Anshar Online Review (In Progress) – Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go
Note: I’ve played a lot of Anshar Online over the last several days but I haven’t finished it yet. Should anything come up that I feel is important to add I will add it with an update tag below the TL;DR section.
So far, Anshar Online is a great experience. It’s a ton of fun whether you play alone or with friends. There is more to do than in previous Anshar entries thanks to side missions, loot collection, and leveling up your ship. There is also more variety in the type of gameplay offered in each level. The control scheme, while not everyone’s cup of tea, is tight and perfectly suited to this sort of game. Would it be nice to have other options? Sure. Options are always nice. But more control schemes mean less time building out the game and I for one am happy with the state of the game overall and don’t blame OZWE for really investing the time to make their chosen scheme work. Anshar Online is in the mid-price range for games on the Gear VR, but it’s at the very low range for Rift. It’s also not a one and done game like many VR experiences. There is enough here to keep a player coming back for a long time.
Update 1: I just played a level that is quite different from others in the game. Whereas the game up to this point had focused mostly on dogfighting and direct attacking of enemies, this level had me piloting a drone through a secure facility, hiding in ducts to escape the roving security bots. They weren’t hard to avoid as they can be heard from quite far off, giving you plenty of time to find a place to hide. It’s actually really cool with the spatial sound as often when in the duct you can’t see the camera go by, but you can hear and feel it go by. It actually makes for some pretty tense gaming. The only downside, and how big of a downside this is will depend on what sort of gamer you are, is that it was a bit hard to find my way around without a map. I will say this and hope that it’s not considered spoilery; it wasn’t that the facility was confusing, it’s that I wasn’t observant enough. They to completion is CONSTANT VIGILANCE!
Every once in a while a game comes along that I have a really hard time reviewing. Usually, it’s when I’m reviewing a game that I was really excited for but that didn’t initially live up to my expectations. Anshar Online is such a game. The problem, I’ve come to realize, isn’t the game, it’s me. I loved Anshar Wars 2 way too much to come at Anshar Online with any objectivity. I wanted more of the same, but bigger and better. Some of the changes were so jarring right out of the gate that I was thrown off balance immediately and that was colouring my view of Anshar Online. Once I had spent enough time with it to allow Anshar Online to exist in my brain separate from Anshar Wars 2 what I’ve found is an experience that hits most of the same notes that I loved in Anshar Wars 2, but also goes deeper and provides what should ultimately prove to be a better and more replayable experience.
What has been tripping me up while I tried to write this review is getting too wrapped up in comparing it to Anshar Wars 2. If you’ve played Anshar Wars 2 and you loved it, I feel confident enough to tell you that you will either love Anshar Online right out of the gate, or you will grow to love it. For the rest of you, I’m going to proceed as much as possible as though Anshar Wars 2 doesn’t exist and review Anshar Online on its own merits.
Anshar Online is an online “massively multiplayer” arcade space shooter from developers OZWE Games who have been developing the Anshar universe across three games now. It consists of fifty levels including the main story missions, contract missions, and assault missions as well as a couple of space races all of which are playable alone, or with up to 5 players. There is also a PVP arena where eight people can battle it out to see who is the best dogfighter is space. Every mode can be played alone or with others.
If you enter the PVP arena and no one is there, you can fly around killing NPC bots and mounted guns which is great practice for when you find real players to play against. Unfortunately, that is pretty rare, but it’s getting better with each passing day. When you take on a race alone it’s simply a time trial (at the time of this writing I hold the top spot. Please, please, buy this game and change that. It’s an embarrassment to gamers everywhere that I should be number 1.) Obviously, these two modes are better with others, but they are still quite entertaining on their own. The story missions are great alone or with friends. It’s nice (and a bit easier) to have friends with you, but if they aren’t there it just feels like a great single player game.
OZWE are no strangers to the problem of multiplayer games on Gear VR. Making a game that is just as fun alone as with friends and one where friends can jump in at any time with you couldn’t have been easy, but it’s just what the platform needs. They have done everything they can possibly do to allow for multiplayer matches by releasing Anshar Online on every Oculus platform and enabling crossplay (unfortunately not cross-buy, but OZWE CEO Stephane Intissar has told me that they do not have control over that.) Anshar Online was recently the deal of the day and that seemed to have helped with the numbers but a game of this quality, even at the regular $8.99 CA asking price should have a lot more players than it does.
Anshar Online does have to get over the mountain of prejudice that people have against certain types of games in VR. Previous Anshar games have been third-person only, but Anshar Online allows for third-person and cockpit view so if you really want that extra immersion, it’s there. The other oft-cited “problem” is that the ship is controlled with your head movement. There have been other flying games where the ship is controlled with your gaze, but the Anshar games have nearly perfected this type of control scheme and it is kind of like their calling card.
