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Skyworld VR review – virtual tabletops

Skyworld (PSVR) – a new reality of strategy game
A new PlayStation VR game offers a very different kind of real-time strategy action and an interface that could only work in virtual reality.
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If you’ve ever played a tabletop war game you’ll know that a lot of imagination is required to get from a gaggle of badly-painted lead figures and a couple of cardboard trees to a sense of an internecine magical war of good vs. evil. Fortunately, technology has been catching up with fantasy, and Skyworld’s colourful resource management and real-time battles take place on a circular virtual table right in front of you, no imagination needed.
In each of the game’s disc-shaped worlds there are two castles, one belonging to you and one to the forces of evil. Defending yours whilst destroying theirs is the order of the day, and you do that by gradually taking over lands around the table until you can mount an attack on their base. You’ll be building resource structures, assigning workers, and setting levels of taxation and food rations – the two factors that affect your workers’ happiness and likelihood of staying. Tax your staff too heavily, or fail to feed them properly, and they’ll vote with their feet.
Aside from HR, you have two other jobs to do as commanding officer of the goodies. One is managing production of the gold, food, wood, iron, stone, and magic your kingdom needs to thrive and expand. That’s done without any time constraint, letting you think about what to build, and what you’re likely to need next – planning ahead for stocks of key commodities is vital.

Your other job is to fight battles, which unlike resource juggling, take place in real-time. Like a slow-moving VR version of Clash Royale, you wait for a mana bar to build up, then play unit cards onto the table, twisting your virtual hand to adjust their destination. Once they’ve been laid down they move and fight autonomously, following the path you’ve set and attacking anything they stumble across.
There’s a familiar set of units including swordsmen, different denominations of archer, tank-ish knights, spells, air units, and eventually mechanical dragons. They offer a decent tactical variety and unlock slowly enough that you have a chance to get to grips with each set before having to figure out the next batch. Unsurprisingly, there’s a rock-paper-scissors aspect to engagements, and you soon learn which units are strongest against others.
Between battles you research new cards for your deck, upgrade existing ones, and adjust the order in which they appear in your hand. You can also level up your castle, which makes it harder to destroy and also gives towers and bases higher hit points during battle sequences, improving your chances of prevailing.
It’s not all rosy in the land of Skyworld though, and the game’s biggest weakness is its interface, which looks beautiful, but proves a little too fiddly for its own good. In the resource management phase, you hold down a button to bring up a menu of floating items. Grab one and it expands into a flat board with buttons and levers on it.
The trouble is that the controls are fussy to operate, and you’ll find yourself regularly pulling levers when you meant to click a button, or dragging a slider one notch too far. Rotating the table is especially pernickety.
Skyworld (PSVR) – no assembly required
Once you’ve spawned a menu you can grab and move it around, leaving it to float wherever you leave it, which of course blocks a chunk of your view. It’s a feature that never gets to feel comfortable. The menus, interface, and the way the table flips over to reveal your tax adjusting throne room, card research lab, and upgrade forge look absolutely lovely, but you do wish they were easier to navigate.
While Skyworld is nowhere near as complex as, say, Starcraft, which requires strategically similar resource-mining and troop deployment, there are still plenty of plates to keep spinning. As you work your way through the campaign’s eight worlds you’ll start to lose battles and occasionally entire levels as you learn what works, what doesn’t, and what you definitely should not be doing in order to win.
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As well as the campaign, there’s a battle skirmish mode and fully-fledged multiplayer, which takes place in real-time. Against another human the resource planning phase is timed, and your turns occur simultaneously, so both player’s moves play out at the same time. It helps keep things moving and prevents you having to sit and twiddle your thumbs while your opponent is figuring things out. As with most VR games though, getting a match can take time.
In spite of the shortcomings of its control scheme, Skyworld is a solid and good looking real-time strategy game. It’s also a neat use of VR and something of a dream come true for those used to playing tabletop games that demand more than a little suspension of disbelief.

In Short: Tabletop war-gaming brought to life in real-time, with a fine-looking VR environment and a slightly fiddly interface.
Pros: Interesting, well-balanced combat and tactical resource management. Fighters and environments are colourful and extremely easy on the eye
Cons: Awkward controls and a necessarily simplified real-time strategy model. Only eight worlds.
Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed) and PC
Price: £24.99
Publisher: Vertigo Games
Developer: Wolfdog Interactive
Release Date: 26th March 2019
Age Rating: 12
By Nick Gillett

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