Skyworld is a charming VR strategy game that likely won't provide enough depth for veteran strategy gamers.

This review was conducted using Oculus Rift. Skyworld is also available for HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality.

From Vertigo Games, creators of Arizona Sunshine, and Wolfdog Interactive, Skyworld is a tabletop strategy game designed exclusively for VR. It pits two players — either human or AI — against each other on a colorful, circular map, where it's a race to take control of plots of land and finally destroy the opposing castle.

It features a lengthy campaign, a singleplayer skirmish mode, and online multiplayer. Is it for you? Let's find out in our review.

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Skyworld is a satisfying blend of real-time and turn-based strategy

Both real-time and turn-based strategy games are among my favorites; I still play Age of Empires II on a regular basis, and there's a welcome spot in my library for each new Civilization game. Skyworld cannot be placed directly into either genre, but does a good job instead of offering a mix of both. Instead of a large, rectangular map that can be scrolled across, the entire match takes place on a number of rotating, circular tabletops.

You must gather resources by purchasing and placing the correct buildings and assigning workers, you must upgrade your armies with the collected resources, you must balance your economy to grow your population, and you must move your General(s) around the board. This all happens in a turn-based model, so you can take your time planning things out without fear of being rushed by the enemy.

Skyworld review

Moving workers to balance my economy.

If two enemy Generals meet on the battlefield, the tabletop on which the world is situated flips over, and a fight happens in real time with you calling the shots from above. Once the battle concludes, win or lose, the table flips back over to the Overworld where it's again a turn-based approach. This mix of genres works well, letting a player control the more complex aspects of the game at their own pace, while still providing a real-time battle scenario that requires focus and quick thinking.

The only issue here is in online multiplayer. Playing against AI, opposing turns pass almost instantly so that you can get back to planning. When you're against another human, expect them to take just as long as you do. This isn't so bad if both players are proficient, but expect some delays if you play against someone who's new.

Skyworld has a lengthy campaign

Skyworld review

Moving my General across the board.

The universe here is made up of multiple islands that float in the sky, known as Skyworlds. Clever, right? Each Skyworld has habitable land in a ring around a centerpiece, in most cases a mountain or tree. Everything is running smoothly, at least until some demons arrive through a portal and immediately begin taking over the land on the opposite side of the table. I've already set up shop here, and their existence just won't do.

To help you get an idea of how the game works, the campaign mode starts off slow, spoon feeding you hints and tips on how to maneuver the board. As you learn the gameplay mechanics, you'll eventually destroy the demon's castle and vanquish them from the land. However, there are plenty more Skyworlds here and there are reports flooding in that they're also being attacked. The tutorial is built quite seamlessly into the opening match, and you don't really ever feel like it's dragging on.

In all, there are eight different campaign missions, each one lasting up to about 1.5 hours in length. The matches take place on varying Skyworlds with different landscapes and secondary objectives, but everything eventually comes down to destroying the enemy castle. It's not the most compelling storyline out there, but at least it's lengthy and varied. The inclusion of cross-platform multiplayer and offline skirmish modes will also help you reconcile.

Skyworld's gameplay mechanics become tiresome

Skyworld review

Some of the levers you'll be pulling.

Everything in Skyworld is controlled with your hands (in this case using the Oculus Touch controllers), providing a surprising level of immersion for a game that primarily has you looking down at an albeit detailed board. I began my first campaign mission standing up, but the lengthy runtime soon had me pulling up a chair. Thankfully, the table can be rotated 360 degrees, and height and distance can be adjusted. It's easy to see any part of the table, even if you'd rather stay stationary.

To keep track of your resources and armies, there are pop-up windows that you can quickly place anywhere around you. The control window includes a lever as a way to flip the tabletop around to your blacksmith, laboratory, or throne room in order to upgrade your units, research new units, or tweak taxes and rations.

Navigating this interface is at first kind of fun and provides a bit of a steampunk feeling, but the 50th time you have to pull a lever to flip the board, place a card on a press, and pull another lever to upgrade it, you'll be wishing there was an easier way. To be fair, pulling the levers is a clever way to keep you immersed, but strategy vets who are used to hotkeys and fast micromanagement will no doubt begin to feel burdened.