In Anshar Online the ship doesn’t feel like it is stuck to your face on a stick, but instead lerps (transitions smoothly) between its current position and your gaze position so that it actually feels like you’re flying the ship with your head. If you desire it and you have a gamepad, you can rotate the ship with the right thumbstick but doing so has never felt as good as using the control scheme that Anshar was designed for. By using your head for steering you can make much tighter turns than you would be able to otherwise because you turn at the speed you can turn your head. When you are zipping around asteroids, inside tight quarters or engaged in a frenetic dogfight it just feels like you have much tighter control over your ship. If this is the reason you have been keeping away, I really think you ought to give it a shot because even if you don’t come to love it like I do, it’s still going to be serviceable and the rest of the game is just awesome. Having said that, it would be pretty awesome to have some method for free looking, even if it were just holding a button to detach your view from the ship while pressed.
The amazing amount of content isn’t the only thing that will keep you coming back to Anshar Online. For the first time, you also get to level up your ship by collecting loot from downed enemies and from defeating other players in races and deathmatches. This loot includes currency as well as various modules you can attach to your ship giving slight boosts to your current health, shield and attack powers. You can also unlock skill trees in each of these modes so there is plenty to do to keep you coming back for more. On top of these purchased upgrades, there are also special abilities that unlock at certain levels, depending on which ship you are using. These special abilities include the backward teleporter from Anshar Wars 2 plus several new additions like a stun missile, a cloaking device and several others that you can see for yourself when you play the game (I don’t want to spoil everything for you. That and I don’t remember what they are at the moment.)
Visually, Anshar Online is great for mobile VR and decent for Rift. Rift users are certainly accustomed to higher-end graphics than they will find here, but they are also accustomed to higher prices than they will find here. Anshar Online is arcade through and though. It makes no attempt to be a realistic simulation of the life of a space fighter. That’s not to say that Anshar isn’t nice to look at. It definitely is. It just has a lower poly count and hand painted textures that are the norm on mobile VR and not so much on PC VR systems. If you played Anshar Wars 2 you know what to expect. If not, I’ve provided you with some gorgeous Anshar Online artwork from the OZWE website.
To a new user, Anshar Online might be a little bit confusing at first. The level up your ship you have to go to the hanger, but the hanger can’t currently be accessed from the hub world. Instead you have to visit it through the menu system (press menu, go to Travel –> Go To Hanger.) it’s a bit clunky and as far as I know, this is only ever explained in the text that appears on some loading screens. Certainly, players will find it just by searching around in the menus after a while, but it does seem like it should be out in the hub world as a destination to fly to since it is so important to how the game is played. OZWE are great about listening to player feedback so I’m sure this will change in the near future.
Speaking of the hub world, it was one of the things about Anshar Online that I initially didn’t care for. But as I’ve played the game more I’ve come to like it quite a bit. Flying around it, zipping between buildings, flying through underground tunnels and just exploring is a lot of fun and can have you feeling like an Ace pilot. The stages, races and PVP Arena are accessed through nodes placed around the city. Each node has a spotlight shooting to the sky making them easier to find and it makes the city look much more alive as more and more of them appear. The only thing that I find a bit strange is the placement of the story nodes. At first, I thought they were following a path of white gates that snakes through the center of the city, but when I got to the later levels I found that wasn’t the case. This means you will occasionally have to explore the city to find your next mission. This is a good way to force exploration, but for those who just want to go to the next mission, it could be seen as an annoyance.
Perhaps the weakest area of Anshar Online is the story. Well, not the story itself, which is about investigating the death of your best friend during an ambush in the training level, but rather the delivery of the story. The story is delivered through cutscenes at the start of each level where people are speaking to you, presumably over your intercom. The person speaking shows up as an unanimated image floating in front of you. The artwork is nice and the voice acting is great for the most part, it’s just not a very engaging way to tell the story. OZWE is aware that some gamers don’t care and just want to shoot stuff, so you can skip cutscenes even if it’s your first time seeing. However, sometimes what you are supposed to do is explained during those scenes so without watching, you might feel a little lost. But there are always markers letting you know where to go, so you’ll be able to figure it out.
So far, Anshar Online is a great experience. It’s a ton of fun whether you play alone or with friends. There is more to do than in previous Anshar entries thanks to side missions, loot collection, and leveling up your ship. The control scheme, while not everyone’s cup of tea, is tight and perfectly suited to this sort of game. Would it be nice to have other options? Sure. Options are always nice. But more control schemes mean less time building out the game and I for one am happy with the state of the game overall and don’t blame OZWE for really investing the time to make their chosen scheme work. Anshar Online is in the mid-price range for games on the Gear VR, but it’s at the very low range for Rift. It’s also not a one and done game like many VR experiences. There is enough here to keep a player coming back for a long time.
Daryle Henry | Dads And Dragons
Oculus ID: theregoes2