Anybody around my age remembers rocking out on Guitar Hero or Rock Band in the basement with their friends, drumming their arms to exhaustion and screaming their voices hoarse, getting a high score, and doing it all over again with a grin on their faces. These types of games are no longer in vogue, and neither has seen a truly high-profile entry in the series in years. However, with virtual reality gaining traction, that may soon change. Enter the indie VR title Drums of War by Grind Core Games LLC and veteran game designer Alan Flores (Guitar Hero 3, Guitar Hero: Metallica, THUG 2)
In my opinion, Drums of War is an excellent example of the sort of creative game design that is made possible by virtual reality. You play as an orc war drummer leading the charge against dwarves and their villages as you burn them to the ground and free captured orc warriors to join your cause. You beat on an oversized drum set with multiple drums that all serve a different function. You have two that fire a pair of cannons to blow away your enemies, two that rotate your character and alternate your foot movements, and two that allow you to strafe to the right and left. Alternatively , you can aim one of your two drum sticks and smack it with the other stick to shoot fireballs in an arc wherever you’re aiming.
Gameplay consists of alternating your movement drums to navigate through levels and using your various methods of attack to wreak destruction upon dwarven attackers and their homes. At first, movement felt a little clunky and I was having trouble managing to move, rotate, aim, and fire all at once. However, after a bit of time with it, I had the controls down pat and was charging forward, blowing away dwarves and demolishing buildings, all while head banging to the absolutely killer heavy metal soundtrack that plays in the background (provided by Gabe Castro, composer from The Forest, as well as bands Exmortus and Warbringer). Once I had really gotten into the zone, I found myself cackling with glee as I smashed down on my drums to the beat of the music, barreling through villages and watching the pitiful dwarves fall at my feet as I freed my orc brothers to wreak even more mayhem. It’s a power trip in the best kind of way that makes you really feel like a leader in a fantasy war.
Visually, the game has lots of bright, fun colors that contrast with the blood and fire that erupts from enemies and buildings as you demolish them. It reminds me of the sort of blocky, low-poly fantasy games of yore, such as World of Warcraft, which is to this game’s benefit. While being nostalgic in nature and conjuring up images of games I played as a child and teenager, the lower visual fidelity also means it runs very smoothly, an important aspect of a VR game. I didn’t experience any motion sickness or fatigue while playing, and found myself easily able to spend at least a couple hours if not more parading my drum kit around the world of Drums of War. There are many VR titles with higher visual fidelity that require a pretty powerful PC to run at a frame rate that doesn’t make you want to projectile vomit across your living room, so Drums of War fits into a category of more entry-level VR games that a more potato-ish system could run, making it more accessible to people just starting out in VR.
On the whole, Drums of War is one of those games that’s easy to learn, hard to master. It’s accessible to people that are brand new to VR, but won’t leave long-time users wanting. The soundtrack is an absolute banger, the gameplay is solid, and the core gameplay loop is addictive and will have you coming back over and over again. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some dirty dwarves I have to get back to destroying.