God simulation games are becoming more and more popular in VR, and I couldn’t be happier. The sub-genre, as well as most real-time strategy games, just works perfectly for VR and is especially immersive when room-scale optimized. One such game that really caught my eye and eventually, my heart, is Secret Sorcery’s Tethered. It’s described as a “magical sky borne world,” where the player “takes on the role of a powerful ‘Spirit Guardian’ charged with restoring life and balance.”
Tethered is, by far, one of the most well-designed games for the genre. Graphics, sound, and gameplay are all heavenly; it makes me giddy about the future of VR games in general.
The title “Tethered” is derived from the main mechanic you use in-game to control your subjects, which are adorably referred to as “Peeps.” Tethering peeps to objects and locations will prompt them into action, in that they will walk toward that object or location and pick it up or interact with it. Tethering objects to other objects also works.
The objective of each level is to gather a set amount of spirit energy in the shortest time possible. Spirit energy is represented by tiny bright blue floating blobs that need to be absorbed. A level starts by hatching a peep, and then tethering it to an “overgrown obelisk” to awaken the totem, which is the conduit for absorbing spirit energy. Once the totem is awakened, an altar for offerings is also unraveled.
The first level in the game is a tutorial which will also walk you through the different sources of spirit energy. Maximizing the harvest of spirit energy while keeping peeps busy and happy makes the game truly engrossing.
Tethered offers 13 levels, set on floating islands. Each level presents a challenge in terms of terrain and layout, as one would expect in a real-time strategy game. When you finish a level, your godliness is rated using four categories: care of your peeps, collection of spirit energy, use of weather, and speed of work.
Completing a level may take up to an hour at a time, but it’s so much fun that you won’t even notice.
Take Care of Your Peeps
Peeps are dropped down from the sky as eggs which you can either hatch by tethering to a sun cloud, or have an existing peep perch on. If the egg is not hatched in time, it will come out a useless grub!
Peeps are hardworking subjects who need to be occupied at all times, so send them to work or they’ll be in despair. Duties include gathering food and resources such as wood, ore and stone. Once those are taken care of, they should also discover artifacts to construct buildings which help with work efficiency and the release of spirit energy. Everything they gather, they must take to the altar where an inventory is maintained. They do most of their gathering and building during the day time. At night, they protect the turf from nasty worms which could consume their resources and spirit energy.
You’re not really a “god” until your subjects pray to you. In this case, peeps will send you prayers when they’re hungry, tired or bored. Each of these prayers will have to be answered in different ways, whether by commanding the peep to gather food, send it inside a specific building, or simply assign it some work.
Watch the Weather
There are four weather elements which are all vital to gameplay: sunshine, rain, snow and wind. Each of these revitalize a specific resource, and may have other uses. You may also combine two elements for a couple of things: to form a rainbow or lightning. The former can take a peep out of despair, and the latter will destroy things.
Buildings can only be constructed once corresponding “artifacts” represented by books are found. After a peep is tethered to one, the knowledge is gained and construction may be started. Of course, each building requires a set number of materials which you first will have to gather.
There are five basic buildings which may later on be upgraded: (crop) field, barracks, workshop, altar, and moot hall. The order in which these artifacts appear are set for every level, which adds to the challenge in managing the peeps’ workflow. You may also promote peeps after certain buildings are constructed (i.e. two peeps promoted to “hero” after the barracks is built).
Depending on the availability of resources and your godly priorities, you can upgrade each structure or build more of one type. For example, if there’s an abundance of stone, you can upgrade the temple into a stone altar so that the resource can be transformed into spirit energy. I, for one, always make sure I upgrade the barracks into an armourer to keep my peeps from dying in battle. As the old saying goes, there’s safety in numbers.
With the Vive wands, tethering is done by pointing toward the first peep/object, pressing the bottom of the trackpad, drawing a path to the second object and release. This may also be done using trigger. The grips are used for moving and scaling up or down.
The game was first released for PSVR, which is why there’s a lot of trackpad use. To absorb spirit energy, for example, one must press on the right side of the trackpad, presumably corresponding to the circle button on the PS controller. It’s not the most ergonomic choice for the Vive, and my achy thumbs can attest to that.
Secret Sorcery’s visual and sound design for Tethered is one of the finest we’ve seen for VR games. Its world is conceptualized so harmoniously, and gameplay cues are obvious that nothing seems arbitrary. For instance, my ears always perk up when I hear the cue of a descending egg. It’s a distinct sound that moves me to urgency.
If you’re ready for high-quality RTS in VR, grab Tethered now, available on Steam at $24.99. Enjoy playing God!