Many of the staff at Gaming Nexus have VR rigs, ranging from Joseph Moorer’s neglected Quest 2 to Jason Dailey’s appreciated-with-trepidation PS VR2 to John Yan’s insane basement crotch-harness-rolling-pad contraption that allows him to literally walk across Fallout 4’s wasteland in real time. I’m right in the middle with a PS VR2 and Quest 2 that I occasionally wire up to my PC for some higher-end VR experiences. No crotch harnesses here (mostly because I don’t have room).
But even with the many VR rigs spread among us, and as many awesome multiplayer VR experiences as there are available (many of which support cross-play between platforms), the Gaming Nexus gang still find ourselves challenged to find a time to all hop into a VR world and play together. That’s where Sandbox VR comes in.
Sandbox VR is a high-end VR experience company, specializing in multiplayer experiences for groups of up to six players in a shared space. With multiple game rooms at each destination, the company has over 30 locations in the U.S. (with many more abroad), including a location in the super hip Bridge Park area of Dublin, Ohio, which is within spitting distance for a good percentage of the Gaming Nexus staff.
Sandbox VR has seven or eight different experiences patrons can choose to play through together, including several zombie-shooting scenarios, an experience that simulates an away mission from Star Trek Discovery, a pirate mission, and more. The newest experience is called “Seekers of the Shard: Dragonfire”, which immediately drew the attention of our somewhat D&D-obsessed staff.
So last Saturday afternoon, a contingent of six Gaming Nexus staff and associates converged on Sandbox VR to take a virtual swing of the sword at Seekers of the Shard. After filling out the appropriate paperwork (which I assume indemnifies Sandbox VR in the event that we break each other’s fingers with plastic swords), we were shown to a staging area to gear up. This is where the differences between Sandbox VR and your home rig really start to become apparent.
As opposed to the headset and couple of controllers to which we are all accustomed, Sandbox VR players are equipped with two hand trackers, two ankle trackers, a zip-up haptic chest and back device, and a weapon device (either a sturdy-feeling plastic gun or sword hilt). The hand and ankle trackers are key, because once you enter the VR experience, you are able to see your (and other players’) hands and legs in real time. That’s right friends, you can actually see your legs in VR, and the other players look and move like actual humans. The effect is fascinatingly immersive.
Once we were geared up, our super-friendly host Julie escorted our little group into the actual experience room, which was an empty space equipped with innumerable motion trackers and a bank of high-powered fans that ran across the top of one wall (all the better to simulate a dragon flying overhead). She showed us how to put our VR rigs on, and then came around the group and slipped our headsets over our ears one by one.
Once you have your rig on (which, I gotta say, had lenses that smashed right up against my glasses, which wasn’t great), you can clearly see a virtual rectangle on the ground, which indicates the boundaries of the play area. Players are shown to starting marks, which arranged us into two rows of three. Then the actual experience begins, and the other players around you flicker into existence, represented by their absolutely-not-chosen-by-us in-game avatars.
Prior to the game, we all got to choose the class we wanted to play – rogue, knight, or paladin (they were called something different, but they were rogue, knight, and paladin). When our characters lit up in game, we were all the correct class we had chosen, but as a special surprise, staff writers Elliot Hilderbrand (he of the giant red beard) and Joseph Moorer manifested as sexy lady characters, which brought me – the male rogue - no end of amusement. (I say "sexy" to tease Elliot and Joe; in reality the female characters were very appropriate, and not at all objectified. Sandbox VR is keeping it tasteful and cool.)
Of course, being gamers, we all immediately began flinging fireballs at each other and pelting one another with arrows and swords, which allowed us to get a feel for the fun haptics in both our weapons and torso pieces. The vests used by Sandbox VR are very cool, offering a buzz of localized vibration when you are hit, without being irritating. Gameplay-wise, they were very handy, as the Dragonfire scenario plays out in 360 degrees. This means that you can actually feel when something is hitting you from behind, which is an amazing gameplay mechanic that I’ve never encountered elsewhere.
The Seekers of the Shard module itself was a lot of fun to play through. Essentially a horde/wave shooter, the game took us through a brief series of fantasy environments and sent in wave after wave of baddies for us to violently slaughter with our fantasy weapons. While the violence was mostly cartoonish, the occasional bloody head explosion added to the satisfaction of the combat.
