I fell in love with VR. It's time you do too -- here's how
After years of waiting, it's finally time for dedicated gamers to start adopting VR. Here's a guide on how to best experience it.
VR has been in mainstream consumer development for the better of a decade. Rumors and concerns about VR have been around for just as long -- but as a core gamer who has had the past few months to experience VR in my own home, I firmly believe that is time that those able to get into VR.
How is VR any different from normal gaming? Is it worth it?
VR is an experience like no other I've had with traditional video games. Every sight is more grand and every action more meaningful. If one allows themselves to be immersed into VR, hours can fade away into a new worlds. My first reaction was of pure awe that melted into giddy joy. I couldn't believe what I was seeing -- and after months of enjoying the best VR titles on offer, I can confidently say that the feeling you get from VR is not a symptom of novelty alone. It is truly something to behold. It has lit a new flame in my heart for immersive video games, and it can for you too. Here's how:
DISCLAIMER: This is a guide for complete newbies to VR but not to PC gaming in general. This guide is also an outline of my own personal experience and this is a guide for people who take games seriously. Going forward, I assume that you have a decent gaming PC, technical skills, the willingness to put in a little work for your hobby and above all: patience. If this does not describe you then I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.
This article is not endorsed by Facebook, Oculus, Valve or any other third party.
Make Some Room
Before you go out and buy your VR headset, you need to make a little room. VR detractors for years have claimed that you need a nearly basketball-court-sized room to "properly" enjoy VR. I find this criticism completely overblown. More room is obviously better but is no means a strict requirement to enjoy VR.
You should make sure you have at least 40 sq. ft. of completely empty floor. In my apartment bedroom (after at most a minute of moving things out of the way), the most I can usually muster is around 44 sq. ft.. The experience is generally comfortable but more fast-paced games can be a little dangerous around the walls.
You want to make sure the room you reserve for VR is going to be clear semi-permanently. If you have to move heavy and fragile furniture every time you want to play VR you will very rarely want to play VR. Middle of rooms away from walls, TVs and other expensive and painful-to-punch are usually good locations.
Choose the Right Headset
In my opinion there are two choices for headsets right now: The Valve Index and the Oculus Quest 2. Both have their pros and cons, which I will outline below:
- Higher possible FPS
- Higher FOV
- Better image quality
- High comfort
- Sturdy build quality
- State of the art controllers
- Native compatibility with SteamVR environment
- $1000 pricetag
- Wired only
- Requires base stations
- Some games don't yet support the Index controllers
Oculus Quest 2
- $300 pricetag (higher priced model with more onboard memory also available)
- Standalone, wired and wireless play
- No basestations
- Moderately comfortable with optional headstrap upgrade
- Decent build quality
- Native access to Oculus Store exclusive games
- Near universal native support
- Official link cable costs $80
- Short battery life
- Forced Facebook integration (with questionable and vague privacy practices)
- Must have lights or infrared lights turned on in the room
The clear winner is not totally apparent to me. It is highly dependent on your lifestyle. If you live in a more cramped and nonpermanent space or you don't want to spend an extra $700 for an honestly relatively meager upgrade, the Quest 2 is for you. If you have a lot of room (and money) and don't mind affixing basestations to the walls of the room you will be playing VR in (the only room unless you plan on moving them every time), then the Index is for you.
I am currently a student living in an apartment, so I chose the Quest 2. It was a hard decision because of the forced Facebook integration, but aside from some possible privacy concerns, it has not presented itself as very intrusive.
From here on, my guide will be shaped by my personal experience with Quest 2 and not the Index. I believe that the Quest 2 is the best choice for most people.
Wired or Wireless (or Standalone)?
Since you now have your headset, you're probably wondering about which mode of play you should use.
I first tried wireless play using the paid third-party Virtual Desktop utility. This option can be one of the most immersive if your internet is up to par. You need a dual-band router with a fast and strong connection for this to be a viable option. During non-peak internet hours, this was by far my favorite way to play but I could never play in this mode for very long. The latency is most of the time barely noticeable and stutters were infrequent -- but when evening came it was unplayable, especially in timing focused games like Beat Saber. The battery life has a duration of around two hours when played wireless, so it is not ideal for long play sessions.
