My First Three Months with VR: Is It Worth the Money?

I gave my initial impressions on the Oculus Quest 2 a short while ago but I still hadn’t spent much time with the headset. Indeed, the biggest problem I have with VR is how exhausting the idea of using it feels sometimes. You have to be in the mood for VR and for someone who can much more easily play objectively better games while sitting at his desk, it doesn’t tickle my fancy very often.

However, in May I turned a bit of a corner with the system. I found myself using it with friends and family (my niece and nephew particularly) more often. I found a few games that could be played sitting down that got me to use the system more often.

I know that sounds unintuitive… why would you play a VR game if you were sitting? Well, if you’ve ever spent a couple hours in a very physically demanding game you know how much of a chore they are to play. I’m not just talking about the amount of sweat the games create (and it is a lot) but the joyful feeling every person who’s played Gorn has experienced of swinging your hand full-force and punching a wall you were sure was behind you. The Oculus has a “Guardian” system which is supposed to warn you when you’re approaching the border of your “safe zone” but I’ve found this fails more often than it succeeds unless you draw a very restrictively sized zone (and at that point you may as well be sitting).

Steam VR is a thing and the Oculus interfaces with it perfectly, but I have barely used it. For one, it requires you to be in the same room as your PC; there’s a WiFi connection that is in beta right now that some people have had success with but in my experience I either can’t connect at all or it’s so incredibly slow it’s not playable. Fortunately, there’s a 16′ USB cable you can buy for $80 (seems expensive but that’s a pretty good price for a 16′ USB 3.2 cable) which gives you plenty of room to move. The problem with this method, though, is proximity to your computer. Like many players of physically demanding video games, I have accidentally doused my desk and wall with Diet Coke after an errant swing of my virtual broadsword sent an uncapped 2-liter tumbling through the air.

Some of you may not be gamers so I’ll remind you of the 1st Law of Thermodynamics that PC gamers are all too familiar with: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed which means that a gaming PC is basically a spare furnace, depending on the CPU and GPU load. Since VR games are extremely hardware intensive, playing a VR game in the same room as your PC is like going to a dance party in the Sahara and nobody thought to bring water. No amount of box fans can mitigate that level of thermal output, in my experience. In the summer, as it is now, it’s simply not mortally possible to play Steam VR games.

Oculus games are reasonably priced, for the most part. Most range between $10 and $20 but some reach for $30 or more which is a bit too much for a VR game. They’re simply not as long or good as PC or console games at the same price point. I suppose as with any newer tech, you’re paying for the experience and not necessarily quality. I’ve played some dirt cheap games which were amazing and I’ve been burned by pricey games with big studios behind them which were absolute hellscapes of misery (anything related to Star Wars; trust me).

As it stands, VR is more of a niche thing to show your friends. The novelty wears off pretty quickly and without the “wow it looks so real” effect you get for the first week or two, it’s just not as fun as playing a typical sit-on-your-butt game. I’ve also noticed it makes my eyes tired pretty quickly. Everything up close causes your eyes to go screwy and everything blurs. Finally, the implementation of some of the technologies behind it can be downright frustrating at times. You’ll see something done brilliantly in one game, such as hand tracking, but every other game on the market will do it so poorly that it’s more of a let down than anything. This will surely improve as the years go on but right now it causes more head scratches and sighs than hooray’s.