Tuesday, October 13th, marked a big event for many Apple fans around the world. At the same time, it marked a pretty fun event for me: the Oculus Quest 2 arrived at my doorstep, and I was ready to take my first dive into the deep end of virtual reality. The experience was, as the kids put it, “all that and a bag of chips” (disclaimer: not sure if kids really put it that way).
Before getting the Quest, I had experimented with VR, but it had been a while. I played with the first version of the Oculus Rift, which didn’t have controllers back then. The experience was cool, but it simply felt gimmicky. There wasn’t enough interaction, and the field-of-view constrained me to tunnel vision. Since then, I gave up on VR, disappointed by my expectation of what it could have been and what I actually experienced.
Fast forward to 2020, and Oculus came out with the Oculus Quest 2. It is an untethered device that has two to three hours of battery life. It seemed like enough power — how much time could I actually spend playing VR games, anyway? More importantly, the price dropped by $100 since the first version. As a curious person, I wanted to see how far VR had come since its inception. So I pulled the trigger and purchased it.
Overall, the experience has been great, and I’m still playing with the Quest 2 between drafts of this review. There are some limitations, but those are more reflective of the state of VR in general, rather than specific to just this newly released device.
What’s Great About the Quest 2
All the Things You Can Touch, Hit, Poke, Press, Stab, Throw, Juggle, Bounce…
Oculus anticipated many new adopters for the Quest 2 and pre-empted it with the app, First Steps for Quest 2. Within the first fifteen minutes, I threw things, bounced things, hit things, launched things, danced with things, shot things, dual-wielded and continued to shoot things, and much more. I’ve never experienced such a fun, immersive tutorial. It really got me excited about VR.
I’m not a serious gamer. I do, however, enjoy open-world games that have so many things to explore. When getting the Oculus Quest, I was worried about the limitations of exploratory types of games. When wearing a headset, players are blind to the real world, so it’s not in Oculus’s best interest to have their customers falling over objects and breaking things as they play; thus, the games themselves are limited in movement. That affects exploration.
The games, however, have a different type of exploration: one that focuses on interaction. Now, when I play a game, I find myself trying to touch everything to see what happens. Games like Half-Life: Alyx (which you can play if you have Oculus Link and a PC with a nice graphics card) take it to the next level.
Hand tracking is still in its early stages. I’m excited to see how it gains adoption with games and new feature releases for it. The Oculus Quest can detect and track your hand movements through AI and its camera (I’ll talk about the camera in the next section).
In its current state, hand tracking is largely limited to browsing the main Oculus lobby — barely any games and apps offer hand tracking support at this time. That being said, it’s easy for browsing the web on VR. There’s a tradeoff, though; without the controllers, there’s not any haptic feedback. This makes the process of picking up things, holding things, touching things, and other actions a little less satisfying, which I’ll talk about more in the immersion.
I tried Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series as my first paid game because it was the cheapest game I saw (less than $10) that looked interesting to me. When Storm Troopers pointed their guns at me, I felt myself getting nervous. I even threw my hands up. Then I remembered it was a game. Later, when I came face-to-face with Darth Vader, I never realized how tall he was, which added to his intimidation.
Having a headset strapped to my face forced a level of immersion on me that I haven’t really experienced in normal video games, despite how beautiful the graphics may have been. Sure, I’d cry a good cry when a complex, main character died, but that’s an emotional immersion. VR gives a sense of physical immersion.
The haptic feedback from the controllers adds to that illusion that I’m really in another world. Despite only holding controllers, I saw a lightsaber when I looked down at my hand. When I turned it on, the controller vibrates, giving me the feeling that I’m, in fact, holding on to a lightsaber. In battles, when lightsabers clash, the rewarding feeling of an even heavier vibration took me into the fight, and at times I felt my muscles clenching in an attempt to absorb the phantom impact of an incoming blow.
It’s great, especially compared with previous generations of VR headsets. The letters are clear to read, and everything looks beautiful. Although the objects are all virtual, sometimes your brain gets confused when you put on the headset, and you flinch before bumping into objects. The details are so nice that sometimes I found myself leaning in things to get a closer look and admire the detail.
Going to Theaters and Other Social Activities
I didn’t realize how much I missed going to the theaters. Before the pandemic, it was an activity that my girlfriend and I enjoyed a couple of times a month. There’s something about sitting in a room full of strangers, connected through a common interest, that makes the movie-going experience unique and desirable.
Well, that’s available in Oculus through Bigscreen. When the app loaded, I found myself in a theater seat, next to other VR folks, watching the live stream of the Apple announcements. The theater itself felt real, and the people around me were real (in avatar form). I could even summon a box of popcorn. If I felt extra trolly, I would summon a tomato and toss it at the screen!
The Quest does a great job in trying to become more social at gaming. While there are some limitations (which I’ll describe in the next section), the immersion, combined with group play, really brings the aspect of fun, social gaming to the table.
After climbing a few ladders, I felt something I never felt before in a videogame: sore shoulders. When it comes to physical fitness, I’m not the worst of the bunch, so I was surprised that I felt that. Often, I found myself crouching, ducking, swinging my arms wildly, and doing many other physical things that I wouldn’t be doing in other video game settings.
