I was never really sold on VR gaming.
I’ve been playing video games for a long time. Name a genre, and I can quickly tell you a game I’ve played that falls into that category and that I have loved. I love gaming because it’s an adventure and an escape, but also because it keeps getting better. The graphics are better, the gameplay, the immersion, it all just keeps getting better.
But despite all that, I was never stirred by VR.
VR just seemed like the next gimmick of consumerism, seeming progress that was more a step sideways than a step forward. Does anybody remember the Power Glove? Of course, you don’t. I put VR in the same category. VR didn’t look better or next level to me. It just looked different.
So, was I excited when I heard the news that there would be a Meta Quest 2? Not in the least. Yet, through a strange turn of events, here I am in possession of one. I felt, to some extent, as if I’d just been handed Excalibur. But, instead of the requisite awe that should accompany such a fabulous item, I’d simply shrugged and said, “oh, cool, a sword…”. Now, that’s not to say I wasn’t grateful and mildly intrigued. But, I wasn’t wowed by the prospect. I wasn’t beside myself with anticipation, and maybe that will lend my review more credence. I’m not a VR fan girl.
Instead, here writes a long-time gamer who was prepared to be underwhelmed with the Meta Quest 2. I’ve none of the hang-ups with the shortcomings of the original Quest because, well, I obviously never played it. I’m not here to tell you whether the Meta Quest 2 improved upon its predecessor or by how much [for that, you can check out Doc Neale’s Review – Ed.]. I’m not here to gush over the improved frame rates or how the graphics look cleaner. I am here to tell you what I discovered and how I felt within the first 24 hours of having a Meta Quest 2. Spoiler Alert: wowed, excited, and foolish (in more ways than one). In fact, from the moment I slipped on the headset and looked around my virtual “home base,” I could practically hear the deep, sonorous voice of Morpheus from The Matrix say, “She’s beginning to believe.”.
Set Up Ain’t No Thang
With this being my first foray into the world of VR sets, I wasn’t sure how laborious the process would be to set up the Meta Quest 2. Turns out, it is actually a breeze, and the headset will prompt you along the way to keep you on task. There’s a handy little instruction booklet inside the packaging, as well. Something to note here is that you need a smartphone and a Facebook account to complete your setup. The phone also has to be relatively recent, so if you’re packing an old Nokia, you’re gonna need to finally upgrade.
Anyhow, my Meta Quest 2 arrived with a little over 50% battery charge. While you might be excited to put it on and go to town, download the phone app first. You’ll have to input some information, create a profile, and yes, you’ll have to link that profile to your Facebook account.
Once you’re all set up on your phone, it’s time to take care of the headset side of things. Again, each step is crystal clear. Set up is pretty much as close to foolproof as it can get. The system will walk you through trying out your new controllers, adjusting your headset for vision and comfort, and there’s a safety video to watch.
Boxing Yourself In
Once everything was set up and properly linked, I was ready to take my first test drive. This I embarked upon with a small amount of trepidation. I’ve got a kid, a very active, very inquisitive, very high-energy kid. The prospect of having my vision obscured by the headset wasn’t wholly appealing. At least when I’m gaming with more traditional platforms, I can look up from the screen and stop my child from finding new things to leap off and my dog from tearing up the carpet. So, it was with no small amount of relief that I discovered you actually could see your real surroundings while wearing the Meta Quest 2. All it takes to switch out of the VR world into the real world again, albeit a gray and grainy real world, is a double tap to the left side of the headset. A second double-tap and you’re right back in the virtual one.
Some of my fellow VR newbies might also wonder, what’s to keep you from crashing into your furniture while you’re playing? Nothing can quite stop all the fun like bashing your knees into a coffee table or knocking the wind out of yourself walking into the side of your couch. Not to worry, the Meta Quest 2 shall protect you! For starters, it has built-in sensors to help you avoid the perils of your living room.
