We’ve seen many great, atmospheric games, like Red Matter and The Wizards for example – any of which are great choices for people who really want to be immersed in their experience. It’s one of the main things that makes VR such an attractive option. So when you combine a very atmospheric game with polished gameplay mechanics that work well on the platform, you’re sure to have a praiseworthy game on your hands. Which is a good segway to a game that’s just exited early access, called Gates of Nowhere.
You might have heard of, or even played Gates of Nowhere before, since it was released in Early Access for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift by developer Symmetrical and publisher IndieGala in 2017. The game is a fantasy dungeon crawler that takes you to the depths of a place that cannot be found outside of a distorted projection of the mind of the one that enters it. Yes, it’s quite the brain teaser, I know.
In the lore of the Gates of Nowhere, this non-place was created by ancient rulers called the Vhelion, who wished to bury a thing even they feared – the Alchemists. An order of beings who believed they have the power over life, death, and the laws of nature. This couldn’t stand in the eyes of the rulers, so they locked them, and their knowledge, away in a place where the monsters come from the fears of the very mind they exist in. You enter this dark tale as Lother, a Seeker, who is trying to recover the lost knowledge of the Alchemists. There have been many seekers who have taken this arduous journey before you, and all of them have failed.
While all of this is makes for an intriguing story, most of it is implied and not explicitly told throughout the game. Because Gates of Nowhere doesn’t have an explicit narrative or objectives for you to complete, beyond exploring ever deeper into the dungeon. That didn’t really matter for most of the game, though, since it does a great job of keeping you busy with combat, alchemy, magic and a little bit of light puzzle solving.
Check out my gameplay video:
Obviously, one of the most important details of creating an atmospheric game, is the visuals. This is probably the area where Gates of Nowhere excels the most. I couldn’t help but stare in awe at almost every new room I entered – even though they were usually filled with more than a few bloodthirsty ghoulish enemies. From the damp walls, to the sparks coming off the flickering torches – the world in The Gates of Nowhere might be dark and dangerous, but it will certainly stop you in your tracks if the monsters don’t get you first.
Luckily, the game autosaves regularly, because death is a constant friend if you’re not careful. Or bad at blocking, like I am. Because the game is very action-heavy, with enemies waiting around almost every corner – and behind a couple of doors too as I suddenly found out to my own dismay (and probably yours if you watched my video) while playing. The enemy AI was well designed with good reactions, strategies and response times. Though they did have this quaint habit of waiting until I walked past a certain invisible line before approaching, sometimes even when they could clearly see me through a door or down a hallway. While this was a little immersion-breaking, it did allow me to catch a much-needed breather at times. Especially when I was switching between weapons in the inventory.
The inventory system in Gates of Nowhere has improved a lot since its Early Access days and it’s much easier and quicker to access weapons or spells now, but this is VR and it’s still a second or two slower than simply pushing a hotkey on your keyboard. Which means switching quickly between weapons during combat isn’t exactly a great option. However, it is necessary, because weapons get damaged and break during the fighting, and sometimes you really need a Frost Bite or Fireball spell to help you quickly wipe out a group of enemies. However, the worst way to fight, for me at least, was with the bow. It just wasn’t a comfortable experience and way too hard to aim properly.
Spells feel much more powerful in Gates of Nowhere than they usually do in other magic-themed VR games. Partly because it takes so long to simply get them. Unlike most other VR games where you just wave your hands or a wand around and magic streams from you in an arc of power, Gates of Nowhere has you craft spells using alchemy and various ingredients you find throughout the world. These spells come in the form of different colored gems that you can put in your inventory and throw on the ground at any time in order to release their power. It’s a nifty twist on the classic spellcaster mechanic, and the spells themselves definitely pack a punch literally and visually. The crafting is pretty straightforward but using these spells take some practice and good timing.
Another thing that’s changed from the Early Access version of Gates of Nowhere, is the movement. Instead of moving an avatar around and getting transported to that location, you can now switch between normal teleportation and smooth movement at will. Both work fine, but feel pretty slow. Especially the smooth locomotion, so neither option is really viable during combat. Which means that the fights usually consisted of me standing in one place and waiting for enemies to come closer so I can off them with my wild arm-swinging technique (a legitimate and very profitable technique of course).
Looking Around The Next Corner
Other than the combat, I encountered a bit of exploration and some light puzzles throughout the game. While most of the dungeon exploration is pretty linear, there was a little bit of freedom to explore here and there which definitely added to the feeling of realism and my excitement as well. Of course, it’s during these times that I could search for ingredients for my spells, but I did encounter a puzzle every now and then, which I needed to solve in order to move on to the next area. None of these were too hard to figure out, but they did fit in really well with the theme of the game and felt like natural impediments to my progression.
Besides a few little annoyances like the slow walking speed and the bow and arrow mechanic, Gates of Nowhere was an incredibly rewarding dungeon crawler game and one of the most visually appealing VR games I’ve had the pleasure to play so far. My only wish was that the story be more prevalent. Gates of Nowhere is available now on Steam for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift at a very reasonable $13.99 US.