Ragnarock review — Who knew Vikings could rock so hard?

When booting up Ragnarock for the first time you get a warning that playing the game can be quite an intense workout and as such you should prepare yourself and take frequent breaks. Of course, I scoffed at this warning. “How could a game about drumming be that much of a workout?” Being a Guitar Hero veteran, I thought surely my arms were well-prepared for whatever may lie in wait beyond the title screen.  But oh, how wrong I was.

Despite typing this with a faint throbbing in my finally healing arms, I can safely say that Ragnarock is one of my absolute favorite VR experiences, despite a few flaws. The feeling of powering through a particularly difficult drum section and slamming your hammer against a cymbal leading to a loud cheer from your fellow Vikings as you cross one of the goalposts is incredible and unlike anything I’ve experienced so far in VR. More so when you compete online against other players and prevail. The core gameplay loop and objectives may be simple, but man is it ever satisfying.

Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the enjoyment you get out of rhythm-based games along with how willing you are to ignore the fact that you aren’t so much playing songs accurately, but more so keeping the overarching rhythm. This is due to having only four drums to work with, so there’s no way you could accurately mimic the real instrument. But believe me, when in the moment, accuracy is the last thing on your mind. Since the drums do go with the rhythm you will most likely not be thrown off by not having cymbals and other parts of the drum available, as you can still keep a steady pace and still feel like you are accurately playing along with the song.

A key to Ragnarock’s success is its incredible Celtic soundtrack, featuring everything from more traditional songs to metal music. While your average player may not know many, if any of the nearly forty songs available, you’ll quickly find yourself singing along and dancing. Much of the music is so incredibly catchy that you’ll want to immediately replay a song after completion. Thankfully, there are three speed/difficulty settings for each song along with three goals to reach, providing replayability – or serving as just an excuse to replay the same song countless times when you happen to stumble upon a tune that you just can’t get enough of.

Ragnarock - Join the Riot - Paddy and the Rats - PSVR2

I mentioned goals to reach, so let me explain. In Ragnarock your ultimate goal is to steer your boat to an objective while sometimes racing other Viking ships. To do so you must accurately hit notes, which are depicted as runes and come at you similar to how notes are displayed in a Guitar Hero game. As you perform, your ship gradually makes its way to its destination, with three goal posts along the way which earn you a medal when passed.

To reach each goal, you must travel a specific distance, most of which can only be reached by excelling in a song or by making use of combo meters. Hitting notes perfectly in sync with the music will cause your combo meter to build up, which can then be unleashed for a burst of speed by hitting your hammer against one of the large cymbals on either side of you. But beware, if at any time you miss a note then all your built-up combo meter will disperse. For particularly brave souls you can pass up unleashing your burst of speed after your first combo and wait until a second combo meter is obtained, pushing your Vikings to row even faster. Missing runes will not cause you to fail, only to obtain a lower score, and hitting a rune slightly off time won’t reset your entire combo but won’t build up your meter for the speed burst.

In fact, there’s no way to fail in Ragnarock, which may be seen as a blessing for some but will undoubtedly be disappointing for others. This allows you to tackle the harder difficulties with no worries, but also removes the thrill you receive from finally mastering a difficult song. You’ll simply have to be content with watching your overall score rise as you become more skilled, and pushing yourself further up the worldwide leaderboard for that thrill of accomplishment. But this also goes along with the fact that there is no end game to Ragnarock. There’s no story to speak of, no slow reveal of songs or new venues, no cutscenes, etc. This is my biggest gripe, as without that sense of progression or motivation to push on, players may quickly grow bored or be unfulfilled. It’s best to look at Ragnarock as a party game, something to pick up and play when you have some down time or friends over, but not something you’ll spend weeks obsessing over completing.

From the outset, all songs and modes are unlocked, the only thing hidden behind completing challenges are cosmetic changes, such as new outfits, ship designs, and hammers. While nice, these have no real bearing on the game itself, but hey, any unlockable items are welcome as they at least provide some reason to challenge yourself during repeat playthroughs.

Ragnarock may not be as fleshed out as I had hoped, but it is still an incredible use of VR filled with catchy music and is a blast to play in short bursts or with friends.

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Richard Allen is a freelance writer and contributing editor for various publications. While he enjoys modern gaming, he is a retro gamer at heart, having been raised on a steady diet of Contra, Mario, and Dragon's Lair.  Chat with him via @thricetheartist on Twitter.




Review Guidelines

Ragnarock is an incredibly fun rhythm game filled to the brim with catchy Celtic inspired music. While a bit bare-bones with no story or progression modes to speak of, Ragnarock still works as a party game and is sure to become a go-to when you have a few moments to spare or when you want to have a blast with your friends.

Richard Allen

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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