World of Warcraft, Everquest, Sims… I dodged them all. No MMO (massively multiplayer online game) was going to claim hours of my life. Then I see someone playing Zwift in the office pain cave. When I saw it, I had to try it, and now I have to restrain myself from using it for every indoor training session. I’ll explain why later.
What is Zwift?
Zwift is a MMO created for indoor cyclists. It uses ANT+ technology to gather data from your power meter, heart rate monitor, and speed/cadence sensors. It also syncs up with trainers such as the Wahoo Kickr and Computrainer which have built in power meters and speed sensors. (Their full list of supported trainers and devices is quite extensive.)
With the data Zwift gathers, it can calculate your character’s speed and distance, giving you a realistic, virtual riding experience. Throw in a bunch of other online players and some power ups and the race is on.
Pairing / Devices
Pairing Zwift with all of my devices was about the easiest pairing experience I’ve had. I paired my Wahoo Kickr, Garmin heart rate monitor, and Stages power meter in a few seconds.
One cool thing about using a smart trainer with Zwift is that when the elevation changes in the game it alters the resistance on your trainer giving you a very realistic simulation. It also changes resistance when drafting which gives you motivation to chase down your competitors and ride their wheel.
I haven’t tried Zwift with a power meter on regular trainer/rollers yet, so I’m not sure what happens in that situation. Obviously, it’s not capable of changing resistance, but maybe it expects you to pedal harder so you don’t breeze up a 9% grade going 30 mph at 225 watts.
Overall, the gameplay and graphics are great. Currently, there is only one course, Zwift Island, which offers sprint and climbing sections where you can compete to capture the green and polka dot jerseys respectively. You can also earn the orange jersey for fastest lap time. These touches add to the race atmosphere and fun.
Character creation is on par with other games. You can customize your kit, bike, wheelsets, and whether or not you want a helmet, sunglasses, socks, etc. By doing certain things in the game you can unlock achievements which can get you new kits, bikes, and wheelsets.
They’ve also introduced power ups into the game which you can use to gain an advantage over the competition for a period of time.
My First Game Experience
My first experience with the game I set out to do a moderate effort and see what the game was about. However, I got caught up in the fun and action and ended up putting forth a race effort, blasting my old power threshold. (This is why I said earlier that I have to stop myself from using it for all indoor training workouts.)
Usually, on the indoor trainer, I’m constantly checking my watch, counting down the minutes until I’m done. However, being emerged in the game changed all of that. My hour long ride flew by and was over before I knew it. I was actually looking forward to my next indoor workout so I could play again.
After completing your session, you can log into the Zwift dashboard and check out all of your recent activity. The dashboard gives you a summary of your stats as well as listing individual sessions completed with FIT files you can download. So you can take your sessions and upload them into your favorite data crunching application.
Zwift is currently in beta. You have to request an invite to gain access to the game. Even though it is in beta, it is still a fantastic game, although there are a couple limitations.
The main limitations I found were:
One map - Zwift Island is the only map available as of now. Hours and hours on the same 3.1 mile course can get a little old after awhile.
Always in race mode - With all the fanfare of a race, it’s hard to stick to a planned workout.
User Interface - The user interface needs a little polish. I didn’t find it very intuitive as far as where to go to change my settings or customize my character.
During the game’s loading screen, there are teasers for upcoming features. One of which will address always being in race mode. Looks like they’ll be introducing workouts soon. I think that will be a killer feature. Being able to choose between existing workouts or custom workouts and having visual cues as to when you are or aren’t hitting your numbers with a little virtual coaching would be fantastic. Also, cycling (pun intended) through the teasers is the notion of races with mass starts at designated times. That could be really fun.
I’m sure all the other limitations I mentioned above will be resolved as they continue updating and releasing new features. The Zwift team and Zwift Community aren’t short on ideas. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in the day, so we’ll have to wait patiently to see where they take this game. I think it has a huge amount of potential and I can’t wait to see where it goes.