My first roomscale VR experience was back at IFA 2015, when I stepped into the HTC Vive booth and had my mind fully blown by Wevr's TheBlu. Shortly after, I got my own HTC Vive in 2016 and tried the next Wevr experience, Gnomes & Goblins, which was created by none other than Jon Favreau. This short preview had me salivating for more. I wanted to know about these adorable Goblins, how they built their amazingly intricate treehouses, what they did in the forest, and why in the world the Gnomes liked to torture them so.
Fast-forward over four years later and we've finally got the full experience. Gnomes & Goblins's Executive Producer, Neville Spiteri, described the original demo as "just a tasting spoon of ice cream" in regards to its size and scope, while this release is "a full pint of ice-cream." The problem is that I wanted at least an entire gallon. Maybe a bucketload, and for $30 I think many players might just feel the same way.
There's no shortage of charm or atmosphere in Gnomes & Goblins, and it provides a world that elated me in ways most VR experiences simply don't anymore, but the current experience is simply too shallow for the price. That's not to say there is nothing to do. Quite the opposite, actually, contrary to what the 40-minute long story mode might suggest. I spent 5 hours in the game befriending goblins, growing crops, expanding my farm, and ultimately, crafting brews with the fruits of my labor. Is this a game for you? Time to find out.
Deep forest, shallow roots
Gnomes & Goblins
Bottom line: A gorgeous forest setting is sullied by an extremely short story and little explanation of what to do. Once you figure it out, however, you'll be charmed by all the little details and, of course, the adorable characters.
- Gorgeous visuals
- Rewards players for looking closely at everything
- Absolutely adorable, fascinating creatures
- The world feels like a true living simulation
- Height adjustment makes it easy for younger players to enjoy
- Ultra-short story
- Little explanation of what to do
- Relatively shallow content for the price
- Steep performance requirements
Gnomes & Goblins Visuals, performance, and setting
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This game has the Art™. In many ways, it reminds me of World of Warcraft where everything feels hand-made. It's almost like someone literally spent four years crafting every leaf, every rock, and every ladder rung in the forest and the homes of the goblins. But when you think about who came up with the concept, everything makes sense. Jon Favreau, the same brilliant mind behind The Mandalorian, 2019's The Lion King, and the Iron Man movies, to name a few things. This guy is all about world-building, and that shows in every inch of the Gnomes & Goblins world.
Gnomes & Goblins is described as an "immersive sim", which is an extremely apt description that you'll understand the second you step into the world. VR is already the most immersive way to experience any game, but Gnomes & Goblins is more of an experience than most VR games can claim. It calls you to truly become one with the virtual world, and players who can set aside the real world and truly enjoy the sights detail in every nook and cranny will find the game significantly more rewarding than those who are looking for a quick run-through adventure.
Aside from an incredible art direction and stellar-looking tech (powered by Unreal Engine 4), Gnomes & Goblins sports a full-scale simulation of the environment and the lives of the goblins within. Crops aren't just simply planted, harvested, and chopped down. Each of these steps is done by hundreds of goblins, all with their own job, working tirelessly to complete every last leg of the journey. Watching them reveals how immaculately everything in the game was designed, from the tools they use to the steps they take, the goblins are truly the center point of the game.
On top of that, every single treehouse window is loaded with trinkets and personal effects that make up a goblin's life. Each window feels like it tells its own story, and sometimes the goblins will even take you through that small story and show you their home. Whether you do it at their size or your own represents a marvelous way to explore a completely foreign world of magic that is seldom stopped and appreciated on our own.
Gnomes & Goblins gave me an absolutely magical feeling of elation when playing; something that simply doesn't happen much after gaming for 30 years.
Gnomes & Goblins gave me an absolutely magical feeling of elation when playing; something that simply doesn't happen much after gaming for 30 years, and something I'd like to applaud. That's especially true when I learned to slow myself down from the pace of so many other games. My son loved watching me play the game, and the easy height adjustment meant he could take a turn and explore the world from his size, as well.
But the price of immaculate detail is a minimum spec requirement that's impressively high. Higher than Half-Life: Alyx, in fact, which could arguably be called the best looking VR game currently on the market. I ran Gnomes & Goblins through SteamVR using an Oculus Quest as my headset of choice. My PC runs a Core i7-8700K with 16GB of RAM and a GeForce 1080Ti, which seemed to run it at high and ultra detail levels without too much fuss, but it definitely taxed my hardware along the way.
Gnomes & Goblins Story and Characters
Players will run through a fairly brief 40-minute story, effectively known as "player onboarding" to introduce players to the world and locations within the game. The story itself is extremely basic in the most rudimentary of definitions, with little explanation of why things are happening along the way.
Buddy the Goblin was the inspiration for Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian
Ironically (given that Jon Favreau made it), G&G reminded me a lot of The Mandalorian's first few episodes, which felt slow and devoid of a deep story or significant plot points at first. But also like The Mandalorian, the more I replayed these sections, the more I appreciated what was happening and could stop to see other details in the world that I missed the first time around.
To finalize the ties with The Mandalorian, the goblin characters found in the game were the original inspiration for Baby Yoda, everyone's favorite character from the best Disney+ show out there. It only takes a second to look at Buddy the Goblin and see the resemblance. Just like Baby Yoda (or The Child, as I probably should call it), these goblins are absolutely adorable and really come to life in a way that makes you feel like you're interacting with a real-life tiny goblin.
