Developer / Publisher – Stalwart Games
Price – US $19.99 / CA $23.99 / EU €19.99 / UK £17.99
Release Date – February 9th, 2023
Input – 2 x Touch Controllers
Play Area – Seated, Standing, Roomscale
Store Links – Meta, Steam
Reviewed on – Quest 2
I need to get this out of the way, I don’t really care for physics based brawlers like Gorn, Drunkn Bar Fight, Blade & Sorcery and so on as while they can be fun in small doses, I find these games to be rather shallow, typically lacking any sort of campaign or reason I need to play outside of just hopping on to deliver a ton of damage and feel like a badass while doing it. Barbaria does offer that sort of visceral combat but tags on a pseudo campaign, places you in the role of a god by letting you customize everything from your warriors to realms and includes a substantial upgrade system for everything you can lay your massive hands on.
The premise is simple with you, as a semi-god, tasked with attacking other semi-gods bases in asynchronous multiplayer bouts or taking on any of the AI and challenge missions at your leisure. An opening tutorial teaches you the basics of melee combat by possessing your champion, which does feel very much akin to Gorn, though the physics here are dialed back compared that title, but still allow for well placed strikes, blocks, beheadings, and the ability to launch foes in the air and keep striking them while they flail helplessly above the ground. The physics at play might not be as impressive as in other available brawlers, but what’s here still offers satisfying encounters with a decent learning curve as new weapons, powers and abilities are introduced.
Outside of playing as your champion, you can leave his body and look over the entire arena as if it were a scale model, which at the game’s onset are typically small. From this vantage point you can use your godlike abilities to assist your troops by healing them, launching meteor strikes or even confusing the enemy with your champion being protected by a shield for a brief period before acting on its own accord until you possess him once more. You are successful when all the enemies and spawn points in a stage have been destroyed and in doing so, you’ll earn loot that can be spent on upgrading your champion, his weapons, unlockable minions and the various traps and items you can place on your realm that are randomly unlocked after a victory. Whether you are defending or attacking, all of your powers and abilities are available to you though as the multiplayer elements are asynchronous, you’ll never actively defend against other players, just AI battles.
New hub stations are introduced one at time to ease you into balancing all your options with relative ease which include various pedestals containing weapons for your monsters, minions that can accompany your champion on an assault or defend your base, realm expansions that can be added to each other once you level your realm up, traps and other more random objects you can place like fences, healing totems and a bunch more. You can attack as much as you want and as you move up and down in the ranks, you will be matched with foes equivalent to your defence or offence ranking. Throw in daily objectives for bonus loot, color and logo options, an arena mode that pits your champion against waves of enemies while removing your godly powers, more challenging defences that offer better loot and you get what might just be the most in-depth VR brawler I have ever played.
You’ll have to contend with little goblin-like peons who will attack you with just about anything from fists, swords, bow and arrows or just stones lying around while skeletons will lob their exploding heads your way trying to take you out from a distance. Skeletons also need to be dispatched by blunt objects as bladed weapons do little damage while magic wielding wraiths do their best to stay away from you while tossing spells your way. Throw in spell casters, enemy champions & tougher monsters and things can get very challenging as you climb the ranks. Each enemy has their own strengths and weaknesses and individually might not offer much challenge but when they gang up you and an enemy champion or mini-boss type foe is also out to get you, death can occur in seconds. This is where jumping from champion to god could be the difference in a victory or defeat, so in order to keep getting better, you’ll have get good at all the elements at play while continuing to upgrade everything and it’s all actually quite addicting!
Losing sucks, there’s no way around it and Barbaria punishes you for sucking or biting off more than you can chew but victory is ohhhhhh so sweet. Every single upgrade feels like a step forward so whether I played it slow, choosing opponents that offered less challenge (and less reward) or risked facing stronger foes and winning, when I was progressing upwards, I really did feel like I was becoming more powerful. On that note though, on a few occasions, I seemed to hit walls where I couldn’t defeat tougher foes and wasn’t really unlocking new items either causing me to be stuck in a loop where upgrades were happening slowly and progress seemed to all but stop turning these times into monotonous grinds as I lost and won equally and my rank became somewhat stagnant. It’s in those moments when the game began to feel grindy as failure doesn’t reward you with much except downgrading to fight easier opponents until you rank up to lose again. This is where getting good comes in to play and the changing of tactics is probably necessary but even with that in mind, sometimes matchups just feel unfair.
The comparison to Gorn don’t end with the combat as this very much looks like it could take place in the same universe thanks to your massive and muscular arms and stylized cartoonish art-style that makes many enemies look comical, especially with some of them having large bulbous eyes. Foes come in a wide range and while each realm consists of pre-built sections that will repeat, thanks to the way they can be linked together and that elements in each realm can be placed just about anywhere, no 2 layouts are ever quite the same. When playing as the champion you’ll walk around each stone-built arena, some with higher and lower levels, with the backgrounds being little more than various types of clouds or fog. Zooming out as a Semi-god lets you view the entire realm in real-time as the AI continues to battle and it’s an awesome effect that made me feel a little more god-like. You can also replay any attacks or defences from your god-like vantage point and check out where you went wrong or just bask in your victories. No matter the size of the arenas, you can see them in their entirety from above or on the field, which is awesome and as a total package, I was fairly impressed with the Quest 2 version of this title!
Nothing speaks to you in Barbaria, or at least not verbally with most of the creatures in your hub area communicating by signage and depending upon where you are in the game you could be treated to some generic but upbeat heavy metal riffs, smooth jazz or even a classical number which was fairly entertaining. When it’s time for battle, you’ll be treated to a host of sound effects that perfectly match the action and often alerted me to incoming attacks be it the beeping of exploding skulls, incoming arrows or just peons trying to gang up on you. Every impact of you weapons or use of powers is brutal and satisfying with the entire presentation here being absolutely solid.
I really like Barbaria and while it did annoy me during the grindier bits, it’s a game that can be as easily picked up as it can to be to put down and while defeat does suck, every success does allow for a little progression meaning you could hop on for just a round or 2 or sink substantially more time playing and make headway either way. Combine that pick-up-and-play nature of the game, the depth of the mechanics and just how fun the combat actually is and that all makes for one heck of a VR brawler for a very decent price.
Meta provided press coded for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!