Barbaria, a new brawler/dungeon builder hybrid now available on PS VR2, makes a great first impression. The game puts players immediately into the shoes of a “semi-god”, and quickly gets them into the action of asynchronously attacking other players’ worlds while building up defenses on their own. But while Barbaria’s visual style and lots of entertaining touches go a long way towards building good will, the game’s primary progression loop eventually grinds some of that away, leaving a bit of a mixed bag.
Barbaria takes place primarily in what I came to consider “the semi-god” hub. In this area, the player has access to all of the goodies the game has to offer, everything from interfaces to customize your character and your battle flag to an area to upgrade your weapons. (I particularly enjoyed the music interface, which features a bunch of imps in an old record player, grinding out tunes in tiny instruments) It takes a few hours for all of this stuff to open up, and after most battles towards the beginning of the game, a little imp buddy will appear to guide you to the next interface you’ll need.
The primary function at this hub is the ability to build and upgrade your dungeon, which is done by grabbing tactile pre-designed pieces and snapping them together in different configurations. Once you have your layout established to your liking, you can add all sorts of fun stuff to your dungeon. Plop down a few monsters, lay a few traps. Plan an ambush for any hapless fools that try to invade. As the game progresses, you unlock more and more stuff you can use to customize your dungeon, some of which gets pretty creative.
But how do you earn this stuff, you ask? By raiding other players’ dungeons asynchronously. That’s right, the entire time you are doing your best to create nightmares for anyone trying to attack your dungeon, other players are doing the same thing for you. An in-game bulletin board allows you to select other players’ dungeons, and then – POOF! – off you go to try to defeat them. If you are thinking “VR Clash of Clans”, you aren’t entirely off base – but this is cooler.
Attacks begin with the player possessing a little warrior dude at the dungeon’s starting gate. The game snaps to first person, and suddenly you are at ground-level in the dungeon, trying to defeat whatever bad guys other players have assigned to lay in wait for you, and avoiding any traps they might have set. This section of the game plays out kind of like a fumble-y version of Gorn, with the player armed with a variety of weapons, trying to cleave their way through the gauntlet to the end of the mission. It’s all very bloody and fun, and you can pick up anything dropped on the ground – axes, skulls, bows, dead bodies – and start using them to your own advantage.
For the first few missions, you can just kind of use the “VR axe waggle” to take down low-level enemies, but as Barbaria progresses, you quickyly learn that you actually have to pay attention to what’s going on. Enemies can outrank you in power, meaning that you will have to actually block and parry blows. Baddies can and will surround you, making battle positioning far more important than I expected it to be. More than once I was shamefully reduced to running backwards in circles with a train of troll-y goblin guys chasing after me.
Luckily, you can always pop back out into semi-god mode mid-battle, which allows you to look down on the battlefield from above and drop spells on bad guys, thinning the herd a little bit. Clear the baddies, smash a few crystals, and you’ll be rewarded with a bit of currency, or a new weapon or gadget.
So far, so good. The whole “build up defenses while attacking other players’ defenses” mechanic really worked for me, and the VR implementation makes it that much more fun. I loved the ability to stand over the battle and see all the nuances of other players’ designs. And when you first log into the game, you can watch replays of others invading your dungeon, which is great to pinpoint weak areas in your design that might need some bolstering. Many of the weapons are fun to use, and I particularly enjoyed the bow mechanics (which I usually hate with a passion in VR games). The whole thing is kind of a hoot.
The issues that I had with the game all centered around the progression system, which feels unfocused and little wonky. Essentially, you can pay in-game currency to level up anything in the game. You can level up your warrior character, or the characters you set in your dungeon for others to fight. You can level up the dungeon pieces themselves, which allows you to attach more pieces, and lay down more traps. You can level any of your weapons, you can level your traps, you can pretty much level anything you earn from the game.
The problem for me was that I had no idea what to start with. I wanted to level my character and some of his weapons so I could have greater survivability when raiding other players. The problem there was that I was left with a low-level dungeon, so other players could just run right in and stomp me. So I went the other way, and built up my dungeon and the stuff in it. Then I my more-powerful dungeon was busy defeating invaders while I was offline, which raised me up in the rankings so that when I logged back in, Barbaria was offering me super high-level dungeons to raid. So I was getting stomped again, just in a different way. Trying to keep things progressing evenly just left me at an impasse – I wasn’t strong enough to be good at anything, so I would advance a bit, then fall back, then advance a bit, then fall back.
After a while, I just got frustrated and walked away, figuring that I would check in on Barbaria in a few months to see if things had evened out. The game is very heavy on charm, but eventually the progression loop beat the appreciation for that charm right out of me, leaving me a bit bewildered and kind of sad. There is the core of a really great VR game here. I just hope that with time, the folks behind Barbaria find a way to unlock it so it’s more accessible.
* 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.
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