Ironlights review: An addictive VR melee arena, sweetened with cross-play combat

Ironlights is a blast to play on the Oculus Quest with what I hope will be a thriving multiplayer scene.

(Image: © E McNeill)

Ironlights Screenshot

Source: E McNeill (Image credit: Source: E McNeill)

The Oculus Quest has a growing library of games with a wide range of genres. While there are already several fighting games on the Oculus Quest, Ironlights is unique. Rather than focusing on smashing and bashing, it slows things down and focuses on strategy and skill. It also toes the fine line between being easy to learn but difficult to master, which is what gives a game staying power.

In Ironlights, you fight in duels against AI or people online using one of five classes; knight, crusader, ninja, monk, and duelist. Each has a unique weapon set and requires a different playstyle. You can also customize your armor to fit your playstyle. I mained as a crusader with heavy armor for most of my testing, but due to being locked inside my house for a few weeks, I've had plenty of time to play with all the classes.

The creator of Ironlights, E McNeill, let me into the beta to test the game out a few weeks ago. McNeill also jumped into a multiplayer match with me to chat about the game (and defeat me with ease several times). I played the Oculus Quest version for this review. The game is also available on the Oculus Rift and SteamVR and supports cross-play for online multiplayer. Ironlights launches on all platforms on April 9, 2020.

What I love about Ironlights

When I first saw the trailer for Ironlights, I was impressed by the thought put into it by the developers. It's a melee dueling game, but it is built from the ground up with VR in mind. Instead of letting you flail your arms around quickly to get in a bunch of hits, Ironlights has each strike break your weapon. This means that you have to follow through with your swing or reset yourself to attack again. This makes strategic use of your weapon much more important and minimizes how much a person can win a duel just by shaking their hands back and forth. This turned out to be a brilliant decision and is one of the core elements that makes the game great. On both offense and defense, you have to plan your strikes and try to outwit your opponent. I had so much fun during my testing that it was a disappointment to have to take my headset off to work on other projects.

Ironlights has five different classes, each with different weapons and fighting styles. I love swinging a flail around as a crusader, but it doesn't do so well against certain classes. While no game can be perfectly balanced, the makers of Ironlights do a good job leveling the playing field. During the beta process, McNeill made several changes based on feedback to balance out the game. When a class was overpowered, it got nerfed. When an element, such as long-range combat, worked too well, it was altered. The result is a game that lets you play as your favorite character without feeling like you're marching to your death for playing favorites.

I had so much fun during my testing that it was a disappointment to have to take my headset off to work on other projects.

I spent my first weekend of isolation from the current health crisis playing Ironlights with most of my free time. I started off with the single-player mode to learn how to use each character and weapon set. Against the AI, I honed my skills on offense and defense, eventually working my way up to the highest league within the game. At the start, matches were about even, but as I learned the mechanics, the AI became too easy. I still enjoy the single-player mode and think it's great for learning, but you can figure out the AI and win every match after some time.

While you can record Oculus Quest gameplay natively on your device, Ironlights has its own match save and replay system. It's fairly advanced as well, allowing you to adjust the zoom, rotation, and other elements of the replay. It then uploads it and creates easily shareable links, such as the one embedded below. The game emails you the main view, which is easy to embed, the source video, which is large, and a mobile-friendly link for sharing online. The third-person view of the replay is better for spectating in my opinion. The makers of Ironlights are also working on a spectator app to watch matches with this view in real-time.

After cutting my teeth in single-player mode, I ventured into multiplayer duels. Because the beta was relatively small (a few hundred people, I believe), I set up all my matches privately. But when more people are online, you should be able to just find a match. Multiplayer mode is where this game shines. Toss out the predictable AI for some clever human players, and it's a different level of dueling. When I went up against McNeill, I felt like I was hanging on for dear life at times. Humans don't get tricked as easily when they're defending, and they're much more flexible on offense.

Several of my multiplayer matches were against people thousands of miles away, and I never felt lag that broke the game. Occasionally, I found it a bit harder to sync the pace of my swings to my weapons, but it's hard to say if that's caused by being so far away or trying to defend and defeat an opponent much better than any AI I faced.

I truly hope that this game picks up because multiplayer matches have their own personality. In the clip above, McNeill and I tossed away our shields for some saber-on-saber combat. You can also chuck your shield away if you think you're much better than your opponent and want to make things challenging while throwing some shade.

I think Ironlights has Esports potential if it has enough players. With different classes, customizable armor, and short and long-range attacks, there's enough variation to separate players.

What I dislike about Ironlights

There's not much to dislike about Ironlights, at least in my opinion. It's my favorite game on the Oculus Quest right now, and I've poured a lot of time into it, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. While multiplayer duels are fun and challenging, the AI in the game are easily fooled. For example, the crusader's flail involved making a circular motion with your hand. The AI seem to track your hand instead of the ball at the end of the flail. As a result, you can get several repeated hits for serious damage. Even as you move up to higher leagues, the AI just get more durable and do more damage. They can still be fooled by the same tricks. It's also pretty easy to defend against the AI.

I enjoyed the single-player mode, and I spent dozens of hours in it, but I think it's hard to go back to after you switch to human combatants. The makers of Ironlights have a revamped campaign mode on their roadmap, which will be a welcome addition. For now, single-player mode is still a fun way to learn the game's mechanics, figure out your favorite class, and get ready for higher competition.

The only other struggle I've had is that sometimes it feels like my controllers are moving at different speeds than my weapons. It's important to note that this is actually part of gameplay. Since Ironlights slows down close-range combat, you can move too quickly and cause your weapon to lag behind. This punishes players for trying to move faster than intended. That's not the exact issue I have though. I've found that the rate you can move seems to change slightly at times. So in one match, you might be able to swing your weapon at one rate, but then it feels like the maximum speed of your weapon is different in another match.

I don't think this is a game-breaking issue though. There were few times when fighting people thousands of miles away that I felt I was a moment behind. Personally, I think that's pretty reasonable, but it's worth noting.

Should you buy Ironlights?

Ironlights is a must-buy on the Oculus Quest. It's immersive, fun, and easy to spend time in. The single-player mode can be easy after you've played for a while but is a great testing ground to learn the game's mechanics. The cross-platform multiplayer is where I think most people will spend time after an initial learning period.

The game has five classes with different fighting styles, strengths, and weaknesses. I had a blast trying to learn how to defend with the crusader's mace and how to attack with the ninja's dual blades. I love games that you can jump into right away but then spend hours and hours in to master. Ironlights fits the bill.

The game's developer seems anxious to add more, and the community surrounding it already seems solid. E McNeill opened the beta up for weeks to get feedback from everyday users, and it shows. The game is already more balanced than when the beta launched, and I can only see the game getting better over time and as more people are online to duel.

Ironlights was reviewed on Oculus Quest using a copy provided by the publisher.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at