Dungeon Chess brings together a couple of my favorite things - Dungeons & Dragons and chess. So right there out of the gates, Experiment 7 had my attention. Still, a good premise does not always equate to good execution. Thankfully Dungeon Chess manages to deliver a simple yet very solid experience on the Oculus.
Now, if you're looking for some crazy variant of chess, such as the chess-like action game from years ago Archon, you're likely to come away disappointed. However, if you're looking for a classic game of chess with some nice options and a cool visual upgrade? This is the place to be.
Taking iconic characters from the rich stable of Dungeons & Dragons characters out there, Experiment 7 opted for queens that are dragons, mind flayers for bishops and of course beholders. I mean seriously, you need beholders, and as rooks they deliver here. I remember the first time I played Battle Chess or Star Wars Chess a million years ago, with its simple sounds and animations, I still got quite a thrill out of watching pieces taking different opposing pieces. Sometimes I would hose up my strategy just because I wanted to see something new happen again, and that same basic rush presented itself here for me.
You have a couple of different ways to play, from multiple levels of AI difficulty (which vary from 'barely putting up a fight' to 'you must be a lich, because you just destroyed me' difficulty). There is also online play, which is a perk. For me, I got gobs of mileage out of the online from games like Pure Chess, and while this ecosystem (the Oculus) means my dad and a few of my other frequent opponents won't likely be playing against me, but if you have friends playing the game the invite method of playing against them is pretty easy to use.
So, odds are you know how chess works if you're reading this, and if not I am probably still not the right person to teach you. That being said, you get all of the basics of chess, complete with a virtual reality environment that lets you look around the table from different angles and watch in close detail as creatures best one another. There are a couple of different movement schemes, but the more tactile-feeling use of the Touch controllers is clearly the way to go. They respond well and it is far easier to feel like you are playing an actual game of chess versus relying on a line of sight movement mechanism. Now that being said, I wish there was some sort of 'feedback' through the controllers. Even something as subtle as a brief shake when picking them up or something, because you are literally pinching at air, though I suppose that is true of any VR 'grab' mechanic.
It is also worth noting that virtual reality simply lacks the detail of non-VR, so while the creatures all look and move great, if you get in nice and close, some of the lack of detail is evident due to the hardware restrictions of the Oculus. Not much to be done for it, just a small observation. That minor concern aside, the pieces really do look and sound the part, and if you are simply playing chess, doing so in a 3D space using virtual reality while calling upon some of the most recognizable fantasy creatures out there is the way to go. I'll take this over a 'normal' game of chess any day.
There is room for improvement however, even if it's just in offering more pieces and tables. To the development team's credit, what is here is fantastic, but I would readily drop a few more bucks on alternate creatures and boards should they become available down the road. They could thumb through a Monster Manual and come up with a ton of themes, from wooded fairies to undead armies and everything in between. The boards could even benefit from those themes. Sure, we're basically just talking reskinning here, but if you are basically playing the game of chess and the primary attraction here is the looks of things? It feels to me as though doubling down on those visuals could be a room for growth. I do realize that it's much harder than just throwing together some new pieces, since you then also have to account for how they interact with one another, and adding more groups means that many more interactions - but if they are reading, I can come up with a dozen themes off of the top of my head and given that Experiment 7 are openly huge fans of Dungeons & Dragons, I have no doubt they have team members who have considered this as well.
Now, one of the coolest aspects of this title is what you do have control over. While you might not be swapping out board pieces, you have a variety of different rooms and decorations for the room that you can apply to give it a somewhat customized appearance. Considering that games like Pure Chess have been monetizing both this and my aforementioned suggestions for some time, if this title sells decently enough, I have to imagine that the appeal here is just as strong when we are talking about a game in virtual environment.
Dungeon Chess is not going to have the strongest engine ever, and it doesn't have some of the specific scenario and training options that some of the more robust chess titles out there have, but the engine here is plenty robust and the ability to reach out and interact with these excellent Dungeons & Dragons creatures certainly puts a fresh spin on a classic game. Easy to recommend for fans of chess or Dungeons & Dragons - and I just happen to fall into both categories.
PC - Oculus
Provided by Publisher
Article by Nick