Skyworld's economy isn't deep

Skyworld review

A tally of your resources.

You start each match with a castle as your home base. Here you can upgrade defenses and acquire Generals, who in turn will lead you into battle. There are also resource-generating buildings, like mills, lumber camps, and mines, that must be purchased and placed on an appropriate tile and assigned workers before they'll produce anything. There are only a certain number of appropriate tiles on which to build in one plot of land, and to expand you must move your General into a new plot and build a watch tower. If an enemy General already resides there or if the plot is already owned by the enemy, a battle must decide who is victorious.

Moving workers around to meet ration and resource demands is sometimes necessary. For example, if you know there's a battle coming up you'll no doubt need to up your iron production in order to afford upgrades for your archers and swordsmen. The learning curve isn't steep at all, and your economy will usually remain balanced with only a move or two (if any) per turn. Since upgrading and researching units pretty much requires all the same resources, there's no real need to focus on any one resource to pull off a certain strategy. Being successful is more about owning more plots of land than your enemy on which you can build production buildings.

Once you've done everything you can in a turn, including moving your General, upgrading your army, and placing new buildings, you push a button to end your turn. If during your turn or the enemy's turn two Generals meet on the board — or if a General manages to make it to a castle — the table automatically flips and a real-time battle commences.

To battle!

Choosing to have two separate boards — one for the normal world view and one for a battleground view — keeps the game from feeling stale. These matches can last well over an hour, and hearing the words "To battle!" is welcome.

Skyworld review

Launching a fireball at the enemy.

The actual battleground is made up of two opposing bases, with external watchtowers that fire upon enemies who venture too close. The enemy watchtowers and base must be destroyed using your troops, spells, and siege engines. To deploy your units, you pull cards from a hand and place them on the table; here a group of units appears and begins marching toward the enemy. The cards continuously reappear in your hand in a certain order, and each one costs a bit of mana to deploy. You don't ever run out of troops, so you must deploy the right cards at the right time to get an edge.

Skyworld review

Upgrading cards at the blacksmith.

New military cards can be researched by spending resources in the laboratory, and each card can be upgraded three times at the blacksmith, helping you gain an advantage. However, due to the fact that troops cannot be micromanaged once they're placed on the battlefield — they will march forward and attack whatever is closest — again the strategy only runs so deep.

Spell cards, which allows you to hurl spells at enemy troops and buildings, as well as platforms that, if passed over by your troops provides you with a floating bombard cannon, do mix things up a bit, but I fear that there just isn't enough depth to keep players coming back once the campaign is completed.

Wrapping things up

Skyworld review

Cards and mana count beneath.

The cartoon-y fantasy artwork and attention to detail across the board are probably the best things Skyworld have going for it. The developers clearly fell in love with this world, caring enough to create a polished, complete VR game with soothing music, decent voice acting, and plenty of visual variety. I did experience a couple of crashes, usually at the tail end of a match, but a handy autosave feature that's implemented by default had me back in a match in no time.

The problem here is that longtime strategy fans might find the bottom and sides of this game rather quickly despite its charm. Once you've played for a few hours, balancing your economy becomes easy, and battles are more about getting enough troops out onto the field rather than strategic maneuvers. Sure, you can up the difficulty, but it seems like the AI is then able to cheat rather than out-strategize. That, coupled with the eventually tedious mechanic of pulling levers, might put some off.

Still, you have to applaud the developers for trying something new, and for delivering a finished product with a $30 price tag. It's likely not the best strategy game we will ever see in VR, but it's definitely the best one we have right now.

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Pros

  • Charming and detailed artwork.
  • Feels like a full game.
  • Tasty blend of real-time and turn-based strategy.
  • Lengthy campaign.
  • Cross-platform multiplayer.

Cons:

  • Some mechanics grow tiresome.
  • Might not be deep enough.
  • Saw some crashes.

Incredible

4/5