Ragnarock Hands-On: All Hail The Viking Drummer King
By IAN HAMILTON-JULY 31, 2021
Ragnarock from France-based WanadevStudio combines a rocking Viking-metal song library with clever game mechanics for an incredible take on the rhythm genre in VR.
The game debuted on Steam early access late last year and carries more than 1,000 reviews and an “overwhelmingly positive” rating, yet, despite the positive feedback, it drifted right under our radar. It caught our attention earlier this month as the devs saw fit to graduate the title from Steam Early Access on July 15 and move on to Quest’s App Lab with confidence they’ll have an Oculus Quest release date soon. We’ll need to spend more time with Ragnarock, and specifically progress to its harder difficulties before rendering a review verdict, but we’ve played enough to wake up to this gem and let our readers know this is a rhythm title to watch.
The idea is you’re on a Viking ship and you’re pounding on four drums in front of you with two to the side that activate your boost. When you’re doing really good you can drive your team to row faster. There’s a ship full of Vikings seated in front you and watching your performance, and they’re depending on you to drive their rhythm faster. When you kick butt they even chant back at you some encouragement. The effect is perfect — you feel like you’re really encouraging them and they’re encouraging you. And because you’re anchored by this sense of a boat underneath your feet, gliding straight across the water, you feel safe. It’s an ingenious approach to avoiding simulator sickness that offers locomotion through a world while thematically attaching it to a reason for being in that world.
The environments are drawn from nordic mythology and the devs plan to add more over time. It’s some really clever thinking to find this great mesh between different things being done in rhythm games. At one end of the rhythm game spectrum you’ve got Pistol Whip, where you’re drawn down a straight line and the developers change the environments around you to tell a story as you move through the world. On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got what Beat Saber is doing where you’re completely stationary, you don’t actually move, and you’ve got things moving past you. There’s of course variations on all this because there’s just so many rhythm games, but Ragnarock’s approach is the most satisfying I’ve played since 2019’s release of Pistol Whip.
Part of that is likely due to my sheltered American English-only ears finding an unexpected sense of joy rocking out with this largely incomprehensible song library, including songs from groups I’ve never heard of like Paddy and the Rats, Sons Of O’Flaherty, GloryHammer, and Alestorm. I know nothing, Jon Snow, but it rocks nonetheless. I went through three or so songs on easy and then, by the fourth, I enjoyed it enough to try it again and fight for a silver medal. On the second ride through there was another ship beside me — the ghost of my last performance gliding alongside and trying to out-drum me. Ragnarock layers on cross-platform multiplayer this same way, lining up ships to your flanks. You know that scene in Mad Max: Fury Road where the cars are coming out after the good guys and they start drumming and rocking on the front of this war vehicle? That’s this whole game — every song is you feeling like you’re out there getting your crew to go faster and it’s just brilliant.
One thing I’ll note is because of the mechanics of drumming, Ragnarock has a slightly different way of driving your body’s movements as compared with some other rhythm games. You may want to do lunges, for example, while keeping your arms in the same position to hit two notes in sync on either side of you. So this may strain certain muscle groups more frequently and repetitively compared with widely varying slices in a game like Beat Saber. An FAQ for the game says there’s beta support for “custom songs” on both PC and Quest.
Ragnarock is on App Lab on Oculus Quest and it is out of early access on Steam. We’ll keep drumming away at this one and try to come back with a full review as soon as we’ve attacked some higher difficulties and played with more of the options.