ILMxLAB’s three-part series officially comes to a close with a solid, but flawed final episode.
Last week developer ILMxLAB (Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, Vader Immortal) released the third and final episode of its original episodic series, Vader Immortal – A Star Wars VR series. Available on Oculus Rift/Rift S and Oculus Quest headsets, this final entry marks the end of a year-long adventure in which players battled waves of Imperial Stormtroopers and long-dormant sentinel droids, solved a variety of ancient puzzles, and explored the tangled labyrinth that is Vader’s Mustafar castle, all while mastering the ways of the Force and learning to wield a lightsaber.
For Star Wars fans, the series offered a rare look into the personal life of Darth Vader post-Return of the Jedi, as well as the opportunity to wield a lightsaber and feel the power of manipulating objects using the Force. For VR enthusiasts, it marked the first genuine attempt at a full-fledged VR trilogy backed by a prominent studio. And while the series isn’t without its fair share of flaws and setbacks, it’s hard to ignore the potential impact this groundbreaking franchise will have on the industry. That being said, let’s take a closer look at Episode III:
**WARNING: EPISODE III SPOILERS AHEAD**
Taking place directly after the events of Vader Immortal – Episode II, Episode III has you taking controls of your newly-acquired droid army and preparing for your final assault on Vader’s castle in the hopes of stopping the aeon engine from tearing the galaxy in half. The trailers leading up to the episodes release teased large-scale battles and an epic final duel with Vader himself; and while the episode did deliver on several of those promises, many of these moments felt watered-down and over-scripted.
At the beginning of the episode, players use their ancient lightsaber to take control of the droid army. When a handful of Stormtroopers come bursting into the cavern, you must instruct your army to attack by pointing your saber in the direction of the invading force, at which point your legion of mechanical soldiers will open fire. Unfortunately, your command is short-lived. Once the sequence is completed, you’re forced to hand over control to the Mustafarian Priestess, who commandeers the droid forces for the remainder of the experience.
From here, you then travel by shuttle to the heart of Vaders castle and lead the final assault on his forces. For the first time in the series, Episode III allows players to wield both Imperial Blasters as well as thermal detonators, though the environments in which you’re able to use them are fairly generic. While an epic battle ensues in the hanger below, players instead duke it out with a handful of Stormtroopers across a series of linear catwalks, similar to previous skirmishes featured throughout both Episodes I & II. While the new weapons do a decent job at changing-up combat — there are few things more satisfying than taking out a Stormtrooper and Force-grabbing his blaster mid-air — a majority of the battles are relatively forgettable.
After several skirmishes and a few genuinely funny scenes with your robot sidekick ZOE3, you finally reach the peak of Vader’s castle. There, you throwdown against the feared Sith Lord in one final duel. It’s a moment the series has been hyping up since Episode I; an epic clash of the titans on par with Luke and Vaders final battle in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Instead, however, you are presented with a heavily-scripted fight sequence that somehow feels less exciting than your previous battles against generic sentinel droids. Despite facing the most feared being in the galaxy, it’s a fairly quick and surprisingly easy battle. Even after wiping the floor with the legendary Sith Lord, Black Bishop — or Prince Emo as I so lovingly refer to him — arrives at the last second and pauses time, allowing me to destroy the aeon engine with zero interference from Vader. It was an overall disappointing final battle, especially considering the far-more engaging and difficult lightsaber fights featured throughout previous episodes.
Lightsaber Dojo III, on the other hand, improves upon Lightsaber Dojo I & II in nearly every way, offering players what is hands-down the best lightsaber simulator currently available. Whereas version II of the Dojo added Force abilities, new enemy variations, and environmental traps, version III ups-the-ante even further with the introduction of even more enemies, Force Lightning, the ability to dual-wield lightsabers, and numerous other features. While Episode III may feature the weakest story, Lightsaber Dojo III is, without doubt, the definitive version of the three.
All-in-all, Vader Immortal – A Star Wars VR Series is a commendable attempt at a AAA VR trilogy. By harnessing the power of a highly-recognizable property and partnering with a leading immersive hardware provider, ILMxLAB has created VR’s first commercially-successful VR trilogy. The success of Vader Immortal proves that short-form episodic storytelling, whether it be developed by a AAA developer or a team of amateur creators, has a future in VR.
For those who’ve yet to experience Vader Immortal, Oculus is running a deal in which those who purchase an Oculus Quest headset between now and January 31st will receive all three episodes 100% free-of-charge. For the best possible experience, might I be so bold as to recommend playing through all three episodes in one sitting? While each episode excels on its own, they’re relatively short experiences at roughly 45 – 60 minutes each. Experiencing all three at once makes it feels as though you’re playing through a brand new 2-hour Star Wars film; a sensation I’m sure many of us would love to experience.
Feature Image Credit: ILMxLAB