When you’re ready to start gaming, you’ll be walked through setting up your Guardian. The Guardian takes in the space that you’re going to be playing in and essentially sets boundaries for you. You’ll be asked to mark your floor, so the sensors can adjust the set’s spatial awareness. Then, you’ll be asked to use the controllers to mark your perimeters along the floor. While you’re in a game, if you’re about to step out of the boundaries you set up, you’ll see a virtual grid wall come up. This means “slow your roll cowboy, you’re about to step out of bounds!”
While setting up my own Guardian, here’s what I discovered: bigger is better. I initially tried to set up a smaller space than the Meta Quest 2’s suggested space of 6.5″ by 6.5″. Because..kid and dog and space and toys and stuff! So, I found the biggest clear space I could in my bedroom. For many of the games and apps I would end up trying in these first 24 hours, the smaller area wasn’t necessarily a huge deal. Some of the content can even be enjoyed sitting down. But, when it came to other games like Beat Saber and the Darth Vader series, I definitely could have used that extra space for slashing. Friends on the taller side who enjoy a broad reach, take heed of my warning if you prefer your walls sans holes. Overall, make the space if you can! If you find your Guardian setup is too small, you can always reset it.
By the way, you’re also gonna feel like a drunken gibbon trying to roller-skate down an oil-slicked ice patch when you are first learning the ins and outs of your movement while gaming in VR. Both in-game and in the real world. There is a definite learning curve. Just accept the fact that you’re going to look and feel a bit ridiculous for a while. You’re going to reach out to touch things that aren’t there. You’re going to forget how to walk and move naturally. You’re going to find your hands, brain, and eyes don’t always want to coordinate and present a united front. Accept it. Anyone looking on is guaranteed to enjoy your new-found ineptitude at coordination, even if you don’t.
I was pleased to find there was more content available than I had anticipated. Even cooler was the fact that it wasn’t entirely games. There was plenty of other interesting fodder. Ever want to see a Cirque du Soleil show but have somehow never quite managed to? Well, there was an app for that. Want to travel the world without leaving the couch? There are apps for that, too. You can blast off and float around the International Space Station. You can even dive into the ocean and interact with sea creatures, learning some fun facts along the way.
When it comes to the Meta Quest 2, all sorts of nerdery can be engaged in through the games and apps. You can try floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee with Creed: Rise to Glory. Or try your hand at a spot of free climbing in some genuinely breathtaking surroundings in The Climb. You can finally get that elusive turkey in Premium Bowling or chase them birdies in Walkabout Mini Golf. More of an armchair sports fan? Both MLB and ESPN have apps.
Zombie groupies and horror aficionados will find their genre of choice well-represented. After a brief dance with The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, I was left feeling both impressed and rather badass. The graphics are good, and the game’s ambiance has a way of blurring the line between the real and the imaginary. I could actually feel my adrenaline pumping as I stalked virtual zombies through a cemetery with a rusted shiv in hand. Zombies aren’t your bag? There are also tons of other horror genre games, including The Exorcist, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted, and an upcoming Blair Witch game.
Fantasy and adventure geeks are also going to be happy campers. In Death: Unchained stole my heart with its lushly medieval-themed trip through Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. You may have never gotten your official letter from Hogwarts, but you can try your hand at casting spells in Waltz of the Wizard. Also not to be missed is Moss, which I haven’t gotten to play nearly enough of, but is both gorgeous and adorable.
There are first-person shooters and samurai simulators. You can do magic with Penn and Teller. You may not be Picasso, but you can still create art. You can paint with Tilt Brush. You can de-stress with a spot of coloring in Color Space. You can even put on some “Unchained Melody” and have your very own Ghost moment with Let’s Create! Pottery VR (sadly, no Patrick Swayze included).
There’s also no longer a need to pick your side: Star Wars and Star Trek coexist peacefully in the realm of the Meta Quest 2. You can step aboard the bridge and hope you’re not a redshirt in Star Trek: Bridge Crew. You can meet Darth Vader and wield a lightsaber in any of the three Vader Immortal games. I’ve only had the pleasure of playing the first game in the series, but some part of me transcended to a higher plane for a moment when I stood in front of VR Darth Vader for the first time.