Wired play is my primary method of play; however, it must be noted that the Quest 2 does not include the link cable required to play wired. The official 16" fiber optic cable I purchased was $80 at the time of writing. I have seen some claim that other generic USB C to USB C fiber optic cables are just as capable while others have dismissed that claim. I chose to play it safe and buy the official cable and have not been disappointed (though 16" is a little short for $80...). There is no noticeable latency at any time and the device charges as you use it so you will never run out of battery...unless your PC's motherboard does not have a native USB C port. You can purchase an adapter from USB 3.1 to USB C but it will not charge fast enough to keep the headset at 100%, though it will be fast enough to support multiple hours of continuous play and I have never even got close to encountering an issue of this nature, even during five hour play sessions.
The final mode of play is standalone. There is obviously no latency in this mode nor is there a wire; however, you must purchase your games on the Oculus store, meaning that if you ever get a non-Oculus headset you will be S.O.L.. The prices on the Oculus store are generally much higher than on Steam or other third-party Steam key sellers. This mode has the same battery life issues as wireless. I almost never use this mode of play but it has great utility for portability.
Getting your VR setup ready shouldn't be too difficult if you're at all familiar with PCs. You're going to want to use the SteamVR environment so you can play all your games in one location. I recommend the following guides by YouTuber Virtual Reality Oasis to guide you through setting up your headset for PC play as well as unlocking a sideloading utility for installing unofficial applications on the Quest 2's internal memory.
One of the most important but often forgotten aspects of virtual reality is your attitude going into it. If you are treating virtual reality games like any other traditional video game you are going to have a bad time.
When entering VR, make sure that you are ready to be open-minded and willing to be immersed. Make sure that you are ready to be active, to move around and to get into whatever motions you make. VR is fundamentally about transporting you to a different place, to experience a different world. Keep this is mind when first booting up.
You also have to remember to be patient. VR user interface is markedly different from other applications. Comfort may not be immediate. Some experiences are better for some players than for others.
Finding the most comfortable setup for you can be challenging but is paramount to your enjoyment. If you wear glasses, make sure you put in the glasses spacer to avoid scratching your lenses. Take the time to adjust the position of the head strap, making sure to adjust the top and back as well as the angle of the rigid arms on either side of the headset. By pushing or pulling on the plastic caps around the lenses, you can adjust how close or far apart they are with three settings. Some optional upgrades to the basic head strap and face pad are available, but I have yet to encounter any problems with the vanilla setup.
Allow the room you play in to be cooled as things can get hot and sweaty fast. Try to avoid playing in constrictive clothes. If you can, try playing in just underwear! The looser and fewer the clothes, the better. Make sure you have a bottle of water nearby as well!
Many games allow for sitting and standing play. I have found that while sitting play is comfortable, it is often restrictive and less fun. If you are able to play standing it is better in nearly every instance.
You may be aware that there are generally multiple methods of locomotion in virtual reality. Some induce nausea in some individuals and some are more comfortable. In my experience, I have had no nausea or discomfort with any locomotion method in any game I have played but my wife had trouble with the game Lone Echo. In Lone Echo, you use your hands to maneuver yourself through a zero-gravity environment -- this produced strong nausea and disorientation in my wife who had to sit out for a few minutes.
If this happens to you, don't get discouraged. Many users have experienced similar experiences and have been able to adjust themselves over time until discomfort has subsided entirely.
Choosing the Right First Experiences
There are plentiful options for virtual reality titles and it can be tempting to jump right into a huge complex title like Boneworks or Half-Life: Alyx but I have and will continue to warn against this. Instead, you should start off with some titles like the ones below:
The Quest 2 features a great free tutorial application called First Steps. It is the best tutorial-to-VR that exists at the time of writing. It is a beautiful, comfortable and enjoyable experience start to finish and it's appropriate for all ages of VR-users, meaning you can convert younglings with it.
