Ever wanted to captain your own airship and take part in an extreme tournament where everyone battles to take each other out whilst also forging friendships and creating all-new rivalries? How about doing that in virtual reality, where you’ll take part in all of the action up close and manage your crew like they’re right there in front of you? Then you might want to give Bow to Blood, the new virtual reality airship combat title from developer Tribetoy, a look – it provides an exhilarating action-packed experience that embraces all of that in very satisfying fashion.
Bow to Blood puts you in the role of a Captain of a giant airship who is tasked with taking down seven other Captains across brutal events, with each event featuring different objectives including the likes of standard skirmishes with one another, hectic races across the arena, treasure hunts and even battles against a mighty big enemy. You’ll earn points based upon your performance, with the two lowest scoring Captains in an event facing the cut in ‘The Culling’. There’s a twist, though – ‘The Culling’ isn’t a test of the two Captain’s skills in a battle against each other, but rather an opportunity for the remaining Captains to vote and decide who gets to play on into the next event. How do you survive? Well, you can either make sure you score enough points not to be put in the predicament in the first place, or you can forge relationships with the other Captains so they have your back.
Honestly, from the outside I thought that Bow to Blood was going to be another fancy shooting title, and whilst that might’ve been enough for me (got to love airship battles, right?) the amount of depth that’s actually on show makes for a great experience that’ll really hook you in.
As Captain of your airship, you’ll be tasked with controlling it and giving your two-man crew their instructions. Controlling the ship is simple enough with the left analogue stick directing your ship and the right analogue stick controlling your speed, but giving your crew different jobs and allocating power to the different areas of your airship can be a bit more fiddly.
Your airship has four different areas that can be allocated a role: your engine, your drones, your shield, and your guns. Having a crew member assigned to one of these roles will give you a boost, be it an extra bit of speed when the engine is getting seen to or an extra pair of hands shooting if someone is working with your weapons. There’s quite a lot to do between all four areas of your airship, though it’s easy enough to assign tasks with a press of the shoulder button opening up the job allocation wheel. The problem comes with ensuring you’ve got a crew member in the right role at the right time, otherwise you might quickly find yourself at a disadvantage during one of the game’s many events.
Your ship also comes equipped with special cubes of essence, which can be allocated to each different area to provide specific boosts which can be activated. Naturally, these boosts relate to the area in which they’re applied – you could get a more powerful shield to protect yourself from an onslaught of enemy fire for example, or alternatively overcharge your engine to give your airship a massive boost of speed during a race. You can switch these cubes around freely during an event, so working out which areas of your airship need improving to help you out the most with your current objective will take some thought, especially with the ever increasing difficulty that the later events bring.
So I’ll be honest, managing these cubes of essence and your crew can be pretty intimidating. There’s a heck of a lot of things to maintain, and with the size of the airship and the complex control panel in front of you it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed. Heck, I was at first, even after finishing the game’s pretty fleshed out tutorial. When it all clicks into place and you figure out what exactly you need to do though, it makes for a brilliant experience – you’ll actually really feel like you’re this Captain who’s instructing their crew and making all of these quick decisions in order to succeed (and hopefully survive). It’s things like this which make virtual reality shine, and Bow to Blood uses it to its advantage to make the player really feel like they’re the Captain in this fantastic airship… honestly, it’s great.
Of course, you’ll also get involved with the shooting too. You’ve got the cannons on your airship to blast away at enemies with, whilst you’ve also got a neatly placed gun that you can grab freely to shoot at foes who’re lingering closely to your airship. Besides the rival Captains, there are plenty of standard enemies that you’ll have to take care of too, so you’ll certainly want to get to grips with managing your weaponry – thankfully, it’s one of the easiest aspects of the game. During battles you’ll come across additional weapons and different ammo types too, so there’s quite a bit of varied excitement to have with each showdown.
Whilst your battles in the arena will make up most of your time in Bow to Blood, you’ll also spend some time away from combat and mingling with your fellow Captains. It’s here that you’ll build up relationships, be it making an ally for that extra bit of assistance on the battlefield or alternatively forming a rivalry with someone and promising them that they won’t live through ‘The Culling’. You’ll even have Captains coming to you looking for favours, with them typically offering some additional weapon or the promise of support in exchange for a few points.
You can completely ignore this element of the game if you want and do your own thing, but it actually gives the whole experience a lot more personality. Knowing that someone has your back or that you have theirs can ease the burden of battles, or alternatively it can also throw a few spanners into the works – I had to deal with limited essence in one battle so I could help out an ally, but his vote then spared me from being culled. Like managing your ship, your relationships are built around a balancing act where you have to figure out what will benefit you, even if it means stabbing someone who helped you out in the back. Yes, I’m a bit of a bastard in Bow to Blood, so what?!
My only beef with interacting with others was that it felt a little simplified. There were no gruelling face offs with them where you can feel the tension, but rather a bit of text. Given how well everything else in the game embraces the immersion of virtual reality this was a bit of a missed opportunity, especially given how colourful of a cast the game actually features.
Visually, Bow to Blood looks great for the most part, with a clean cartoony aesthetic on show that manages to look sharp in the PlayStation VR headset. As expected, there’s a little bit of blurriness on things in the distance, but overall it’s a pretty game to look at. However, the environments of levels are procedurally generated and whilst there’s some variety in their style, they can start to feel a little samey over time. This isn’t a huge problem since they always change up in one way or another, but you will certainly start to recognise some similarities in their designs as you spend more time with the game.
Format(s): PlayStation VR