I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so enamoured by a menu screen. Spinning wheels and pressing buttons to make selections. Picking up figurines with my hands to inspect them closely. Looking down at the dusty library below me from my cosy attic – a library Moss fans will certainly be familiar with.
That’s the power of virtual reality, something developer Polyarc is particularly adept at harnessing. Moss and its sequel remain two of the best adventures playable in VR; now there’s Glassbreakers, a game set in the same world but with totally different gameplay.
Polyarc describes the game as a live service 1v1 real-time battler. In practice, it’s you against another player online aiming to take control of a hex board using three champions who auto-battle in real time. You strategically manoeuvre your characters across the board to destroy your opponent’s tower. It looks a bit like holochess in Star Wars, but with woodland creatures instead of aliens.
A great touch is being able to see your opponent above the board. Look around and each board is located in a different area from the world of Moss – a giant forest in the demo I played at Gamescom – and players can freely lean in, move and rotate the board for a better view. Looming ominously across is your opponent who, like you, takes the form of a masked spirit – again, just like Moss. Thanks to the VR controllers, you’re able to see the real time movement of your opponent’s hands, something you can use to your advantage with feints and misdirection.
Before all that, there’s the menu. A table is laid out before you covered in mechanisms and gadgets that transform at the – literal – push of a button. Customisation of characters will be a major part of the experience, all done by spinning a wheel to choose your choice of style or potion colour that’s picked up and applied directly to your character, your banners and crests, or your own mask. Other pop up menus will include season pass details and objectives – Polyarc isn’t reinventing the wheel with its free-to-play live service model, but assures that any paid content will be cosmetic only and it will be generous with its currencies.
Of course, you’ll need to choose your champions too. As with Moss, Glassbreakers is full of rodent warriors, with mice, hamsters, voles and more picking up shields, bows, and staffs to wreak havoc. There are seven initially available, with more to come through seasonal releases. It reminds me of the Redwall novel series by Brian Jacques; here the characters a collection of figurines that come to life in battle. And in the menu you can pick them up to check out the details of their fur and armour. It’s all wonderfully tactile.
That extends to combat too. Characters are physically picked up and placed around the hexboard before attacking automatically. Each also has a singular ability to unleash and there’s a rock, paper, scissors system to ensure balance. Simple gestures allow players to quickly march their characters forwards, or fall back to protect their tower base. Should they die, they’ll respawn after a cooldown, leaving their tower vulnerable. Crystals can also be destroyed to drop defences, while other hex pieces will provide buffs.
It’s relatively simple stuff, but that’s the point. Glassbreakers is easy to comprehend, but there are layers of strategy through positioning and combinations of characters, which will only increase as more become available each season.
Moreover, Polyarc is aware of the overall player base of VR. Not everybody can afford an expensive headset, so the aim is to create an approachable game that anyone with any device can pick up and play. Matches only last around ten minutes – long enough for that red mark around your face, but not so long to lose touch with your surroundings – and the developers themselves admitted to feeling motion sick in VR so Glassbreakers has been designed specifically to alleviate that.
Today marks the start of both Early Access and the first season of play, available on the Meta Quest 2 for now (the platform with the largest user base). Polyarc will then gradually release Glassbreakers across other platforms, eventually including Steam and PSVR2, with crossplay enabled for matchmaking.
We’re yet to see a live service game really take off in VR but, after the success of Moss, Polyarc seems poised to break new ground.
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