released at the time.  Since Sony’s platform would bring both 4K and VR gaming, an upgrade that would be about twice as much in my situation for my PC.  It makes a huge difference that this is the only solution that made sense in my case, because I am not sitting here in an office, staring at 3 devices I didn’t pay for and comparing them.  So without further preamble, the review.



I should start by saying that my own VR experience is limited by my amateur journalist status.  I did work at Samsung in 2014 and was fortunate enough to use both an Oculus Rift developer unit and the Gear VR prototype (which was a stripped down version of the dev unit) when the Gear VR was being launched.  So I have some experience with Oculus’ tech and none with HTC’s.  The PSVR is the first consumer unit I have used in a home environment, outside a canned demo.

The quality is what I think will become the new standard of “good enough” for VR.  For lack of a better description, it’s basically like having a 1080p OLED screen wrapped around your face.  When you first put it on, you will definitely notice the individual LEDs if you have sharp vision.  After a while of using it, the effect goes away as your eyes become used to focusing on the image the way they do reality, rather than a flat screen.  The effect is a tiny bit worse in the PSVR than the other headsets I’ve tried, because the resolution is slightly lower, but the effect is no more or less annoying until you stop noticing it.  The biggest issue with visual quality is anti-aliasing effects or scaling, as in Resident Evil 7.

This is the first unit I have used that was using full room tracking of any kind.  All tracking is limited by what the Playstation camera can see.  In practice I found this to be about a 2m x 3.5m area that would only go as low or high as I aimed the camera’s roughly 100 degree scope.  Sony could easily improve this later by adding additional cameras or sensors, but I found it to be an excellent balance of interaction vs home intrusion.  Much like the Wii, Virtual Reality is one of those things where you want to jump around for the first day, but then you remember you play video games to relax.  I’ve found that I am most comfortable sitting or standing stationary.  Although you can wander around a bit in most VR games (really fun in Batman!), the most interesting stuff is usually right in front of you.

Finally, the sound quality is very impressive!  I didn’t even bother with Sony’s earbuds and instead went straight to the Turtle Beach headset I bought for the VR.  I had my doubts about Sony’s claims that their magical 3D stereo would be better than real surround sound, but it’s pretty darn good.  It is actually completely playable with living room surround sound, although your position is sometimes slightly off.  Not at all unbearable though if you want to remain in touch with other people in the room.  This is even required for a couple of games with asymmetric gameplay using the TV as well, such as Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes!


VR Nausea

This has so far varied from person to person.  Some people seem to experience it depending on the type of movement in each game.  Resident Evil 7 is the worst offender so far, because it does this strange disconnect where the controller moves your actual character model, but you can still move yourself around and change your view.  It can result in a disconnect in position that is a serious head trip.  I also found that when I turned off all the anti-nausea aids (like FOV filter, slow walking and limited camera control) and played as I normally would, running around at full speed and aiming very quickly while strafing, I was overcome by intense nausea after about 90 minutes and 2 boss battles.  That was a pretty extreme test, but so far I have been the least susceptible to nausea and I wanted to see if there were limits.  There were indeed and I had to take the headset off and take anti-nausea meds immediately.

In general though, if you limit yourself to hour-long sessions and don’t play like a baboon on crack, you shouldn’t have too much issue once you get used to it.  We’ve found that taking a break at a max of 90 minutes is pretty necessary though.  It doesn’t need to be that long, but you will definitely get a headache if you play for 5 hours straight.

Probably the most important trick to avoiding nausea or headaches is to calibrate the headset for each user if they will be playing for more than a few minutes.  It’s fine to pass the headset around to demonstrate, or to play party games.  When playing long sessions though, it is much easier to focus the image and remain comfortable if you calibrate your eye distance and camera position for each profile.  Some games require a ‘neutral point’ for the headset, that it will treat as the center of the room and this is of course different based on height and distance from the camera.  Not tuning this for each user can result in having to lean or tilt your head in an uncomfortable way while playing.


Control and Precision

Once again, I have not used the Rift or Vive controllers, so I have no idea how they compare.  I would assume they are better, because the Move controllers were designed ages ago and can be purchased cheaper.  That being said, both the Dual Shock 4 and the Move controllers do a fantastic job when used properly.  Its’ really important to heed the warning about other bright lights near you when playing, because that will cause the dreaded shaking effect.  If you ever tried to get any kind of accuracy out of your Nintendo Wii though, you know the drill.  Middle lighting and no points of light near the player.  Follow those guidelines and the control is actually very accurate.  So accurate on occasions that my wife’s 5 minutes in front of an in-game mirror gesticulating and saying “I’m Batman” had me rolling on the floor in tears.

Playing with the traditional controller is a great middle ground between the up-on-you-feet experience of true VR and the gaming we’re all used to.  It’s much less taxing and totally necessary for a game like RE7, that takes hours to complete.  It is occasionally confusing that you can’t just move your body or touch things with your hands, but that just means the illusion is still working.

The biggest issue with both controllers, is that neither of them was designed for VR.  The DS4 is a traditional controller and the Move was obviously designed to be seen while playing.  Hitting the tiny face buttons accurately is nearly impossible when swinging the remote around blindly.  This results in most games using only the move and trigger buttons, only occasionally using one of the face buttons repeatedly.  Worse, 2D menu navigation with the Move controller is almost impossible (and not even supported in many games), meaning you have to pick up the Dual Shock to perform many functions in game and system menus.  These are things that could easily be smoothed out with software updates and will likely be solved completely by the inevitable “improved sensor and control” package Sony will surely release this year.


Software Selection

Currently the PSVR has a notable advantage in that two of the most critically acclaimed and hardware pushing VR games are exclusive to Sony’s platforms (for the moment).  Batman Arkham VR and Resident Evil 7’s VR mode (the game itself is cross platform) are both limited time exclusives to PSVR.  While this means they will obviously come to other platforms later (surely with addons and updates), at the moment two of the best VR experiences can only be played on PSVR.  These are of course the first 2 full games we bought for ours.  Beyond that we just have free content and a couple really cheap games.  Those two games are pretty much worth the price of admission on their own.  Resident Evil 7 lets you explore a VR environment that is actually large and detailed, with fully free movement.  Something lacking in almost all existing VR games.  Batman on the other hand, makes you Batman.  The Goddamned Batman.  Yes, you are Batman as he goes on a graphically detailed point-n-click adventure that we would have laughed away in 2D, but you are BATMAN.

The rest of the games range somewhere from tech demos to games we’ve seen before that have been VRified.  Many of the same genres we saw on the Wii have showed up for a quick buck.  Then there are the videos and “experiences” which have shown up before on other VR platforms.  These range from amusing shorts like Invasion, where you stand in place and watch a 3D scene, to “games” where you teleport around an environment and can basically just poke stuff.  These are all great for trade shows, but the steep price tags for some of them are obvious exploitation of the fad that will harm the industry in general.  The perception that it is an overpriced gimmick is the biggest hurdle for VR to overcome.


So… Overpriced Gimmick?

Absolutely not.  This is the technology I have been waiting for for years.  If you only see VR as a new way for people to be lazy and avoid reality, you are blinding yourself to a world of possibility.  VR has limitless opportunities not only for the obvious, like training and simulation, but for the subtle and humanistic as well.  I imagine a world 10 years from now where sheltered white kids like myself, from our nice little towns, could learn a lot more about racism from experiencing Roots, rather than watching it.  Sure, a VR whip or travelling for a month in your won VR filth isn’t anything like the real thing, but it’s a much better eye opener than a decades old movie on a VHS tape.  Or imagine a simulation of what it’s like to communicate with speech impediments or brain damage.  You speak clearly, but others can’t understand you.  I could go on and on and on.  This is a technology that will literally change everything.

For right now, it will let you stand in front of a mirror as Batman.  It may not sound like much, but the only way we can get to that better world of empathy and understanding is by financing it with our money.  Virtual Reality will only take off if enough of us take the plunge in the early days.  From my own experience though, even these early methods of experiencing VR are well worth the cost of admission.  It seems like a lot of crap to buy and hook up, until you put your face in it and see a fully VR area for the first time.  This is not like any of that 3D glasses crap you can see at the movie theater.  If you have not used one of the headsets released in the past few years, no technology you have seen before can prepare you for this.  It’s a level of immersion and interaction that no medium has ever come close to in the past.  I’ve tried everything from the Nintendo Virtual Boy to high-end arcade VR machines over the years.  Nothing before the current generation VR devices ever made my brain cross that threshold to perceiving the VR space as real.  To a limited extent, I was doing this within moments of playing the PSVR.

Without any further rambling, I just want to say that I think the PSVR is truly the best positioned consumer VR device.  As much as I love PC gaming, I never in a million years expect it to be the dominant entertainment platform.  John Carmack and Gabe Newell are way smarter than I am, but they are somehow completely delusional about this.  PC gaming is always going to be a niche segment, because average consumers keep the PC in the office and the Playstation in the living room.  As someone who has until very recently been in the homes of many consumers working on their devices, I don’t see this changing soon.  The Playstation VR is the mainstream, ready to play right now solution that I decided to go with after much thought and I highly recommend it.  The VR quality is more than good enough to create the experience and the ease of use is top-notch.  The manufacturing quality seems to be up to Sony’s normal standards and I don’t see any of the parts being easy to break.  As much as I hate to always say “go with the big, successful company that makes similar stuff”, it is a really good rule of thumb.  Startups like Oculus (though they are now owned by Facebook) and players from other industries like HTC will often make the superior product, but it’s almost always the company like Sony that has the market power to force it into the public consciousness.

We’ll see if I invested wisely in the long run, as VR in general may not take off and even if it does, many of the early competitors will likely fail.  Here’s hoping it goes universal and multiplatform though, so we can all play the same games on different devices for years to come.