After finishing First Steps, another great free introduction to VR is The Lab. The Lab was developed by Valve and consists of a few mini-games and experiences set in a Portal-themed environment. The experiences are easy to understand and beautifully show off some of the potentials of VR in a comfortable and charming environment. Each experience and even the hub is clearly made with that classic Valve writing style and attention to detail. Downloading this one for free almost feels like a crime.
Beat Saber is a VR classic and for good reason. It is a simple rhythm concept executed perfectly. You use two lightsabers to slice boxes to the rhythm of a song. The audio and visual design is made specifically to make you into a dual-lightsaber wielding badass sweating your ass off while genociding blue and red boxes. I've sunk an ungodly amount of hours into this game on the Steam version where you can download custom audio maps (I don't believe the Oculus store version currently has this capability). There are also official audio maps available at a price. This one is always good to break out during parties to amaze (and terrify at good I'm getting) guests. Everyone seems to have a blast with this one.
Some honorable mentions are Fruit Ninja VR, Job Simulator, Vacation Simulator and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rickality.
Once you've finished acclimating yourself to VR these are the games you MUST play.
The VR adaptation of the wildly successful indie hit Superhot. All the same rules apply: time moves when you do. Kill them all.
The gameplay loop is incredibly simple yet incredibly intense. This game is best played knowing as little about it as possible though. In my opinion it far surpasses the original game and is quite possibly one of the most fun VR games, though it is a bit on the short side (lasting about 2 hours from start to finish). It has a ton of replayability once you finish the main campaign.
Gorn puts you in the shoes of an unstoppable, bloodthirsty gladiator facing off against hordes of bald meatheads. You're giving a variety of fun -- and oddly stretchy -- weapons to eviscerate your foes with. The game has mastering satisfying gore. You can pull limbs and heads off of enemies with relative ease, tear the heart from your foe's chest and send opponents careening through the air with powerful whacks from blunt weapons.
The main campaign will have you busy for several hours and once you're finished you will have unlocked plenty of sandbox options to play around with in the custom mode. Easily my favorite melee combat VR game.
A word of warning: this game may lead to an increased risk of bloody knuckles. I have punched the wall about a dozen times playing this game but have thankfully not injured myself nor the controllers.
No VR game recommendation would be complete without this total masterpiece. Alyx sets itself apart from other VR games by it's sheer breadth. While most VR experiences can be completed in a single session, Alyx features a full-length campaign filled to the brim with details and gorgeous views of the grim world of City 17. There is really nothing I can say to do honor to this game. It has everything you know and love from Valve's past titles in spades. Make sure you've played the previous Half-Life games before jumping in to this one...but if you're reading this you're supposed to be a serious gamer. ;)
As a bonus, this game also features some of the most comprehensive comfort and accessibility options available in VR as of writing.
Boneworks is strange. It is a sandbox physics action adventure similar to Half-Life 2 but with a heavy focus on the physics sandbox elements. The story is really secondary to the enjoyment of this game as its main gimmick is the fully-simulated body. Unlike most other VR games, you cannot intersect your arms with each other or the environment -- this leads to interesting realistic actions like the inability to close a door when your hand is on the other side of it. You spend most of your time navigating a research compound filled with rogue AI. None of the combat or puzzles are scripted in any way -- leading you to find the solution to each in your own (sometimes unconventional) way.
This game is not for new VR gamers in any capacity. It is a bit ugly, a bit frustrating, a bit confusing, a bit janky but totally worth it for the experience.
Some honorable mentions are Blade & Sorcery, Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades (H3VR), The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, I Expect You to Die and Arizona Sunshine.
If you follow this guide, you will see how VR is so appealing. The possibilities in this relatively new medium are endless and the VR library continues to grow. Don't listen to the detractors -- if you're serious about games it's time to get VR.
Now you have everything you need to feel like a kid again and to fall in love with VR -- all you need now is a headset. Good luck securing your headset and happy gaming!