Ragnarock review: The thunder of drums

by Lars
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Ragnarock is a VR rhythm game developed by WanadevStudio that gives you the opportunity to live out out all your metal drummer fantasies. Move over, Beat Saber – there’s a new way to flail your arms in the air like a lunatic.

This is all wrapped up in a fantastically cheesy Viking power metal aesthetic. By bashing drums with comically large hammers in time with the music, you’ll inspire your longship’s crew to row harder and score more points. It’s a simple concept, and arguably a bit less flashy than Beat Saber in execution. That doesn’t really matter though, because Ragnarock just works so damn well.

Ragnarock great hall

Bashing on the drums feels like such a massively intuitive action compared to the other VR rhythm games I’ve played. Runes scroll down the screen, just like old school Guitar Hero, and you’ve got to try to hit them on the beat. By nature, Ragnarock demands a bit more precision than its contemporaries. There’s much less room for error or compensation elsewhere, which forces you to pay really close attention to the rhythm itself.

You can hit drums slightly off time, but it must have a massive impact on your rowing speed, because I could hit 99% of the notes on any given song’s medium difficulty and barely scrape bronze medals in them. Getting those perfect notes obviously counts quite heavily towards that score, which makes Ragnarock easy to play but hard to master. Luckily for each of the built-in songs, there’s three difficulties to suit every skill level.

And what a setlist it is – firmly establishing itself as metalhead Beat Saber with the likes of GloryHammer, Alestorm, Wind Rose and Saltatio Mortis. Pick up Ragnarock on PC VR and you’ll be able to easily load it with custom, user-created songs, and this is where the game really opens up in terms of music genre. Naturally, most of this is metal, but you can at least move beyond celtic/power metal into more mainstream bands like System of a Down, Bring Me The Horizon, and… Little Big?

Personally, the music already on offer in Ragnarock‘s core experience is already pretty great, and I’ve just used the custom song functionality to add more songs in that genre for the most part. Not that bashing out Prison Song whilst sailing into the depths of Hel isn’t great fun – but the game works so well for bands like Heilung, SKALD and Danheim. It keeps the experience simple – you have a speed boost that builds charge by hitting combos, and an endlessly scrolling fantastical background.

For most, Beat Saber will probably remain the favourite VR rhythm game. But there’s undoubtedly plenty of people like me who enjoy it in theory but quickly get tired of the song selection (which from my experience has the reverse Ragnarock problem – the userbase doesn’t deviate too far from high BPM electronic music or just straight-up memes). There’s also the fact that you can’t really equate Beat Saber to any real world instruments. It’s more of an aerobic workout than an arcadey, Guitar Hero style good time.

How comfortable is Ragnarock in VR?

This is an incredibly comfortable experience. You can play the drums sitting or standing, tweak the angle at which you hold the hammers, and there’s never really a sense of uncomfortable motion despite all the constant sailing. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact you’re constantly fixated on the horizon, which is typically how you’d negate seasickness in the real world.

Unfortunately during my earlier time with the game, I was still using the Quest 2 with the stock strap, which meant I couldn’t really stomach playing more than 3-4 songs at once before the pressure induced headaches set in. So I haven’t been able to really push the comfort limits. One thing I am sure of, though – Ragnarock is fun whether you’re playing simple songs for the fun of it or racing along with the intense harder difficulties.

Ragnarock overall thoughts

Players looking for heavy metal and good ol-fashioned arcade fun should look no further than Ragnarock. You can pick up the core concept in a matter of seconds, but mastering it will take a fair bit longer. It might not be the prettiest VR game out there with some relatively simple visuals, but for everything else, it’s a Hel of a good time.

Ragnarock is available now on both SteamVR and the Oculus Store. We reviewed it on a Quest 2 headset connected to PC via cable.

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