Flow Weaver REVIEW (Quest) - High Fantasy To The Max
Flow Weaver shows great promise, introducing us to a world of high-fantasy magic and unique "flow-weaving" mechanics I wouldn't mind returning to.
But does it fully realise this potential? Here's my review of Flower Weaver , two weeks in...
If you're a fan of VR puzzle games, I bet the last month or two has felt like Christmas. In my view, throughout all the puzzle games we've been bombarded with over the past few months, the overall highlight was probably Vanishing Grace. To say it was a pleasant surprise is probably underselling it: genre-bending with a compelling narrative, Vanishing Grace played with the conventions of a VR puzzle game by making the puzzle elements rather subtle and in service of the wider narrative.
Before it dropped two week ago, high off my Vashing Grace review, I was similarly pretty excited for the launch of Stitch Media and Silverstring Media's Flow Weaver on Quest and Rift/S. It seemed like a complex game with an interesting premise: you wake up, "bound by magic by unknown captors", and discover that you are a 'Flow Weaver' - and inter-dimensional traveller who casts spells to manipulate the world around them, traversing dimensional boundaries in order to solve puzzles. It seemed like a high fantasy version of Floor Plan. So, for that reason alone, I was pretty excited for what I decided could be a truly original VR experience. Advertised as a "narrative escape room" - and with a big name helming the cast in Borderlands 3's Ciaran Strange - Flow Weaver has all the trappings of... dare I say it?... a 'Quest must-have'.
So, how did it turn out? Well, I've had two weeks to toy with it, on and off. Here are my impressions of Stitch Media and Silverstring Media's Flow Weaver:
Some Magic That Feels... Pretty Magical
The feeling of magic flows through every aspect of this game's design. But mostly, the feeling of magic comes from this core mechanic: the use of 'dimensions' you cycle through while "flow weaving", solving a bunch of inter-dimensional puzzles, and searching for five 'runestones' that will allow you to finally break your constraints. That being said, while the gameplay elements are interesting, the lack of any discernible guide or intuitive hint system meant I spent a lot of time trying to blindly work out what I was meant to do next. This game isn't a walk in the park by any means, so only go in if you're looking for a challenge.
But it is not just the magic. This world is high fantasy to the max. From the set design to the character models, sound design to colours, every step of you way you can tell a lot of work went into making the world seem like a sequence of fairly comprehensive fantasy destination. Even as you traverse from world to world (or dimension to dimension, or flow to flow, whatever it may be), you can feel some level of aesthetic and mechanical continuity. You can feel the lore dripping out of every spell, environment and cutscene. A big reason for that is the dialogue: impeccably voiced and engagingly written, it's the perfect introduction to this world and basically essential to understanding what on earth is going on as you wrestle with your lizard captor.
Unfortunately, it only ever feels like an introduction. The game runs at only one to three hours long (depending on your play experience). Each environment is unique and crafted with great attention to detail, and look great on the Quest 2. Unfortunately, you often spend only a few seconds observing the room before you work out which objects are significant and which are not, rather than considering what each level's content means for the wider narrative as you might in a physical escape room. This even takes you out of the game a little bit. This concept is fascinating, the tasks are interesting and engaging, and you're doing all the right things. But being trapped in the one spot severely limits your engagement with the world(s) around you. You may be influencing one or more with every puzzle you solve, but you rarely feel like you're actually in it.
An Escape Room... without the Room
I've only ever participated in one 'Escape Room'. It is a fad that's pretty much dominated the last ten years of location-based entertainment. Basically, you and bunch of buddies head into some period dressed chamber and complete a sequence of tests in the hopes of discovering various keys to secure your escape.
It'd be dishonest not to admit I spent most of my time trying on funny hats and doing strange voices to keep morale up among my team of reluctant detectives. But the rest of the time, I took great joy in walking around, interacting with the environment, and crucially, forgetting - just for a second - that I was in some random room in an office building high above the streets of a major city. Interacting with the environment - picking things up, trying things out - was central to adding a level of significance to the puzzles we were solving. More than that, it was essential to the experience of completing an 'Escape Room'.
Unfortunately, Flow Weaver misses this mark and, as a result, it doesn't really feel like an Escape Room. Even worse, the central feature of the game - bound to a chair in a room - is probably the thing that limits my investment in the stakes most of all. Of course, no locomotion isn't a deal breaker. Just as it has worked for a myriad of other VR puzzle games over the past few years, there are a bunch of ways to keep a game interesting without locomotion. But when the sense of space is so important to the concept of the game, you'd expect the developers to explore the sense of claustrophobia more than simply limiting your range of motion.
The vast majority of spells you learn, as well as the vast majority of puzzles you will solve, revolve around a sequence of activities that see you levitating things towards you. In theory this could work, but at times it can start feeling like a point-and-click in VR. Of course, there are plenty of great point-and-click VR games, but I couldn't quite reconcile how it added to the experience, or why it was even necessary, for me to not just get up and walk over to things to interact with them. Half of the fun of an Escape Room is learning about the world through the environment, feeling a sense of progress as you progress from room-to-room, or even just experiment & coming to grips with some of its decorations. I would have loved to get a better sense of space during Flow Weaver, even if we were still stuck to the chair, particularly when the narrative itself is so promising.
Flow Weaver shows great promise, introducing us to a world of high-fantasy magic and unique "flow-weaving" mechanics I wouldn't mind returning to. However, if I were to go back, I'd likely expect to be released from my confines, be able to explore the world a bit more, and - most importantly - avoid a couple of game-breaking glitches which have sullied the first impression of this charming VR game for many reviewers. That being said, I hope it's not too long before we revisit the world of 'flow-weaving'!