Are you sad that you can’t get to the gym because it’s still too COVID-y out? You can still get your swell on in VR; there are plenty of exercise-related offerings. Dance off dessert with Dance Central. Nobody can see your two left feet in VR! Have your moment of zen with Guided Tai Chi. If you like your workout with a healthy dose of competition, join a workout for any and all fitness levels and claw your way up the calorie-burning leaderboards in FitXR. We know you might miss wiping down the machines and that weird guy who grunts with every rep in your real gym, but you’ll manage.
What I’m trying to say is, there is literally something for everyone. You will find something you want to try. In fact, you’ll probably find several somethings. I browsed the entire library and discovered some real gems lurking beyond the headliners, so take your time and look around.
Games also don’t take eons to download, as they are generally smaller in size than most on PC and traditional consoles. This is nice since the one game nobody likes playing is the waiting game.
General Set Comfort
Overall, the Meta Quest 2 is reasonably comfortable to wear for short periods. I consider this both a pro and a con. Pro because it could definitely be worse, and it ensures I won’t play for hours at a time. Con, because who likes discomfort?
The Meta Quest 2 decidedly takes some getting used to. Beyond just the general feeling of disorientation you get when you first put it on, there’s finding the right “fit.” The straps adjust, but this can take some serious fiddling around to find the least obtrusive feel. Even when it seems like you’ve finally achieved optimal comfort, there’s still your view quality to be considered. You have to make the visuals clear and ensure the darn headset doesn’t go tumbling from your noggin mid-game.
All in all, you learn to acclimate to the feel. Though, you might be tempted to reach up and readjust the fit somewhat frequently throughout your play. There’s always this lingering feeling like the headset could fit better. There are optional and more comfortable head straps available, but they do cost extra. Also, do be aware that you might notice some redness along your forehead (and where the set rests on the tops of your cheeks..) immediately after taking it off. Just be warned in case you have to directly go out in public after.
How I Physically Responded To VR
There is another reason I’d previously steered clear of VR. My body does not seem to like it. Any simulation ride I’ve ever been on has been immediately followed by a severe case of lingering nausea. I also tend to get dizzy. Decidedly not fun. The prospect of experiencing the same unpleasant sensations with a VR system definitely was a concern for me.
When it came to feeling queasy, I experienced some of that, especially at the very start. Same with dizziness. Certain games were more prone to induce tummy twinges, and minor head swims, but on the whole, it wasn’t really an issue. Where I did have a problem was headaches. And I wasn’t the only one. After I’d done a fair share of scoping things out and headed to bed for the night, my husband got to check out the system. I asked him how it went this morning, and he too mentioned the headaches. My advice is, when you first feel it coming on, stop, and walk away for a bit. If you do, the headache will stay mild and go away pretty quickly. If you try to push through it, cuz “mama didn’t raise no quitter!” it will be a lot more intense and last much longer when you finally do take a break.
It will be interesting to see if this is an issue that improves over time. Our being new to VR might be, in large part, responsible for the headaches. Perhaps it’s just our eyes, bodies, and brains trying to adjust and make sense of this new “environment.” Maybe it’s your eyes working overtime to focus and shift with changing light and surrounding patterns. With a battery life of about 2 hours, it isn’t as if we could point to excessively long gaming sessions as the reason.
[Editor’s Note: To be fair, most of our VR-Veteran reviewers don’t really experience headaches, and some users have found that headaches can be a result of the straps being too tight, their necks not being used to the weight of a headset, the lenses set at the wrong distance for your eyes, etc..]
One thing is certain: when you’re done using it, you’re done. Either the battery or your body will let you know precisely when that is.
