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Barbaria Review: Dungeon Builder Meets Hack N’ Slash (Oculus Quest)

Barbaria VR is a mashup of Dungeon Master/ Clash of Clans and Gorn. The unique combination encourages competitive play between players and an incentive to burn a few more calories by raiding enemy strongholds. However, past the core gameplay loop is where Barbaria struggles; graphics, sound, and story all have areas to improve.

Barbaria Review: Dungeon Builder Meets Hack N' Slash

Ever feel like burning some calories and getting a sweet hit of dopamine Clash of Clans style? Barbaria is a new VR title that takes after the arena fighter Gorn with a meaningful progression system involving construction of your own dungeon to defend. The title has a strong gameplay foundation, potentially winning a sneaky ‘must add’ to any VR gamer’s library. However, the title is a little skimpy on content, once you understand the main gameplay loop. The title does hint at possible expansions, so those looking for a more fleshed out story should wait for a sale or further development. You can read more VR game reviews here at KeenGamer.

Barbaria VR is available for $19.99 USD on Steam, Oculus, and the Meta Quest Store.

Barbaria VR Release Trailer

Story – A Long Tutorial

The story of Barbaria VR depends on a lengthy tutorial to introduce you to the game’s various modes and nuances of gameplay. Players are a semi-deity to have the power to possess entities, similar to Asgard’s Wrath. Your tasks include getting your chosen hero through an endless assortment of dungeons and to defend your own against players and ‘the ancients’, various NPC waves that do put your dungeon to the test. You’ll find that the story is just a canvas (at least, right now) for the much more engaging gameplay that Barbaria offers. In short, context is available for the actions you are taking, but it’s not very deep. However, there is some potential for story content with the structure that the developers have laid forth so far.

Fighting against an Enemy Hero

Fighting against an Enemy Hero

Gameplay – The Reason Why

The strongest draw of Barbaria VR will be its gameplay. Tying in the inherently pointless grind of a mobile game to physical fitness is something I would like to see more VR games do, as fitness is a strength of the medium. The core of the game is very reminiscent of Gorn. Combat feels good and satisfying, even if it is not striving for realism. Weapons are light in your massively strong arms, and connect when you want them too. On the flip side, defending is a little tricky compared to other melee games, and takes recognition of enemy patterns and exaggerated gestures to get down right.

A Selection of Cartoon Violence

To break down the nuances of combat: Players will find that the scale of the first person view is a little different than other arena fighters, as you’ll really feel like a buff medieval warrior. Melee weapons have little drag, and are broken up into either ‘crushing’ or ‘piercing’ weapons. Bone based enemies, such as liches and skeletons will take little damage from piercing weapons (swords, arrows, and axes) and take more damage from crush weapons, such as mallets and fists. This adds some micro management to what you equip your allies with and what you choose to upgrade in the points shop.

The current list of gear includes: two types of swords, bow and arrows, axes, throwing axes, bombs, shields, and magic staves, all with their own gameplay style. You’ll also find that equipment picked up in the dungeon – and not your own – is prone to breaking. Enemies and allies will pick up gear if they are unarmed as well, adding some strategy to placement of weapon racks in your own dungeon.

I found it motivating to log in to see if my defenses held against invading opponents. It’s also motivating to try to push your ranking lower by completing successful raids. Upon completion of a successful offensive or defensive play, you’ll be rewarded with a loot box to open.

God View, where you build dungeons and cast God abilities from

God View, where you build dungeons and cast God abilities from

Dungeon Master

One of the main distractions from the core hack n’ slash Gorn-style grind through player generated dungeons will be the creation of your own in god mode. Players can beef up their defenses with blockades, traps, cannons, and enemies won through the aforementioned loot boxes. Your view will not be from first person, but instead an RTS omniscient sort of view. The main pleasure in this mode is figuring out lethal combinations of the various moving parts in the various dungeon rooms, which all have different topographies. You’ll also get to view replays of victories and defeats to strengthen your strategy.

You can upgrade all components of your dungeon too, from the enemy spawners, to individual enemies, to weapons, to cannons, to traps. There are many different ways to go on the attack and defense. This offers a lot of value to the replayability of the title, as players are prone to picking up different strategies to dispatch opponents.

Rank System Motivation

After you make a few successful (or unsuccessful) defensive or offensive play, players will find that the ranking system works as intended upon release, which is seriously impressive for a new studio. I found that the dungeon’s difficulty often corresponded to its defensive ranking, and rarely found one that was too difficult or too easy to be enjoyable at my player level. The Game motivates players to push rankings on both offence and defense. Given the gap between the challenger and challengee, the reward may vary.

Night fight

Night fight

Sound + Graphics Design – Mobiltastic

The graphics and music choices of the developer are a little questionable, and feels like the creator delved a little bit too much into the Unity asset store. It’s understandable to keep the poly count low for the mobile platform, but that’s where other games with stronger artist designs will shine. Normally gameplay takes precedence over graphics, but when a game is strapped to your face for several hours, you’ll want to look at prettier scenery than the constant dark gray simple stone that the environments are made of. In fact, that was what got me to quit my first play session of a few hours.

Environments and Enemies – Cohesive Yet Overly Simplistic

A more diverse environment pack would have made the game a lot more enjoyable, such as some greenery/sand modules in the future. This is especially important in a game that demands more repetition and grinding than other titles.

There are several enemies/allies you’ll encounter in the game. All of them are low poly and take from a simple color palette. The imps are either red or green depending on if they are on your side, and there are also monsters that are called ‘zealots’ that are humanoid in shape, skeletons, liches, and enemy heroes whose accents match the clan colors of either yourself or the enemy’s stronghold that you’re storming.

You’ll be able to determine your own clan colors once you get through a certain point in the tutorial.

Fighting against a Colussus

Fighting against a Colussus

Humor Is in the Design

You’ll find that humor is an aspect of all parts of the game’s presentation, from the model walkway that a miniature model pokes out to preview your clan’s highlights when you change them, to various aspects of the game’s signage.

The sound also relies partially on comedic tones, and it’s one of the directions I find lacking. You’ll have pop-rock tunes for the times you are defending/or invading dungeons, and it’s a big tone shift from the medieval cartoon visuals. Again, personal taste – but I prefer immersion over comedy in a VR title, and would look for humor more in a mobile game. There are only a few tracks, which didn’t stand out to me in particular.

Previous titles have had large graphics shifts over time, such as Swordsman VR and Blade and Sorcery, so one can hope the new studio goes for a graphics/ sound overhaul in the future. Yet, I wouldn’t recommend players wait for one. If players can see past the downsides of the simplistic graphics design and enjoy arena fighters in VR, Barbaria is worth purchasing.

Barbaria was reviewed on Oculus Quest. 

Barbaria VR has a strong core that will appeal to fitness enthusiasts and medieval combat/rts enjoyers at the casual level. Given the unique nature of the game, it is worth adding to most VR libraries; and a must buy for those who have enjoyed titles such as "dungeon master' and 'Clash of Clans' as well as 'Gorn'. However, if graphics, story, and sound design are important to the player, one should perhaps wait for a sale or further development of the title. With light promises of further content, it is at least worth keeping an eye on.
  • Strong Core Foundation
  • Satisfying Melee Combat
  • Competitive Replay Value
  • Out of Place Sound Design
  • Unattractive Enemies and Environment
  • Long Tutorial instead of Story

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