I received my first virtual reality demo from John Carmack at QuakeCon 2012. Upon fitting me with a prototype headset — seemingly held together with duct tape — the id Software co-founder stood by me, clutching a tangle of wires tethered to the goggles, while I fumbled through a VR version of Doom 3: BFG Edition.
Nearly seven years later, I’m playing Star Wars: Vader Immortal on the new Oculus Quest. I’m swinging a virtual lightsaber in my living room. The Jedi weapon is humming in my ears and rumbling in my hand. Darth Vader is just a few feet away, Force-choking his enemies. My real-world surroundings have completely morphed into the Sith Lord’s Mustafar castle. Thanks to the accessible, all-in-one Quest, VR is finally ready for prime-time.
Given the tech’s history as a costly, complex, and niche hobby, however, I understand if you’re still reluctant to receive a face-hug from a hunk of plastic. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about the best reason yet to jump on the VR bandwagon!
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The Quest follows previous Oculus headsets, the Rift and Go, by borrowing the best elements from both predecessors. It combines the Touch controllers and room-scale tracking of the former with the wireless connectivity of the latter. It doesn’t rely on a computer or game console for power, either — making it a standalone, fully featured VR platform. Its cameras and tracking abilities are also built into the headset, so it doesn’t need any external accessories to recognize and translate your movements.
The Quest’s all-in-one nature makes it very portable, allowing you to quickly set it up at a friend’s house or in a hotel room. If there’s a catch, however, it’s in the Oculus Quest processing power. Fueled by a Snapdragon 835 mobile processor, the headset doesn’t quite pack the graphical punch of PC-connected VR systems. For most users, however — especially those looking to get beneath a headset for the first time — fewer horses under the hood won’t make much difference. The games and apps still look great, and the transformative power of VR doesn’t necessarily depend on high polygon counts.
Out of the Box VR
If you can use a smartphone, you’re more than qualified to get the Quest up and running within minutes. In fact, the first thing you’ll do is download the Oculus app to your iOS or Android device. The simple process walks you through a few steps: including pairing the headset with your phone by entering a five-digit code.
You can then log in with an existing Facebook account, or sign up for a new Oculus profile. You can also add a credit card (for future app and game purchases) as well as any Oculus-owning buddies to your friends list. Beyond that, you need to insert the included batteries into the pair of Touch controllers, charge the headset with a USB cable (also included), and… Well, brace yourself for a mind-blowing experience.
On Your Head
The Oculus Quest headset is light, comfortable, and easy to put on. Adjustable velcro straps on either side, as well as one running over the top, make finding the perfect fit a breeze. Bespectacled users can also place an eyeglasses spacer into the headset for some extra room. Though I had no issues using the Quest with my specs, even without the spacer.
The Quest also has an exterior focus slider, allowing for some additional adjusting if the display is a bit fuzzy. You needn’t worry about headphones, either, as they’re built right into the hardware. You’re welcome to plug in an external set, of course, but the integrated spatial audio generally does the job just fine.
Safety is (Surprisingly) Fun
After donning the headset, it’s time to grab the two Touch controllers and designate a play area. To do this, you just draw a virtual “Guardian”: a grid-like barrier that pops up when you’re about to pull out of your VR vacation by bumping into a wall or errant ottoman. Buyer beware, though! This safety feature doesn’t account for unexpected trespassers, like pets that decide to enter your play-field. My cat and I learned this the hard way…
Oculus recommends a 6.5′ x 6.5′ area, but that’s not mandatory. If you play within a smaller perimeter, just be prepared to see the boundary pop-up more frequently when your arms start flailing. One of the cooler features you’ll notice during this setup process is the Quest’s pass-through camera, as it allows you to see the outside world from within the headset; the headset automatically switches to this view when you breach whatever virtual boundary you created.
While necessary, safety precautions are typically pretty boring. That’s not the case with the Quest, though, as I felt like a wizard the first time I “drew” this magical wall around myself. Fastening the Touch controllers’ safety straps around your wrists feels less wondrous, but is highly recommended, lest you send them flying across the room during a sweaty session of Beat Saber.
Once you complete the initial safety stuff, the system will toss you into the Oculus Quest tutorial. Like the Guardian setup process, this is incredibly intuitive and surprisingly fun. The tutorial teaches you everything — right down to the locations of the Touch controller’s buttons — while acclimating you to the VR space. Multiple mini-games and challenges (from dancing with an adorable robot to wielding a pair of pistols) make seeing your hands in-game feel like second nature.
The tutorial immediately showcases the magic of the Quest, while also making you feel comfortable in your new virtual surroundings. Even simple interactions — like tossing paper airplanes in this VR space — feel amazing. You’re welcome to stay in this area as long as you like, but you’ll probably be tempted to see what else is possible after experiencing this initial tease.
Enter the Matrix
The Quest launched with over 50 apps and games, so there’s plenty to dive into from the get-go. Most experiences range in price, from $9.99 to $29.99, while a dozen or so are just plain free. Killer Quest apps include existing VR hits, like Beat Saber, Superhot VR, and Robo Recall.
While these titles have been available for some time on other platforms, they’re better than ever on the all-in-one device. The Quest’s standalone nature allows you to enjoy these games with a newfound freedom — one without the fear of tripping over wires or yanking them too far. Whether slashing cubes in Beat Saber or dodging bullets in Superhot, the freedom and immersion delivered by the cordless Quest is unmatched.
If you’re craving a more passive, story-driven experience, Star Wars: Vader Immortal is a great place to start. It’s an original, episodic series set in the galaxy far, far away, and the atmospheric adventure puts the signature Jedi weapon in your hand. Though you also perform a number of simpler tasks, such as hacking terminals, climbing ladders, and interacting with characters (your charming companion droid, voiced by Maya Rudolph, is a highlight).
Vader Immortal is an excellent showcase of the platform’s story-telling potential, as well as a fantastic way to experience the fan-favorite sci-fi universe. Of course, if you just want to carve stuff up with a lightsaber, it also has a standalone “Jedi Dojo” mode.
Affordable VR Vacation
At $399 for the 64GB version and $499 for 128GB take, Oculus isn’t exactly giving away the Quest. That said, it’s an all-in-one platform that requires no PC, game console, or additional peripherals. Aside from requiring a smartphone to host the app, it’s good to go right out of the box.
For about the price of a low-end laptop or game console, you can become a seasoned virtual world traveler. And if cords or space were keeping you from taking the plunge, now might be the time.