Skydance’s Behemoth hands-on report

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Skydance’s Behemoth hands-on report

A first foray into the PS VR2 dark fantasy adventure launching later this year.

Even back when they were herd-deep in undead, the creators behind The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners were dreaming up how – and where – else they could apply the immersive tactility of their VR combat. At the tail end of 2022 came the answer in the form of a cinematic teaser: sidearms would be exchanged for swords and dangerous encounters transposed from a Walker-infested New Orleans to a brutal, dark fantasy world.

And last week, a gameplay debut by way of the latest State of Play. At the initial announcement, the cornerstones promised for this Unreal 5-powered adventure – physics-based combat, a grappling hook to climb and grab, and boss battles with earth-shaking titans – all present in nearly two minutes of PS VR2 footage.

There’s plenty in that first-look sizzle that I experienced first-hand by way of a recent hands-on. Thirty minutes and change were spent going toe-to-toe with skilled fighters, repelling down mountainous ruins, and clambering up the torso of an angry, monstrous behemoth in a “vertical slice of a vertical slice” demoing the game’s key features.

Favoring dual-wield loadouts and two-handed broadswords throughout, I walked away feeling every inch an ancient warrior but equally glad to have donned a lightweight shirt that morning and had a few weeks of a gym return under my belt.

You don’t have to fear a forced workout. The studio intends to craft difficulty settings that cater to and scale for all players, be they story and lore lovers, power fantasy seekers, or survival enthusiasts. But even in this preview, the intricacy of combat is a gritty delight. The core of the physics-based melee system requires blades or shields to be angled correctly to strike limbs and block incoming blows, thrown daggers, arrows. There’s a tight parry window to stagger enemies and unblockable attacks that your dodge move will come in handy for.

The studio is still developing the game’s haptic feedback to make use of PS VR2’s headset and Sense controllers. The intent is for every weapon to have its weight and heft, and for the player to ‘feel’ the passing of Behemoths. One fun illustrative example: when you run out of stamina, the headset feedback will mimic throbbing temples until stamina automatically recharges. 

How to pierce a fighter’s defenses depends on their weapon – and yours. Daggers will only scratch wooden shields, small axes will puncture holes in them, and two-handed broadswords – with the right angle and force – will carve chunks off them. Headshot a faraway foe with an arrow shot, or toss a melee weapon, and then charge in to finish the job. Aim a strike or weapon throw correctly, and you can knock a helmet off an armored foe’s head.

Your grappling hook is an essential tool for fights. Grab distant weapons, and yank a combatant off balance. Rappel out of trouble, or reposition yourself on the battlefield. In one moment, I snag a tree trunk behind someone and with a quick pull it cannons into them. In another, I fast-rappel up a ledge, the hook’s pull launching me upwards (the subsequent smooth arc of my grapple-assisted leap not losing its sheen during my playthrough), and as my feet touch higher ground, I notch and fire an arrow at a bowman lurking nearby.

Combat is intense throughout. Don’t expect hordes (or herds) of enemies, but every individual is a tangible threat at close range. All equip themselves from the same pool of weapons you’ll ultimately have full access to, and have much the same skill sets as you. Thus, most encounters hinge on situational awareness, positional strategy, weapon consideration, and player resilience.

There’s another addition to that list: superhuman strength. For you, at least, the curse that’s infected much of the Forsaken Land’s populace is a boon. A limited-time but automatically-recharging buff that, when activated, lets you hulk out and smash down doors, perform brutal, superpowered finishers, or send would-be killers – or their limbs – flying. It further evens the odds when surrounded or when dueling tougher enemy types.

The clash of steel doesn’t wholly define your journey: the game rewards exploration. Explore your surroundings to grab items (which can be concocted into healing potions and other items at crafting stations) and stray off the beaten path to discover collectibles. Place your hands upon indentations on stone altars to save your progress and cleanse your arms of the blood of the fallen – your sword, however, continues to carry the stains of where you’ve been.

You’ll never be without weapons. The Forsaken Lands’ brutal history is laid bare in its landscape. Armaments lie abandoned or dropped by the dozens. The pierced, skeletal remains of those who once wielded them litter the world, and those still with a pulse can be looted once they join their deceased brethren. You can sheath extra blades, shields, and bows upon your person to switch up strategies on the fly.

You’ll earn ‘hero’ weapons which will always be upon you (rematerializing if you leave them behind on your travels). Once discovered, a handy forge lets you enhance your arsenal with different properties, stats, and damage types. You’ll also be able to add cosmetic flourishes earned through besting the worst the Forsaken Lands throw at you. Downed Behemoths will grant buffs to your strength (health) and stamina.

Behemoths, plural. As per the State of Play trailer sting, there’s more than one out there. But one is what I face at the demo’s end. After the previous half hour teasing its presence, either spotted as a moving mountain in the far distance or wandering down a valley newly carved out by its passing, I step out into a snow-ravaged tundra for a battle that ties together everything I’ve learned in the past 30 minutes.

I dodge mammoth foot stomps, and a building-sized wrecking ball swung with impunity. Armor encasing its feet are grappled and prised off, requiring multiple hands-over-hand pulls to remove it and allow me to ascend onto the beast’s side. Climbing up a rampaging colossus towards an attackable weak point isn’t unfamiliar; doing so in the first person is. Feet back on terra firma and Behemoth downed temporarily, I’m jumped by a squad of humanoid attackers, and we clash in the shadow of a cliff-sized arm. Muscle memory is weak enough that I’m eventually overwhelmed, even after swigs of the revitalizing health potions I snatch off my belt. The Behemoth regains its footing. I’m briefly eclipsed as one mammoth foot descends one last, fatal time. 

It’s an epic end to an epic fight, one I’m readying for a second round of when the game launches on PS VR2 this fall. The creators of Skydance’s Behemoth have taken the best learnings of their previous work and are intent on building something special.

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