She Sure Is Pretty Though
There is no denying that the Meta Quest 2 delivers eye candy when it comes to its content. Most of my first hour with the set was accompanied by enough swear words and “oohs” and “ahhs” to concern any decent bystander. Sometimes I would try to explain what I was seeing to my kiddo or my husband, and words would inevitably fail me. I tried to cast my play to the TV, so they might get a general idea of what I was seeing. But, this was imperfect, and I usually just ended up handing over the set for a moment so that they could put it on and see for themselves. There’s no getting around it; what you see through that headset is impressive. No video or stream is ever going to come remotely close to giving you a decent idea of what it is really like to put on that set and play.
The colors, the images, and the crispness of certain content are just unreal. It’s easy to get swept away in the details. I watched some Cirque du Soleil, and I couldn’t get over how I could see every nuance of a performer’s costume, every muscle tense of the acrobats. I even reached out to touch things a few times. It was so intense, the illusion so complete, that I swore I could almost feel the heat coming from a fire handler’s apparatus.
I sampled games from different genres. I tested games with different artistic feels. While there were some definite standouts in terms of quality, I didn’t really find a dud in the 15 or so apps and games I managed to test in my first 24 hours. That’s not to say they’re not out there; I just haven’t managed to find them yet. Everything I tried offered something unique. Each game and app I explored was incredibly easy to navigate and quite fluid. I did a lot of mouth-breathing.
Mastering the controls is pretty easy as well. Sometimes maneuvering about in-game, while still standing within your preset boundaries, can be difficult. I discovered I really suck at picking objects up in VR, for instance. Most games do an excellent job of walking you through precisely which buttons do what and how to fix your view should it get skewed during gameplay. The controllers themselves are remarkably lightweight, which I found to be a boon in some games, and somewhat of a drawback for others. In some cases, you can even ditch your controllers altogether and use your hands to navigate. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to channel their inner Tony Stark since the first Ironman movie? Voice commands are also an option, allowing you to launch games, control the volume, and a few other things just by speaking.
So, Have I Been Lured To The Dark Side?
Why yes, yes, I have. The Meta Quest 2 is a gorgeous system. This really is some next-level stuff unless you compare it to far more expensive (and complicated) options like the Valve Index. If this is as close as we can come to being in a video game so far, it’s an excellent step. It will impress you, even against your will. I wasn’t determined to nay-say, but I wasn’t going to be surprised if I discovered it really wasn’t for me in the end.
Also, you really can’t beat the price. The 64-gig system is retailing for just under $300. That may not be a drop in the bucket, but consider that price against other gaming consoles. Games and apps are typically markedly cheaper as well. It is true, there are fewer titles available than other gaming consoles. It’s also true that some of the games and apps are a little short on playable time and/or have little to no replayability. Yet, you still somehow don’t feel cheated in the least. The experience is that unique, that good. It’s difficult to really express the “fullness” of it until you actually see it for yourself.
Even with all that being said, I feel I’ve got to be completely honest here. While I am wowed, and my mind is officially blown, I don’t see the Meta Quest 2 becoming my go-to choice when it comes to gaming. It is incredibly fun in spurts. It’s brilliant, in moderation. This is not the system you go to when you want to settle in for a hardcore gaming session. This is the system you go to when you genuinely want to escape for a bit. When you really want to be “in” the game. This is not going to replace your PlayStation, your Xbox, or your gaming computer. But, it’s not meant to. And it would be unfair to judge the Meta Quest 2 on its ability, or inability, to be a replacement for those. It’s something unto itself.
Not gonna lie; I’ve been pretty tired of looking at the same walls for the majority of these past months since the pandemic hit. And maybe that’s part of the charm; the escapism. The VR surroundings are both familiar and brand new, synthetic, yet somehow real. With the Meta Quest 2, you really can feel like you’re in a different world. No matter which game or app you step into, the change of scenery is more than welcome right now.
Maybe it’s good that the Meta Quest 2 is best in small spurts. Fantasy is meant to be fleeting, lest we lose the ability to tell the difference between it and reality. Yet, I can guarantee that you’ll be finding your way back to Narnia again not long after you close that wardrobe door for the first time. It’s that fun to go down this rabbit hole. Try it. If you haven’t yet experienced VR, you’ve got to see this for yourself.