The $499.99 Quest 3 is Meta’s best VR headset yet, with more than enough technical and ergonomic upgrades to make it worth considering for those who want a faster, thinner headset than the Quest 2. The company fixed a lot of issues (detailed in a sidebar below), yet the device’s new iteration suffers the same existential problem: The games still aren’t there.
It’s not that there aren’t games to play; the Quest 3 and Quest 2 share a unified game library, and titles will continue to launch on both headsets for the foreseeable future. But the list of must-play games available is small, relatively easy to plow through, and hasn’t grown much in the past few years. You can only play shooters and sword fighting games so many times. That’s reductive, since there are some worthwhile experiences available, but the point stands: Meta’s feed of new, interesting games is slow compared to the release rhythm set by traditional game consoles.
Having clocked serious time with the best that Meta’s Quest Store has to offer, the week that I spent with the Quest 3 didn’t convince me that it’s a day one (or perhaps even a year one) purchase for most people who own a Quest 2. And for those who don’t yet own a Quest headset, you can’t beat the Quest 2’s $299.99 price point.
The lack of content isn’t exclusive to Meta. Sony’s PSVR 2, Valve’s Index, and most other VR platforms put a lot of weight on one or two games at launch, then struggle to regularly follow them up with titles that make people feel like their big purchases are justified. This is where one of the big improvements made to the Quest 3, its colorized passthrough mode, could be an advantage — or so Meta hopes.
Passthrough mode was devised to detect virtual safeguards so you wouldn’t run into furniture with the headset on. Now, the Quest 3’s external cameras and sensors are the driving force of Meta’s ambitions to deliver more mixed-reality games to complement its VR offering. Compared to VR, which envelops you in another world, MR lets you see your room through the cameras, then plops some game elements in it.
Demeo Battles’ MR mode puts an interactive tabletop game right in front of you. In my playthrough, I hovered over the setting, rolled dice, examined the entire board, and zoomed into the ground level of the board to see the smallest details on the fighters. Another game, Lego Bricktales, which I did not play but hits stores in December, plops room-sized Lego sets in your environment, then asks you to build various objects to navigate the 3D world. While Meta’s camera tracking tech has come a long way, none of what I’ve seen so far resembles a killer app, nor are they what I want to be doing with a headset on my face.
Meta’s pursuit of new MR experiences with the Quest 3 can be read in a number of ways. MR is a less saturated market than VR, a segment in which Meta itself now has three headsets (with a new, affordable one coming sometime in 2024, says Meta itself). It has decided that MR is an opportunity for growth, compared to VR, where the returns for developers are low enough that seemingly fewer big investments are made by major game companies — or indies, for that matter — each year. More often than not, the headset makers themselves are the ones funding and launching flagship titles exclusively on their platforms.
It can’t go unmentioned that Apple’s $3,499 Vision Pro headset that’s coming in early 2024 relies heavily on mixed-reality components, and by Meta participating in a similar realm, it boosts the likelihood that developers may port their Vision Pro experiences to the much, much (much) cheaper Quest 3.
Meta’s hopes for the future are one thing, but you shouldn’t buy products based on a company’s promises. They might not pan out. That said, if you are considering the Quest 3 just because it’s more futureproof (I don’t blame you there), you may be assured that Meta set an impressive precedent for supporting its hardware with the Quest 2. Since 2020, it has done some major work to make it more capable, like boosting screen refresh rate and internal CPU and GPU power, and adding a free method to let you wirelessly pair it to a gaming PC to play larger-scale PC VR titles. It felt good to fall in love multiple times over with a gadget that I already owned.
The Quest 3, on the other hand, is much more complete out of the box, with fewer obvious areas for improvement than the Quest 2. That’s good, but leaves me unsure of what Meta may choose to upgrade that’s as beneficial to the gaming experience.
Hopefully, Meta focuses on convincing as many developers as possible to update their games to run better on the Quest 3. The company has touted that some are being updated, but it’s not an across-the-board improvement for all titles just by turning on a Quest 3. Most games I tried didn’t look or run noticeably better on the more powerful headset, with one exception: Red Matter 2. It already looked great on the Quest 2, and with its Quest 3 update it approaches the quality of PC VR games like Half-Life: Alyx.
Outside of that, Beat Saber still plays like Beat Saber. Quest-exclusive Resident Evil 4, the VR adaptation of the GameCube hit (not the 2023 revival, sadly) doesn’t benefit in a noticeable way, save for the slightly increased field of view available in Quest 3 experiences. Strangely, Bonelab and Tetris Effect look and run worse on the Quest 3 than they do on my Quest 2. I’m really hoping that most of these games get enhanced, but that’s ultimately up to the developers to decide whether it’s worth it. As for the developers who readied their games for the Quest 3, UploadVR has a running list.
One of the best things about the Quest 3’s arrival is that the Quest 2 will continue to be available for purchase, and that the two headsets share DNA at different price points. Not only do they run the same games, as I mentioned above, but their Android OS lets you find some more games that exist outside of what’s sold on the official Meta Quest store. SideQuest, which I’ve linked to in some resources below, is a great way to go about that.
The Quest 3 feels kind of like a mid-generation console refresh, but without the benefit of having dozens of amazing games that feel greatly improved out of the gate. If the software (both its preexisting library and future titles) ever catches up with the excellent hardware, it’ll be the headset that I have no reservations about recommending to VR veterans and newcomers alike. Until then, the trusty Quest 2 is the one I’m backing.
The Meta Quest 3 will be available Oct. 10. The hardware was reviewed using a retail unit provided by Meta. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.