What’s Not So Great About the Quest 2
Some Privacy Concerns About Facebook Login and the Camera I Didn’t Know About
Two privacy concerns hit me when I started setting up the Quest:
- you are required to have a Facebook account and log in with it, and
- it has a camera that scans the room you’re in
The first concern wasn’t as much of a surprise; every news article about the Quest 2 talked about the implementation of Facebook login as a requirement to start playing. The device doesn’t work without it. It just stays on the setup screen, patiently waiting for you to input your data.
As for the camera… Nowhere did it say that the Oculus Quest 2 has a camera that is scanning your room. Facebook reassures its users that it’s not saving any of the image data from the devices. Whether you’re a skeptic or not, it’s too late for me — worst case, Facebook will start showing me ads about how to care for my girlfriend’s chrysanthemums. For some users, though, this camera that is vulnerable to hackers may be a concern.
Solving the loneliness problem is something that isn’t so easy with VR since one device only fits one head at a time. There are two things that Oculus does to attempt counteracting the loneliness that is a private gaming device glued to your face. First, it allows you to connect with your Facebook friends that also have Oculus devices. I said no. I wish I said yes. One big component of gaming for me is sharing the experience and talking, laughing, or arguing about it later.
You can also do what Oculus refers to as casting, which is their term that describes mirroring what you see onto another device, such as your cell phone or a TV. If you do the TV option, you need something that can download the Oculus app — something like Apple TV or Chromecast. This is another attempt at a solution for social gaming. Unfortunately, the gaming experience remains single-player while the other person watches, like a Twitch stream. But I don’t want to be a streamer. I want to play with my girlfriend without having to fork over another $300 and get her a headset.
The Voice Chat Needs Further Consideration
The Quest offers many different social apps to connect you with other VR players. These apps usually work by giving you a customizable virtual avatar (the style reminds me of Nintendo Mii avatars) that you use to join different chats. Also, some games are multiplayer, which allows you to jump in and start playing (and chatting) with other people.
Unfortunately, the way that voice chat currently works in VR is very much like how it works in Discord. Everyone is one volume. This unruliness of that is correlated with the number of people in the chat. If it’s just a small party of 4 people, it’s not too bad. When you’re in a chatroom with 10 people, though, the limitation starts to manifest. Everyone’s the same volume. So large group conversations must flow linearly, or else no one can hear anyone. It’s unfortunate because it limits the organic conversations that can happen.
The Headsets Are Annoying to Share
Sharing the experience is already hard enough, as I described previously. The next best thing would be to let my girlfriend play, too. While that sounds simple, the experience of sharing my Oculus should come with its own instruction manual.
Our heads are shaped differently. My girlfriend has an aesthetically pleasing and symmetrically shaped head. I have one that resembles the shape of a fluffy jiggly Japanese cheesecake. Just like a hat, the Oculus requires some readjustment to change users. The top strap, which controls the y-axis position of the device, and the side strap, which controls the x-axis position, needs to be moved around. The top strap is velcro, which is a little easier, but the side strap is one of those belt buckle things that no human has evolved a brain large enough to truly master.
Another thing is the lens. The lenses have 3 positions, each one sized for a different pupillary distance. When you wear the Oculus on your face, if you have a tiny nose, you can squeeze your finger through the space between your nose and the headset to move the lens from position 1 all the way to 3. From the outside, it just looks like you’re picking your nose. When you want to move from positions 3 to 1, though, you need to take off your headset regardless of whether you can pull off the nose-picking maneuver.
Typing Is Not Easy
There are times when you’re going to need to type in VR. During those times, you will wish that the controllers were less sensitive to movement. When you type in VR, you better hope that none of your hand cells are undergoing mitosis because that may trigger the controllers' sensitivity to move away from the desired letter just as you’re about to click it. Definitely, backspace has been my most-used key in VR typing.
In case you’re wondering, no, you can’t use hand tracking to move individual fingers on a virtual keyboard. You have to aim and do the “click” maneuver just like you would if you were using the controllers.
If You Wear Glasses IRL, You Wear Them in VR
I wear glasses because I can’t stand the idea of putting in contacts. Unfortunately, in VR, that means you have to wear them, too. I’m not sure why that is. But I’ve tried playing without my glasses and boy, it’s quite a challenge. Everything is very blurry, unfortunately. I thought it was a malfunction of the device at first! Nope, I need to keep my glasses on, over my headset. It’s like wearing sunglasses over your glasses while driving (maybe I’m the only one that does that).
VR has been around for a bit, and it has a long way to go. After playing with the Oculus Quest 2, though, I realized that VR is in a really great spot right now. Facebook anticipated the influx of new users. With its lower entry price, better technology, and more awesome games, Oculus Quest 2 is definitely worth trying for people who don’t mind getting in bed with Facebook. I‘m looking forward to uncovering additional features on the Quest and being pleasantly surprised as I continue my journey in touching all the things.
Despite being more socially isolating than normal gaming platforms, Oculus is working on making the experience more social. For now, when I put on the headset, I’ll have to hope that my girlfriend isn’t somewhere secretly recording me looking dumb as I poke things in my own little world. I wouldn’t blame her if she did, though; I couldn’t help it myself while watching her play.