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Gnomes & Goblins

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Wevr
Release Date: Sept. 23, 2020

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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PC VR Review - 'Gnomes & Goblins'

by Chris Barnes on Nov. 13, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Gnomes & Goblins is a fantasy/adventure VR simulation that lets you embark on a dream-like journey and explore an enchanted forest world where interactions with the realm's denizens shape the story's evolution.

Have you ever dreamed of throwing back a few pints of fruit beers with cute, little forest goblins while you play a few games of bag toss at the local forest's Harvest Fest? Prior to playing Gnomes & Goblins,I didn't realize that was a video game experience that I needed in my life. Sadly, this game spurs all those imaginative desires, yet does little to deliver on these concepts.

Created by Jon Favreau — the brain behind hits like Chef, Iron Man, and The Mandolorian and a new studio called WEVRGnomes & Goblins puts you in the shoes of the Goblin King. The main story mode has you explore a forest inhabited by goblins and gnomes across 11 brief missions. The story is minimal, and beyond the occasional humming from jolly goblins, the game lacks any dialogue, emotion or music. As you progress through the story, you discover gnomes who are responsible for the kidnapping of a fellow goblin. The goblins ask you for assistance, hoping you can chase down the gnomes and save your goblin friend. Alas, none of this is nearly as exhilarating as it could and should be.

As in any VR game, the first mission in Gnomes & Goblins serves as a tutorial so players can come to grips with the locomotive control scheme. The default setting lets you move forward and backward with the vertical movement of the analog sticks and snap turns with lateral flicks. While I'm not opposed to snap-turning in VR games (you can opt for smooth turning in the options menu), I found it an odd choice that I couldn't side-strafe. Putting forward motion and snap turning on the same analog stick leads to instances of you accidentally turning your viewpoint when you merely meant to move forward. Beyond this, you can also pick up a limited number of items using the controller triggers. While you can pick up the occasional piece of fruit, treasure collectibles, and fairies that transform you between human and goblin, interactions within the environments are few and far between.

These simplistic controls lead to what you'd expect: simple gameplay. It's understandable that the first mission lasts a minute or two considering its tutorial nature, but the remaining 10 missions are about five minutes each. One mission, aptly named "Harvest Fest," lets you fill tankards with fruit beer, toss berries at targets, and attempt a few rounds of bag toss. This is the most fleshed-out mission in the game, but even the monotony of that mission sets in quickly. There's no score tracking or friendly competition with the goblins. The goblins are effectively void of any emotion or reaction to your actions. Most missions consist of little more than walking down a couple of sparse hallways, pulling a lever or climbing a ladder, and you're done. In the end, the entire game's story can be completed in 30 minutes or less. With such basic controls and simplistic level design, Gnomes & Goblins feels more like a tech demo or proof of concept than a full-fledged $30 game.

Completing the brief story mode unlocks the exploration mode. It's evident this is the mode that the developers want to be the highlight of Gnomes & Goblins. You can walk around the forest, collect fruit for brewing recipes, find seeds to grow crops, and slowly upgrade your treehouse.

While I love the concept, the execution misses the mark. With little to no guidance, you must rely upon developer blog posts on Steam to fumble your way through certain mechanics. As an example, areas only accessible by those the size of goblins require you to ring a bell and jiggle a green fairy if you want to transform your size. While I was taught this mechanic in the main story mode, the game never teaches you that the bell is accessible on your belt. Having prior experience with other VR games, this thought crossed my mind while I struggled to figure out where my bell had vanished to, since it disappears after you use it once.

After reviewing forum posts and YouTube videos, I learned that the items in my belt were actually located closer to my left buttock — entirely out of my Oculus' field of view. I wanted to dig into the mode more and engage with the brewing and treehouse crafting, but there was one glaringly obvious factor holding me back from enjoying it more.

I'd be remiss if I didn't cover the game's performance issues. After an hour of fumbling my way through the exploration mode, I couldn't force myself to play anymore through the constant stuttering and tracking issues, which are certain to make even the most experienced VR players uncomfortable.

In the game's defense, there are some nice-looking areas within the forest. Trees are lush with leaves, the grass is dense, and colors are bright. None of these visuals are advanced enough to justify the massive performance issues, though. This holds true regardless of the visual settings; whether I set them to ultra, high, or low, the game stuttered so much that it was unplayable. I took time to try out a handful of other VR games on my Oculus Rift S. Beat Saber, Half-Life: Alyx, and Skyrim VR all ran buttery smooth. This is clearly an issue with Gnomes & Goblins and not my VR setup. It is worth noting that the developers already have a blog post on the Steam page to acknowledge these issues.

I'm hopeful that the Gnomes & Goblins developers can address these performance issues quickly. There's still a lot of design work that needs to be addressed if they want this game to be as great as its concept. Until then, Gnomes & Goblins is little more than a stuttering tech demo that doesn't capture the imaginative concept it so desperately craves to be.

Score: 3.5/10

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