Enemy attacks came from all directions, forcing our little fantasy party to constantly reposition ourselves and fight on multiple fronts at once. Interestingly, as the game progressed, no matter how many times we moved around our rectangle, we always seemed to sort ourselves back out into our original configuration. Violence between players was fairly minimal, but there was one point when one player clipped another across the wrist with his sword, thinking they would just be crossing steel. So, of course, with six people in a small area, it is possible to smack each other if you aren’t careful.
There was a story taking place within Dragonfire, but it was a bit difficult to discern with all six of us screaming simultaneously for thirty minutes straight. The adventure culminates with a great set piece – a battle on an elevator climbing to the top of a crumbling tower that is under attack by the titular dragon (and his fire). Some familiar video game conventions come into play here, with players aiming at vulnerable points on the dragon, while physically jumping out of the way of the incoming fire. In Sandbox VR’s promo shots, you can see players leaping and diving out of the way of the attack. In our case, it was more like “measured hobbling” to safety (some of us are older than others). One time, I limped to the side too slowly, and was roasted alive by the dragon.
Yes, you can be killed in Seekers of the Shard, and we were all turned into walking ghosts several times. When you are killed, the world goes black and white, and you immediately start screaming into the void for someone to revive you. Players can quickly resuscitate their buddies by holding a hand on their shoulder, which is an elegant solution. Indeed, the gameplay allows for a lot of fun and surprising moments of interactivity, like trying to shoot a spider off of a friend’s chest, or having someone duck so you can pop off a headshot.
The Seekers of the Shard: Dragonfire is the first of Sandbox VR’s adventures to offer players multiple paths. This is accomplished during lulls in the action, when players are asked to vote on which way to go by placing their palm on an emblem floating in the air. It’s a swift and easy way to make decisions as a group, and we were able to come to verdicts without much debate. Another great moment in the game allowed us to pause and collect some loot, in the form of some awesome (and very welcome) weapon upgrades.
The story of Seekers of the Shard: Dragonfire takes about a half hour to work through. We had a blast fighting off the waves of skellies and trolls, and had an equal amount of fun clowning around. While the experience is somewhat simple in terms of gameplay, the multiple paths (and a surprise at the end) offer a bit of replayability, rewarding players who want to go back and take paths they might have missed the first time.
Longtime VR fans might be a bit jaded about the experience at Sandbox VR and whether it can offer anything new to them, and indeed there are some pluses and minuses. Chatting about the game afterwards, we agreed that with home VR kits, we would have been much more mobile in-game, meaning that we would have been able to displace out of our little rectangle and surround the baddies, opening up greater strategies. But the tradeoff here is the full-body immersion, which you just can’t get at home. Sandbox VR doesn’t offer Ready Player One-level immersion, but it’s a damn sight closer than what you get with a home kit. Did I mention that you can see your legs?
Being a gaggle of gamers, we of course had to discuss the game’s performance (even though we had no idea whatsoever what equipment was running the show). The animation felt very Ray Harryhausen/Mysterious Island, particularly in the movement of the skeletons, which was a wicked smart choice because it helped disguise the few occasions when the game engine started chugging. However, when the action got hot and heavy during the orc sessions, the slowdown was a bit more noticeable. Nothing game breaking, and it certainly didn’t curtail our fun at all, but hey – we’re a gaming site – we’re gonna notice.
The VR performance was spectacular, with a very high resolution. I don’t know what they are using under the hood at Sandbox VR, but there was zero in the way of the screen door effect, and none of the six of us reported any discomfort – probably because in this case, when your character moves, you are actually moving your body.
Overall (and despite our natural gamer inclination to quibble over every detail), our group unanimously agreed that Sandbox VR is a blast, and was well worth the twenty-minute drive. The place was bustling and lively on Saturday afternoon, which indicates that the public pretty much agrees with us. I could easily see making multiple return trips with my kids, with adult friends, and of course with the Gaming Nexus gang. We don’t often get the opportunity to hang out in real life, and if we can combine that with playing video games, well, that’s pretty much a winner in our book.
For more information on Sandbox VR, visit the company’s official website here.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here.View Profile