Beat Saber has been the undisputed leader of the pack when it comes to rhythm action games for a long time now. Despite a number of extra song packs that have varied the range of musical genres the overall mix favours an electronic feel. Other games have come and gone with many clones and rip-offs over the years. Ragnaröck takes a different approach by bringing together a perfect combination of aesthetic and musical styles to offer up a VR experience that feels like a natural evolution of Guitar Hero rather than an attempt to imitate Beat Saber. Best played with a horn of mead and a massive beard, Ragnaröck looks set to be my new workout game of choice.
There is no attempt at a backstory or any kind of overarching narrative here – instead Ragnaröck puts you straight into the action. You are a drummer on a Viking longboat and have to beat a rhythm to inspire your crew to go further and faster during each song. Visually the UI is reminiscent of Guitar Hero as four bars line up with your four drums and runes move down the screen towards you. Strings of single and double beats must be hit to continue combinations in order to activate a mode that speeds up your boat for a short while. In effect, that’s all there is to the game but such a simplistic description could never do it justice.
Visually, Ragnaröck is not going to win any awards but it is perfectly suited to the game. Your crew of bearded Vikings row and cheer as you beat away at the drums and there is an assortment of different backgrounds inspired by Norse mythology. These are linked to specific tracks but can be chosen independently if you particularly prefer an icy or fiery ambience. Successfully completing songs unlocks drum and hammer skins but these are aesthetic rather than offering any gameplay effects.
Every song has a specific map of runes to hit and practice quickly pays off. I found some tracks to feel more suited than others to the rhythm of hitting the drums but this was probably subjective as they tended to be the ones I enjoyed the most. Whilst you can play by sitting down and using relatively gentle actions there is far more fun to be had by really getting into it. I spent a particularly sweaty afternoon during the current heatwave in which I completely lost track of the time playing through about 20 of the 30 tracks in the full release.
Obviously, how much you’ll enjoy Ragnaröck will depend a great deal on your appreciation of the music. The 30 tracks included are surprisingly varied but all fit within the wider genre of Pirate/Viking metal. The biggest names included are probably Alestorm and Gloryhammer – both of which are perfectly suited to the bombastic nature of the game – with the latter providing the real standout tracks for me. That being said, some of the lesser-known artists also offer up memorable songs that grow on you through repeated plays.
Play modes are fairly limited with solo and PvP online being the only two options. It might have been a nice addition to have some kind of career mode but in truth this may well have just slowed things down. Every song has three different difficulty settings with more runes and more complex rhythms being added and there are target distances to achieve with bronze, silver, and gold medals to be won. Add in leaderboards, the ability to race against ghosts of your previous best performance, and some very tricky achievements and there is plenty here to get your teeth into.
Where the game really comes into its own, especially with the Steam VR version (native Quest one is due later this summer) is through the ease of adding custom song maps. This has been an essential factor in Beat Saber’s continued success and it’s even easier here. There are already sites set up with downloads and a quick browse of the Steam discussion forums will lead you to a GitHub program that largely automates the process of mapping the songs. If you climb aboard it all looks set to ensure you’re whacking away at your virtual drums until the real Ragnarok arrives.