Incredible visuals, lukewarm gameplay.
Available today exclusively on HTC’s Viveport Infinity game subscription service, Beyond The Wall places you in the shoes (boots?) of a member of the Night’s Watch, a rag-tag military order tasked with guarding the Seven Kingdoms against the many threats lurking beyond the wall. While the 7-minute experience could have been an incredible opportunity for fans of the series to step further into the fictional world of Westeros, Beyond The Wall instead offers a half-baked experience that tries to hide a lack of gameplay behind a series of captivating visuals.
Accompanied by a seasoned Ranger and armed with only a broadsword, you’ll exit the safety of Castle Black and enter the unknowns of Northern Westeros for a brief tour of the hostile landscape. I say “tour” because as far as I can tell, you’re never in any real danger during the experience. At one point you’ll find yourself lost in a blinding snow flurry and forced to go toe-to-toe with an absolutely massive ice bear. And while the size and aggressive behavior of the creature was no doubt intimidating, it’s impossible for your character to die. Hit after hit and you’ll still be standing, mindlessly swinging your weapon in every direction in what can only be described as the VR equivalent of button-mashing.
At the end of the journey, you encounter the army of the dead. The scene is set beautifully, with hundreds of White Walkers slowly stepping out from behind the blinding flurry and surrounding you on all sides. As you grip your broadsword—which is now on fire for some reason—undead soldiers begin to advance on your position. From here on out it’s once again a series of mindless swinging as you easily cut your way through wave after wave of White Walkers. There’s no ability to block their attacks, and there’s no way for them to block yours; just a vacuous slugfest. Eventually, once enough White Walkers have surrounded you, the ice will break beneath your feet, and as you sink to the bottom of your watery grave you catch a glimpse of a dragon soaring overhead. Because, why not?
As far as an actual plot goes, there doesn’t appear to be one. There’s zero explanation as to who your character is, what you’re doing beyond the wall, or during what time period the events take place in relation to the books or show.
Poor storytelling and gameplay aside, Beyond the Wall is a gorgeous VR reimagining of the Game of Thrones universe. When the gate opens and the fierce cold of the North begins to fill the tunnel, you can almost feel the frigid winds blowing past you. While exploring the frozen tundra beyond the wall, the snow and blinding flurries feel real. As I dragged the tip of my sword through the mounds of snow I could see the environment respond to my actions. When faced with the towering ice bear, I felt genuinely intimidated by its massive claws and thunderous roar.
“VR is the perfect pairing for Game of Thrones fans who can now step onto the battlefield of Beyond the Wall as part of Viveport Infinity,” said Rikard Steiber, President of Viveport, in an official release. “Beyond the Wall gives you the first-hand experience of joining the Night’s Watch and protecting the realms of men with your flaming sword from the army of the dead.”
“Game of Thrones fans love exploring the world of Westeros and beyond, and now they can feel the rush of fighting the undead from the safety of their home in VR through Viveport,” added Sabrina Caluori, EVP of Digital and Social Marketing at HBO. “We’re committed to giving our fans unique and cutting-edge opportunities for engagement, and we think they’ll love this latest entry in our VR portfolio.”
Beyond the Wall is available now on HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality via Viveport Infinity; subscriptions begin at $12.99 per month.