Gnomes & Goblins takes place in a lush forest setting that features around half a dozen different locations to visit. These include your treehouse, a goblin village, a festival area, brewery tree (and adjoining underground pub), the farm, a large cavern system, and a dilapidated bridge, among the little guard posts situated between each location. You visit each of these locations in the story, with extremely subtle hints given to those paying the most attention.
Gnomes & Goblins Gameplay
Gnomes & Goblins is really two games in one. The initial story mode is a rather anemic 40-minute plot of wonder and awe that'll have you captivated the entire way through. It feels like a terrible tease for something that never really is completely fulfilled; another tease like I experienced over four years ago with the original demo. But what comes after is quite a bit more interesting than you might expect initially. You can also replay any chapter in the story, which will give you the opportunity to see and collect everything to fill your treehouse up.
Gnomes & Goblins' simultaneous greatest and weakness comes in its near-complete lack of explanation
Gnomes & Goblins' simultaneous greatest and weakness comes in its near-complete lack of explanation. You're essentially thrust into an intricate, interactive world after a 30-second-long tutorial that really only covers movement. While many of the mechanics are similar to real-life counterparts (this is VR, after all), figuring out what to do next is often very puzzling. In fact, Gnomes & Goblins only rewards players who are willing to truly pay attention and look for even the most subtle of hints — a lost art in video games and one that players may not appreciate in 2020 the way they did two decades ago.
The end game in Gnomes & Goblins is essentially Animal Crossing meets Harvest Moon, with a beer brewing simulator thrown in for good measure. While roaming the forest in search of little trinkets to collect, you'll also find recipe posters that can be collected and added to the recipe book. Once you've found these recipes, new types of seeds will be unlocked that can be planted on the farm. You'll grow and harvest these crops, put them in a little bucket for transport between the farm and brewery. At the brewery, you'll follow the recipe book and put the required ingredients into a cart for the gnomes to get brewing.
The end game in Gnomes & Goblins is essentially Animal Crossing meets Harvest Moon, with a beer brewing simulator thrown in for good measure.
The entire time you'll be growing and shrinking yourself to accomplish different tasks. Planting, harvesting, and traveling is usually best done while you're proper human-sized. Ring the bell on your hip, grab the green fairy and shrink to Goblin size to enter Goblin houses, explore caves, and celebrate your latest brew with all your goblin friends at the pub. Need a hint? Ring the bell and shake the orange fairy, while the white fairy brings up a map of your surroundings.
While it sounds very straightforward, the reality couldn't be further from the truth. I spent roughly 2 hours wandering around trying to figure out what to do before finally checking the hints section of the review guide. Even then, I had to ask for a bit of help on what to do because I was being particularly dense that day. But I wonder, how many other players will find themselves in my exact situation, and how many will be unhappy about wandering around aimlessly instead of "enjoying" the game they purchased?
Gnomes & Goblins almost feels like a lost art. A relic of the past that feels unfamiliar in a world where games are filled with hand-holding, scripted events, and predetermined waypoints with giant directional arrows between them. While I feel like the hints given in Gnomes & Goblins could certainly use some refining (and made a tad more obvious), I also think I've forgotten how to just sit back and enjoy a game world like I used to. Gaming is art, after all, and art is made to be studied and appreciated for more than just a few seconds.
Gnomes & Goblins What's to come?
While exploring the world of G&G, I came across Gnome Hills, which prominently displays floating text that says "coming soon". When I asked G&G's developers about it, they revealed that the team at Wevr is planning several upcoming updates for the game, some free and some paid, which will include additional content to help better flesh out the world. Gnomes & Goblins is the beginning of a new adventure for Wevr, and it plans to make the purchase worthwhile.
They also noted that they would be in an open discussion with the community regarding changes, enhancements, and content additions to the game that make the most sense to players. Additionally, Wevr says they're working on performance updates that'll make the game available to a wider range of PC specs as well as releasing on other hardware devices. While it's probably not realistic to expect a game that brings a GeForce 1080Ti to its knees to appear on the Oculus Quest 2, there's really no telling what could be in the pipeline.
Should you buy Gnomes & Goblins?
After a four year wait for Gnomes & Goblins, the game still feels a bit unfinished. There's a lot of promise here, including upcoming content teased in the game and several hours of exploration to be had, but you really have to look around for it. I'm not sure how many gamers will have the level of patience and awe that's required to truly appreciate everything in this beautiful digital world, and that's really a shame.
If you love games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or can just appreciate an extremely immaculate, detailed simulation, you're going to get a lot more out of Gnomes & Goblins than someone who has a hard time sitting still. This world was made to be admired and explored, but you won't be going on quests to unlock new areas. Instead, you'll be peering in through the windows of goblin treehouses, growing crops, and crafting brews to please your goblin pals.
Friendly Goblins, nasty Gnomes
Gnomes & Goblins
Get to brewin'
While it's a little rough around the edges, Gnomes & Goblins' small forest is chock full of minuscule details to explore and discover. Collect hidden gems, grow crops, and brew fancy beers alongside a chipper crew of goblins. Just watch out for those Gnomes — they can be pretty nasty.
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