Hands-On: Ironlights Beta Offers Unique And Satisfying Multiplayer Melee Combat


Melee combat can sometimes feel clunky in VR — the weight of your virtual weapons doesn’t match the weight of your controllers, in-game attacks might not keep up with your physical swings and you don’t get that satisfying haptic clang you would expect when two giant hunks of metal clash together.

Ironlights doesn’t exactly solve these problems, but it finds ingenious ways to work around them. The result is a different yet uniquely satisfying multiplayer melee combat game in VR, which also supports LAN connections. What’s even more astonishing is that the game is incredibly polished given its still only in beta.

Ironlights developer E McNeil launched a Kickstarter for game earlier this year, which reached its funding goal about a month later. However, the Kickstarter campaign didn’t present a proof-of-concept — the game was already quite far along the development chain. The Kickstarter was just to help make some further improvements to the game before a Spring launch later this year, which means that after the campaign ended last week, backers who pledged $30 or more received access to a beta version of the game, fully playable already.

Multiple UploadVR staff spent time with the game over the last few days, and despite being in beta, the game feels super satisfying. It does take some getting used to, however, as the mechanics don’t work quite the same as other 1v1 melee combat games. For one, all the combat takes place in slow motion, requiring you to psychically move in slow motion as well. It’s a strange sensation that takes some adjustment at first, but it means that your weapon movements are generally much more consistent with your own physical movement.

Each weapon also only lasts one hit — upon impact, it will shatter and you need to ‘reload’ the sword or weapon by swinging it behind your back. Much like the slow motion mechanic, reloading a sword or a mace takes a bit of readjusting your instincts at first. However, once you get used to it, the reason why becomes clear. The mechanic leads to cleaner, less hectic fights — you start to build a rhythm with your enemy. Once you get the hang of things, battles start to feel like a dance. One-hit-per-swing also solves the problem with haptics, or lack thereof. Because your weapons shatter, you don’t expect that clang and haptic resistance that you would otherwise crave in a melee game.

There are 5 classes to choose from, each with different weapons and play styles. The skill ceiling for each, from the perspective of someone with only a few hours in the game, also seems quite high. You’ll be able to work your way through single player campaigns for each class and find mulitplayer matches online. You can host your own lobbies for private matches, plus if you’re playing against someone on the same network, the game will pick this up and initiate the match through a LAN connection, to eliminate lag and ping. The video embedded above was captured on two separate Oculus Quests, playing a private LAN game against each other on the same network.

There are definitely still some areas for improvement — particular with variety of music, environments and enemy designs — but it is still a beta, and these were some factors that were listed as potential areas for improvement in the Kickstarter campaign anyway. All-in-all, for a game that’s just come out of Kickstarter and launched straight into beta, Ironlights is a fantastically refreshing and fun melee experience.

Ironlights is scheduled for a full release in Spring 2020 on PC VR and Oculus Quest.

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