SpellPunk VR Early Access Review - Style over substance

Multiplayer wizarding duels in outer space.

Spellpunk VR Hero
(Image: © Incineration Productions)

SpellPunk VR is a multiplayer-only VR wizard dueling game set in fantastic arenas that only the mind can create. It launched on Steam Early Access in late April 2020, and developer Incineration Productions aims to have the final game completed by the end of the year. Right now, SpellPunk VR is an incredibly barebones experience and is difficult to recommend with so little content available.

SpellPunk VR the basics

Spellpunk Vr Spellcasting

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As a multiplayer experience, SpellPunk VR is as straightforward as you get. Right now, players choose one of eight full-body characters to represent themselves in a virtual arena. Choosing to battle from the main menu brings you into a standard matchmaking wait-and-see affair. Finally, you'll be transported to one of five arenas that take place in ethereal realms of outer space and imagination.

From here, you'll rapidly draw symbols in the air as fast as possible, sending these spells toward your adversary at the other end of the arena. Currently, there are 11 spells in total. Spells are represented by symbols, which you'll need to draw by holding the grip button your controller, followed by drawing the spell in thin air in front of you. Think of when you had a sparkler during New Year celebrations as a kid and would draw shapes and letters in the air. That's precisely what it's like to cast a spell in SpellPunk.

To help you practice and remember these 11 spells, SpellPunk allows you to visit a simple circular arena that features floating stones, each adorning the exact rune you'll need to draw. A large board on one side gives you a listing of all the spells, complete with each element, and the statistics of each spell. As you might expect, some spells travel slower but hit harder, while faster spells won't do as much damage. As you cast, you'll deplete your stamina and mana bars, but these will refill over time.

At this time, players can only compete in 1v1 duels. While the number of players is restricted at this time, there are several modes you can play in. Normal matches allow players to train under normal conditions without affecting their rank. At the same time, casual battles provide unlimited stamina and mana, so you can simply practice spamming your favorite spell over and over. Ranked matches, of course, provide ways for players to not only duel against each other but also to rank up and place on the leaderboards.

Developer Incineration Productions states that it plans for 2v2 and 3v3 arenas in the future, along with daily challenges to complete and plenty of additional spells in the works. Bi-weekly updates are also planned, complete with balance changes and additional features and content.

SpellPunk VR Casting a spell on you

Spellpunk Vr Battle

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Visually, SpellPunk VR is an incredible looking title. I absolutely love the way the game looks. It's a wholly unique visual style in a world where so many games look alike. The developers clearly sat down ahead of time and determined a specific style that they wanted to go with.

Everything feels like it fits, and that's impressive given the incredibly imaginative and surreal nature of the game's visual style. Characters and environments exude a colorful, cartoon-like style set in some otherworldly dimension, with crisp comic-book style surfaces and pleasing lighting. The music and sound effects help set the stage for the atmosphere, and I find myself enjoying the tunes they developed for the game.

Animations can look a bit clunky, especially with the inferred placement of lower limbs on these full-body characters. That's not anything new with full-body characters in VR, but the arms could look a bit better than they do. Even so, the real clunky feeling mainly exists while playing the training course, where a player character's arms are fully rendered in first-person. These arms always feel like they're not quite in the right place, and when casting spells, hands feel like they're propped too far back for any realistic posture.

Spellcasting itself is a rather fun mechanic, as previously described, and can feel extremely hectic during a multiplayer duel. Drawing a circle to pull up your shield is exhilarating while simultaneously trying to draw the spells to cast at your opponent. I was able to learn and remember more than half of the spells in just a few tries, and it took several duels with the training dummy to hone and perfect my skills. While the symbols are a bit difficult to remember at first, that's a positive trait of the game, as it forces players to practice and get to know all of the spells before thrusting themselves at an intelligent human opponent.

I only found one spell to be nearly impossible to cast, the one that's sort of shaped like a lower-case b. This rune regularly failed and, during the time I spent practicing and even while dueling, was only able to cast it successfully a single time. None of the other spells had this issue, so I'm going to blame that one on some weird issues with that particular shape.

All 11 spells are assigned elemental properties but, from what I can tell, there seems to be no real incentive to prioritize one element over another. In most games where these types of elemental properties exist, there's are clear times when to use an element over another. Think during Pokemon battles when you would choose an electric Pokemon to fight a water one, for instance. I couldn't find any such glaring weaknesses or strengths with these, and that was disappointing (but maybe they'll be added later).

SpellPunk VR A shallow pool to wade in

Spellpunk Vr Battle

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

At this stage of development, SpellPunk VR is incredibly barebones and severely lacks any kind of depth. While there's normally an understanding that early access titles will be lacking some sort of functionality or content, SpellPunk hardly feels like it made it past the drawing board. On the bright side, the base mechanics are solid, and the concept is good. The visuals are appealing, and the sound is excellent for what's needed. But for $20, I expect a lot more.

Aside from the gameplay itself being incredibly shallow, there's almost never a time you can play since there's no player base. All battles are 1-on-1 duels, and there's simply no one to duel against. The training bot is simply a dummy that'll cast spells at you randomly, and there's not even a way to defeat it or win the round. Even your avatar has to be re-chosen every time you start a new round because the choice doesn't stick.

I wholly expect to see these missing parts get filled in over the coming months, as developer Incineration Productions has until the end of the year to fill out its development schedule and deliver on those promised bi-weekly updates. They've even stated that they'll be adding content that specifically addresses the issues I cited, such as character customization and spell optimization.

At this time, however, there's simply no way I could recommend spending $20 for a game that you basically won't get to play for several months. Maybe later in the year, this will change, but, for now, keep an eye on development and pick up something else to bide your time.

Nicholas Sutrich

Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu