After covering over 300 VR games in recent years, we’ve seen a bunch of different technologies pop up and pass by. From the early PC-based development kits by Oculus to the mainstream appeal of wireless models like the Meta Quest 2, it’s been quite a ride. PlayStation jumped aboard with PSVR, and PSVR is on the horizon as well now, offering a new leap forward for console gamers. But while the Quest 2 is currently fairly dominant in the mainstream market, we believe that PC-based VR can still offer a superior experience. We went into the virtual dimension with a ROG Strix SCAR 15 gaming laptop to explore, and here’s what we found out.
Processing power has gone mobile, sort of
It’s one of the main driving forces for the success of the Quest 2 – processors have gotten powerful enough to be able to provide a legit and fun VR experience that goes beyond the old rollercoaster demos that people would check out and share while using some kind of makeshift cardboard version of VR goggles to hold your phone. And what’s even better – the Quest 2 is available at a somewhat affordable price point as well, especially when you compare it to a new generation console or powerful gaming PC.
There’s a big trade-off though, because the Quest 2 isn’t nearly as powerful as even a mid range gaming PC. This is a non-issue for games like Beat Saber or Walkabout Mini Golf, and developers have done a fantastic job bringing games like The Climb to the platform, but it has its limitations. Not only do Quest versions of “bigger” titles often look a bit less sharp and detailed, fantastic VR experiences like Lone Echo 2 and Half-Life: Alyx just aren’t available for the platform, and not playing them means missing out on some all-time VR greats.
You’ll need a fairly powerful PC for those, but this often has other limitations. People don’t always have room to set up a VR playspace next to their PC, the old Rift headsets needed room tracking sensors to be set up, and the average gaming PC isn’t exactly “mobile” if you want to play in the larger confines or your living room. This is where another trend comes in – gaming laptops do provide that portability, and have (like mobile processors) become increasingly powerful in recent years.
We tested extensively with an Asus ROG Strix SCAR 15, and even though it fits comfortably in a backpack or laptop bag, it rocks the power of an Intel Core i9-12900H processor and a Nvidia RTX 3070Ti video card. With 32 GB of DDR5 memory and 2 TB storage space, it can handle any VR game that’s out today with ease, even the very demanding Lone Echo 2. With it, combined with the Air Link feature of the Quest (and Quest 2), we were able to unshackle the superior PC VR experiences from the desktop environment and play VR games as though they were developed native for the Quest.
The setup experience
But while that sounds great on paper, this isn’t a plug and play solution. While the Asus ROG Strix SCAR 15 has no problems running any of the VR (or flat screen) titles, getting the VR experience set up properly can be a bit overwhelming, especially for newcomers. Installing SteamVR and Oculus games is easy enough, and even pairing the Quest 2 will probably work fine, but your network setup is going to be a bottleneck in terms of the performance you get, so this is something you’ll have be(come) comfortable with.
For one, pairing with the Quest works best when set up through a dedicated 5GHz channel that isn’t being shared with other devices. We can see a lot of gamers needing a bit of tech support on that one, but it can also be that the standard modem/router solution you received from your Internet Service Provider just isn’t up to the task, performance-wise. And ideally, you’re going to play in the same room that has the modem/router, and you’ll have the laptop hooked up to it with a network cable. Probably easy enough to manage in a living room, but not everywhere. We ended up hooking up a separate, modern router just for VR purposes, and that ended up offering the best experience. You can still get things up and running with a regular modem/router, but there’s a chance that (like us) you’ll see a bit of stutter every now and then, even though the ROG Strix SCAR 15 wasn’t being stressed by the game. Long story short – setting up a wireless PC-VR session is easy enough, but does require a bit of network know-how.
The gaming experience
Assuming you’re able to get things up and running, the combination of a powerful gaming laptop (like the Asus ROG Strix SCAR 15) and the Meta Quest 2 provides a fantastic experience. With a lack of high profile titles for PSVR in the past two years we’ve been playing on the Quest 2 quite a lot, but combining it with additional horsepower elevated the experience and made returning to “vanilla Quest 2” feel like a real downgrade. It’s great to see how well the Quest 2 copes with tracking though – many of the games we tested were built with room trackers in mind and the Quest’s inside-out tracking deals with them just as well.
True must-play experiences include the likes of Half-Life: Alyx and Lone Echo 2 – which are the kinds of games that should make regular Quest users feel like they’re missing out. With lengthy campaigns and gorgeous visuals, they’re true showcases for what VR is capable of – though the step towards PC-based VR has even better looking titles. One such example is Kayak VR: Mirage, which provides the closest thing we’ve seen to photorealistic graphics in virtual reality thus far.
Lesser known but equally impressive games are the story-driven horror/thriller Wilson’s Heart and Arktika.1, which is a brilliant shooter from the developer behind the Metro games. When you realize that both of these games launched back in 2017 – over five years ago, it’s a reminder that standalone VR still has a way to go. But while they required top end PCs back when they launched, they can now be played very well even on a laptop system, and when we benchmarked the Asus ROG Strix SCAR 15 it didn’t even break a sweat even at the highest quality levels.
Seeing how a powerful gaming laptop like this can elevate the VR experience is a bittersweet experience. We had some of our best VR moments while testing the Strix SCAR 15, but at the same time it made it feel like the current batch of ‘mobile VR’ headsets are like a step back in time. PC-based VR isn’t perfect either though, and it lacks the convenience that a standalone system offers with the strain it puts on your network and your ability to set it up and configure it. It’s a pricey setup, but for the tech-savvy VR enthusiast the portability of a gaming laptop combined with the wireless functionality of the Quest 2 is a proposition that’s hard to pass up on.