Battle Talent Review: A Gory Roguelike

Sword fighting is one of the best reasons to get into VR gaming. Whether you like a classic sword and shield combo, all-out assault with a couple of razor-sharp sabres or the almighty power of a two-handed claymore, VR melee is exhausting and super fun. It’s why games such as Blade & Sorcery: Nomad and GORN are so popular, there’s a viscerally brutal connection to the virtual world you find yourself in and a satisfying sense of completion when you are victorious. The latest in this genre comes from Cydream, in the form of challenging roguelike Battle Talent.

That name is very literal and doesn’t exactly stoke the fire of interest in this game initially. You do indeed Battle, and to succeed you’ll need a modicum of Talent. Thankfully, the developers put more thought into the actual combat than they did into naming the damn game.

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Battle Talent takes the form of a roguelike, but doesn’t quite stick to the classic formula. Normally, you’d perform runs through levels trying to get as far as possible without dying, death taking you to a central hub to level up base stats to try and get a little further. Battle Talent has this central hub, but its gameplay options are split between Arena fights and Dungeon crawling.

Select an Arena level and you’ll be dropped into a large environment to battle waves of enemies. How you take them out is up to you, you’ll be given a weapon or two to begin with, maybe a sword, or possibly a bow. From then on you can either stick with what you’ve got or pick up fallen enemy weapons to change your strategy. Weapons can be holstered on each hip and over each shoulder so you collect a nice little arsenal. Die in the Arena and you can spend your XP on new perks then attack the same area again to unlock the next level.

Whereas the Dungeon is a sprawling collection of procedurally generated rooms and corridors to explore. Rooms lock for smaller mini-fights and if you look hard enough you’ll find Power Runes to buff abilities like health, range and magic only in the dungeon whilst Health crystals rejuvenate you. Die here and when you return the layout will have changed.

But you’ll still be able to improve by adding a wealth of buffs – there are 60 in total – before heading back in.

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This is all well and good but what you really want to know about are the fighting mechanics. If you’re a fan of games like Blade & Sorcery: Nomad or even BONELAB then get ready to be pleasantly surprised. Cydream’s real talent is in its physics-based combat mechanics.

Weapons feel weighty and correctly balanced. Short swords are easy to wield so you can have two, with long staffs, spears and huge broadswords that need a two-handed approach for greater control. One of the first things I like to test in any sword-fighting game is that “clang” when you smack two together. Some titles don’t whilst others see the swords clip. It’s only a minor thing, yet it’s so satisfying hearing those sounds, almost like it is a sound of quality.

Because enemies come in a variety of forms, you can mix and match your arsenal to suit. Bludgeoning weapons are great for getting through armour, whilst a spear can pierce the heart of any foe who gets close enough. However, you also need to be aware that weapons have a durability factor, adding to that sense of realism when they become unusable.

However, it’s not just melee weapons you can wield, Battle Talent also serves up both bow and spell casting for ranged attacks. You can unlock specific wands that’ll do ice damage and fire damage, perfect for mixing up the strategy. Whilst do what bows do, with no need to worry about arrows because they’re infinite. Although I did find the bow to be somewhat unpredictable, as the tracking made it jolt every so often. Annoying when dealing with multiple enemies.

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Goblins galore!

Another technical aspect Cydream has got right is the enemies. They actually feel like proper opponents, stepping backwards or hopping to the side to try and flank your position. They’re not hyper-intelligent, just enough to make the combat satisfying.

What’s remarkable though is the visual fidelity of each goblin, orc, skeleton and the rest. For this Battle Talent review, we played on the Meta Quest 2 version and the detail is stunning. From the skin to their armour and stylish bone accessories, they look exceedingly life-like. This also extends to the injuries they sustain. A decent swing of a sword will open up a nasty bloody wound on their body. Get the power and angle right on a non-armoured enemy and their head will come clean off! I’m not talking GORN levels of claret, just enough to let you visually know you’re inflicting some serious damage. Harder opponents – yes there are boss fights – will display health bars because these are more arduous.

Unfortunately, these character details come at the cost of the environment. These are drab brown and grey crypts and sand-filled ruins. Apart from the enemies in them, they are really dull, lifeless places to be. It’s best not to focus on them too much and find your next foe.

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The bigger issue with Battle Talent is that it still has that early access/beta quality to it. This is most noticeable in areas like the menu, which is clunky at best. A glowing spot on your wrist activates the in-game menu, which never sits right and always seems particularly occluded by environmental objects. This is also where you can view the map, although it is barely functional. Text will also appear indicating a weapon name on the floor, popping up as basic white writing. Very little thought seems to have gone into these facets.

Battle Talent Review Summary

Battle Talent is not – and doesn’t pretend to be – an intelligent sword-fighting game with rich lore and protracted missions. What it is is a brutal hack-and-slash VR title that throws away all the fluff for a focused combat experience. The weapons are functional and deadly (in the right hands) so make sure you clear a decent amount of space before starting. This is the kind of VR combat you can quickly become engrossed in – if all you want is medieval fisticuffs. Technically, Battle Talent is on point yet it lacks that certain spark (and polish), as if it is too clinical. Battle Talent is pure blood lust fighting so if you’re looking for an alternative to games like GORN or Blade & Sorcery, give this a go.