Asgard's Wrath 2 and the year VR went AAA

Official screenshots of Asgard's Wrath 2 running on Meta Quest 3
(Image credit: Sanzaru Games)

When I first got to play Assassin's Creed Nexus VR a few weeks ago, I could hardly believe what I was experiencing. This was a full Assassin's Creed game in VR. Not a collection of Assassin's Creed-themed minigames or a short "VR experience" as we've become so accustomed to. It's the real thing, and it's available right now.

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In his weekly column, Android Central Senior Content Producer Nick Sutrich delves into all things VR, from new hardware to new games, upcoming technologies, and so much more.

Fast forward to just two weeks later when I finally got my hands on Asgard's Wrath 2, the game Meta has been hyping up all year long as the "killer app" for the Meta Quest 3 when the game launches in mid-December. It's a game that's been in the works since Meta bought the developer nearly four years ago, and it's quite literally the definition of a killer app.

Forget Half-Life: Alyx. Forget Skyrim in VR. This is the VR Action RPG we've been longing for, and it's both got the polish and sophistication of a Valve game combined with the depth of something like Skyrim or Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

It's unheard of in the world of VR — particularly standalone VR consoles like the Meta Quest — but Asgard's Wrath 2 and Assassin's Creed Nexus aren't the only heavy-hitter VR AAA games this year. Far from it, actually. And that's what leads me to proclaim that 2023 is the year VR went AAA, and it's here to stay.


Preorder now to receive a free download of Asgard's Wrath 1 on the Rift store on PC. Plus, get an Asgard's Wrath 2 Meta Quest home environment and an exclusive Asgard's Wrath 2 character bundle for use in Population: One! All Meta Quest 3 owners get the game for free.

Release date: December 15, 2023 (preorder now)

Now presenting: Asgard's Wrath 2

Official screenshots of Asgard's Wrath 2 running on Meta Quest 3

(Image credit: Sanzaru Games)

From the moment you boot up Asgard's Wrath 2, you know it's in a league of its own on the Meta Quest platform. The animation quality, sound effects, and overall presentation of just the intro height adjustment sequence are of higher quality than some games' main campaigns.

Then you get into the story, which is so masterfully told you'd think it was produced by Santa Monica Studio or another developer of its caliber. That's not to say Sanzaru Games isn't a world-class developer — the original Asgard's Wrath has been in the top-recommended PCVR games for years for a reason — it's just that I don't expect this sort of polish in VR.

As much as I love the game, even Assassin's Creed Nexus's story components have a slight bit of "jank" to them at times. Thus far, in the roughly 15 hours I've spent in Asgard's Wrath 2, I have yet to come across anything that feels like the typical jank associated with VR games, many of which are created by small development houses that don't have the time or resources to produce something at this level.

This story is so masterfully told you'd think it was produced by Santa Monica Studio or another developer of its caliber.

As I noted back in June, Asgard's Wrath 2 (or AW2) is the VR Zelda I've been waiting for. To be more accurate, I would say that the game feels like the perfect mashup of Skyrim and an amalgam of 3D Zelda games.

The breadth of the world feels very much like if you took a game the size of Skyrim or Breath of the Wild and broke it up in a way that's more like Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword's open areas. Don't read that wrong, though; AW2's areas are massive and beyond the scope of most VR games, but it isn't a seamless open world like these other games.

I'm okay with this because it allows Sanzaru games to be more cognizant of my time as an adult. It means that I can find checkpoints as I progress through sections of the game while still feeling like I'm treading my own path, all while giving me the freedom to take off the headset when real life comes calling — as it frequently does with a family, kids, and pets.

The breadth of the world feels very much like if you took a game the size of Skyrim or Breath of the Wild and broke it up in a way that's more like Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword's open areas.

AW2's world design is extremely friendly for folks with life responsibilities that go beyond just playing games after school or work. Throughout this review period, I've had plenty of opportunities to test this functionality out and have been pleased with it every time.

The game keeps track of all the treasure chests you open, pots you break, and baddies you dispatch. Even if you re-enter the game and find you're back at a previous checkpoint, you'll find that you won't need to retread everything you've done since your last excursion.

Even the puzzles you solved will be completed, so you can tread along to the next step in your adventure. It's a great quality-of-life feature that kept me from being regularly annoyed at life's interruptions and kept me focused on the game itself instead.

A beast of a game

Official screenshots of Asgard's Wrath 2 running on Meta Quest 3

(Image credit: Sanzaru Games)

Up to this point, I've been allowed to play through the first three of seven Sagas in the game's main story. Sanzaru Games initially told us to expect 60+ hours of main story content but then recently dropped the bomb that most QA testers took an average of 134 hours to complete it.

At this point, I have no idea how long it's going to take me, but I've already spent nearly as long in this game as I had in Assassin's Creed Nexus, which already felt like a no-holds-barred full-length adventure, and I've got at least four more Sagas to complete once the final review build is available!

You'll find names like Forest Whitaker, Tessa Thompson, and Matthew Mercer among the celebrated names in the voice cast.

So what could possibly take so much time? Here's a brief overview of things I've done in the game and what you can expect to find:

  • Harvest, hunt, and mine resources in the world, including plants, animals, ore, gems, and more.
  • Re-explore areas with new powers that allow you to find new things, Metroidvania style.
  • Find and clear out monster dens to earn epic loot. Many of these are hidden and require you to explore quite a bit.
  • Level up and choose from massive skill trees for you and your followers.
  • Collect followers that can also be used as mounts for traversal and puzzles.
  • Craft and cook.
  • Complete side quests from your allies, characters found throughout the world, riddles scattered about ancient monuments, and more.
  • Explore five massive realms that are basically their own game in and of themselves.
  • Spend time in the procedurally-generated Uncharted Rifts for daily rewards.
  • Complete weekly and monthly event quests.
  • And, of course, delve through the main story and all its Zelda-like dungeons.

No doubt, I've missed something in the list above, but I think you understand the point. This is a full-fledged RPG with a truly massive world that's filled with things to do at every turn.

Better yet, the things you'll be doing are actually fun and challenging. Hard mode is no joke, and you'll need to spend a significant amount of time honing your combat skills if you're going to complete the game at this difficulty level.

Too many VR games get combat wrong, but AW2's combat feels visceral and skill-based in a way I've never felt in VR.

Too many VR games get combat wrong, and this is not one of them. Combat feels incredibly visceral, makes a lot of sense, and never feels like it's purposefully slowing things down or making movements overly obvious just to give you the illusion of feeling cool. You'll inherently feel badass when you eventually defeat difficult enemies, and that's the true reward.

Official screenshots of Asgard's Wrath 2 running on Meta Quest 3

(Image credit: Sanzaru Games)

There are even classic Zelda-like dungeons found throughout the world which showcase the way mortals and gods interact with one another. As a god, you'll get the opportunity to both control the mortal and zoom out to a birds' eye view of things.

And, thankfully, the puzzles generally make you feel very clever, as only the first few dungeons areas will attempt to hold your hand to explain basic mechanics.

I love the Zelda-like dungeons scattered throughout each of the game's massive realms.

Even the game's follower mechanic feels deep and rewarding. Unlike Asgard's Wrath 1, AW2 keeps the number of followers down to just five but makes up for that number by providing deeper bonding mechanics with each. Skills and powers are developed as this bond deepens, and it significantly impacts the experience you'll have throughout the game.

Followers can not only be commanded to move or attack but can also be turned into a mount on command. You'll be incredibly grateful by the time you unlock your first follower for this reason alone. As I said, the game's world is massive, and it would take you a lot of time to roam across it without a mount.

Changing expectations

Asgard's Wrath 2 is probably one of the best examples of what a AAA VR game looks like on the latest hardware, but we've seen plenty of high-quality titles launch in 2023, and I can't help being excited for what's to come. Earlier this year, we got what felt like an explosion of AAA VR titles on both the Meta Quest and PlayStation VR2 platforms. The PSVR 2 launched with Horizon: Call of the Mountain and Gran Turismo 7, marking the first VR entry in both massive and storied franchises.

But these two games took up two very different approaches. Horizon COTM was a game built from the ground up for VR, and while it didn't feature the same sweeping vistas and open-world gameplay as the two mainline Horizon titles, it dripped with polish and clever design in a way so many VR games fall short of.

Gran Turismo 7, on the other hand, was an update of the existing game, allowing players to sit in the cockpit using a VR headset for the first time in the series' history. It's this model — updating existing games to include a VR mode — that delivered several other PSVR 2 experiences.

Using that concept, we got Resident Evil 8 VR mode shortly after the PSVR 2's launch, and it was heralded as one of the best VR games of the year because of its polish and depth of gameplay. Like Resident Evil 7, this is a game that feels better in VR because of its first-person gameplay design.

Sony's "hybrid AAA" approach has already delivered some of the best VR experiences of the year.

Now that we're on the cusp of a second Resident Evil VR game in 2023 — that's Resident Evil 4 VR Mode for the PSVR 2 — I can't believe how successful this model has been in such a short time.

Early in 2022 when Sony began teasing the PSVR 2's existence, the company talked about using this "hybrid AAA model" to craft VR experiences that felt every bit as polished and well-presented as their flat-screen versions.

Based on the output we've seen this year, I feel confident that Sony wasn't kidding when it said it would be focusing on this approach for the PS5 and the PSVR 2.

On the Meta Quest side, there's no existing library to pull from to perform a similar "hybrid AAA" model, but that hasn't stopped several developers from working on AAA-level games this year.

When Breachers launched in April this year, I was completely taken aback by the level of polish this Rainbow Six Siege-like game brought to the Meta Quest. The game is also available on Pico and SteamVR platforms, and its lengthy alpha process paid off when delivering the final game that was free of jank and felt exactly as if Ubisoft itself developed Rainbow Six for VR.

Similarly, Ghosts of Tabor launched on Steam Early Access and Meta App Lab earlier this year as an early alpha title ready for players to test. The game was rough when it launched but has since morphed into an incredible experience that promises to be the AAA-level VR version of Escape from Tarkov.

It's already got a massive fan following and even won VR Game of the Year at the 2023 VR Awards, marking a rare event when a beta could be so good as to win such an award.

An official screenshot of the Industrial Zone in Contractors Showdown

(Image credit: Caveman Studios)

Coming up next year, Contractors Showdown promises to bring Call of Duty Warzone-level scale and gunplay to VR, eclipsing Population: One as the biggest VR battle royale game. The game promises to bring in 45 players per round — nearly triple what Population: One allows — and a map the size of Fortnite to battle it out in.

Games like Breachers, Ghosts of Tabor, and Contractors Showdown are made-for-VR versions of popular flat-screen games with loads of polish and deep gameplay.

On top of that, we know that Oculus Publishing is working on over 150 new games, and the list of upcoming Meta Quest games seems to grow every single month. There's no telling how many of these could be classified as "AAA," but I have a feeling at least a handful of them will be.

Plus, if we've learned anything from Sony's strategy with the PSVR 2 up to this point, it's that the company isn't willing to talk about what it's working on until the very last minute. The year 2023 has been nothing but epic for VR, and I can't wait to see what's next.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll finally see GTA: San Andreas VR.

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu