Stones of Harlath
I reached out to Tony our CCO (chief content officer) here at VR Dynamite to say...
Derek: "Hey Tony, see this game just announced on pre-order, Stones of Harlath?"
Derek: "We got a copy for review! But going, to be honest, it doesn't really look like a game I'd like"
I feel that's important to point out so you know my mindset going into reviewing this game because it says how I generally feel about fantasy games and how that makes this game's Dynamite score even more impressive than how it appears!
Stones of Harlath is a first-person fantasy RPB that'll have you spell casting and slashing your way through a surprisingly ranged variety of level settings.
You can tell a lot of thought and care went into the gameplay of this title. Controls feel tight and intuitive. For example, clicking the thumbstick down to switch between casting spells or wielding a sword and shield!
A large variety of enemy types, movements, and attacks keep this gameplay fun, engaging and just maybe will even take you by surprise.
This category leaves me a little gutted because small simple-to-implement design choices here could have easily bumped this up an additional point.
The world designs suck you in and the effort that went into the world particle effects like smoke and flames was BEAUTIFULLY crafted for a stand-alone Quest game.
The draw distance was truly impressive and made squinting to look far down a dark cave for enemies an immersive instinctual habit!
Where Stones of Harlath falls flat is the flat pixelation of all the characters and enemies in this world.
The pixelation is so large, all characters lack any detail and all immersion is broken as none of them feel like a real presence in the world.
Mixed with the fact your character is the only 3d character in the world...
Everyone you meet and fight feels more like 2D props or meaningless obstacles that don't belong in a beautiful 3D world. The world design shows you the studio is so much more capable than what they're giving you here enemy-wise.
This leaves me to believe this is a conscious choice. One that the founder maybe be insisting on making him blinded by what broader consumers may want.
Doubling enemy pixel count would be a much welcome future update and easy fix.
Just as poor decisions were made with visuals, the same was done when it comes to audio.
They did SO much right but the few things they did wrong are hard to forgive.
Upon the first impression. I was blown away!
The world sounded immersive, full of life with lush impressive atmospheric theming music.
Things fell apart a little when you notice sounds not completely matching visuals at times. The short, repetitive audio loops will have you progressing so you no longer have to hear the sounds more than progressing to further the story.
The best example of this is immediately at the games beginning as you look out to a calm sea but a short repetitive sound of waves crashing on rocks repeats over and over making you wonder "where are the waves I can hear but can't see"
The same can be said for enemies having you scream "shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!!!" ass you kill them!
A small part of that is poor decisions but also a lot can be forgiven due to that lack of resources on a standalone device.
What is absolutely NOT forgivable is the complete disregard for professional character voiceovers.
It's bad! Like REAL bad! like:
Employee: "Hey my sister wants to be part of your game... She's not talented but will do it free!!"
Founder: "Sure! Have her record this line on her 3-year-old android phone and send it to me! We'll put that audio right in the game as is!"
... Kinda bad!
The story and the world are what shines in this game most. For a fantasy game played by someone who's not a big lover of fantasy...
The story was creative, original, and felt very inclusive to even a non-fantasy fan like myself...
You're on the island to help discover the mystery of stones placed throughout the island placing a curse on it only you can help lift!
The one thing kind of lacking was any backstory of who the main character as you are playing. Not needed but would have been nice to build a more expansive world and deeper character story arches.
There is said to be 4 hours of gameplay but if you power through it, it'll take just over 2.
Once the game is done it's done! There are no real collectibles or unlockables that make this game worthy of a second play-through.
No mention of expansions have been mentioned by Garage Collective and that past release history makes me believe that they are done with this title and on to the next one.
As an old-school 8bit RBG game... Stones of Harlath maybe be the most immersive there is!
The problem is, this is a VR game!
The biggest immersion killer was the large flat pixelation of characters and lousy voice acting and mixed mic quality.
But if you can get past that and forgive the few large mistakes, you'll start seeing a bunch of little ones they got right all add up to a fun, immersive experience!
Level atmospheres are spot on with perfect lighting and elements of smoke and fog that really pull you into the world.
Killing enemies leaves has a really cool mix of particle effects that leaves a burst of blood, guts, and pixelated bones in the air, adding some real charm to this game.
My biggest wish is they moved away from the "press A" controller functions for things we would usually use our hands for.
A good example being drinking potions or opening doors.
I'll say that this was one of the most satisfying "scope vision" movement effects I've seen yet in a VR title. And I lot of other games should learn from it.
As you move you have a perfectly smooth granulated focus depth darken around your scope of view. While many games start off too aggressive with a limited field of view and harsh black borders, this game finds the perfect sweet spot.
One setting I could not find was the ability to select smooth turning which would be nice for seated players (ys there is a seated setting!)
The only real issue I had was many enemies are knee level, causing you to play bent down at an angle for a lot of the more aggressive and physical moments of the game.
If you have back issues, this may be a title to avoid.
Learning Curve: 10
Initial controls took a little bit of practice but after a few short practice attempts, everything felt natural and quickly instinctive.
This game makes use of every function possible for the Quest controller without ever getting in its own way.
Spellcasting for the most part and time it didn't work it always felt like my mistake and never a broken mechanic of the game.
You have the freedom to play as you like with either spells or a sword but there are more advanced skills players can master if they want to level up their game.
The best example of this is casting spells leaves you vulnerable to attacks and you need to balance switching back and forth from spells and shield!
Value for Money: 8.5
At the end of the day, this game DID get way more right than they got wrong... Especially coming from a small indy studio!
The price of this game is actually generous for all the fantasy and variety buying it unlocks!
Even with all its faults, you'll find yourself enjoying it and coming out the other side with no regrets about purchasing it.
You'll most likely find yourself like me, saying "I'd gladly have paid even more for this game had they just put a tiny bit more money into it!"
Stones of Harlath is a fantastic RPG fantasy addition to the Oculus Quest. It's a game that gets a ton of tiny things right and some small things really wrong!
But prices themselves transparently enough you can forgive the bad and have a heck of a time enjoying all that is good!
It's worth buying full price for a pleasant afternoon of gameplay and a must-buy if even on sale in the future!
Wanna see more? Check out our Stones of Harlath gameplay video!
Stones of Harlath
Summary: Shipwrecked on the small island of Harlath, players will adventure through a mysterious Island and multiple dungeons, battling foes, solving puzzles, and ultimately discovering the nature of the curse that looms over the island.
Game Modes: Single User
Genres: Action, Adventure, Exploration
Platforms: Oculus Quest
Developers: Garage collective
Publishers: Garage collective
Release Date: June 3, 2021
Version Reviewed: 0.1