Heaven’s Vault Review – Dr Jones I presume?
Heaven’s Vault from inkle is one of the most interesting and engaging games I’ve played this year. Essentially a point a click adventure game, Heaven’s Vault sees players working to solve a mystery, decipher an ancient language and dig up stories of the past.
You play as archeologist Aliya Elasra who traverses the Nebula in search of ruins and the remains that have been left behind. The Nebula is a collection of small moons and outposts that are connected by ‘rivers.’ You can ‘sail’ between these moons on your starship and along the way make additional discoveries to help solve the mystery.
Everything kicks off when Aliya is summoned to the moon Iox to meet with her mentor. She’s tasked with locating a missing roboticist who was secretly researching the impending apocalypse. As Aliya follows in his footsteps she makes shocking discoveries that threaten the very history of her entire world.
Heaven’s Vault Review
Heaven’s Vault gets off to a pretty slow start if I’m honest. Everything moves at a glacial pace; conversations, exploration and puzzle solving, but it’s deliberate. Heaven’s Vault is a game you’re supposed to take your time with. There’s no rush, after all, you’re playing as an archeologist.
You also need to take your time as you play to pay attention to the details and make note of them. Everything has potential significance and the more you know the better prepared you are as you move through this world. And the more you pay attention, the more you’ll enjoy Heaven’s Vault.
Initially, the game drops you in the deep end. People go about their business as normal and nobody stops and delivers long speeches full of exposition. Players are left to infer meaning, history, customs and more. At first, I felt overwhelmed and like I would never fully understand this world. Yet, inkle has masterfully crafted the lore of Heaven’s Vault and its gradual delivery to players.
So good is the pace at which you learn about the world of Heaven’s Vault that eventually, you feel like a citizen. I understood all of the nuances of each moon, their customs and their strange slang. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that inkle had developed an enormous lore library for Heaven’s Vault.
Lore & Order
The lore and setting for Heaven’s Vault have become some of my favourites in recent times. Despite the slow start, I became fully immersed in and engaged with the story. The more I discovered, the more pressure I felt to move forward and even though the game is slow, it felt like it was moving at a breakneck pace.
Gameplay in Heaven’s Vault largely takes place in 3rd-person. Players move Aliya around a number of locations, speaking with characters, discovering artefacts and deciphering a lost language. The latter is the most important and most interesting part of the game.
As you discover inscriptions on objects, written on walls and hidden throughout the Nebula, you’re able to decipher the symbols and learn the language. However, as you need to assume a certain amount of information about the writing, there’s no guarantee that your translation is correct.
Right or Wrong
For example, should you decide that an inscription has a religious context, all dialogue and story beats from that point forward, regarding that translation will be viewed through a religious bent. Every decision you make about the language informs the story moving forward. Heaven’s Vault never corrects you on your translations either and simply leaves you to your own adventure.
It’s absolutely brilliant.
Especially when you play through multiple times and see the way the story can go based on the decisions you make. There are even dozens of words and inscriptions you may never see as they’re entirely missable. Without seeing the object or the words you lack relevant information and thus make your decisions based solely on guesswork.
As you move through the world, deciphering the language and learning the history of the Nebula you unravel the mystery of this place one layer at a time. It would be a disservice to spoil anything here, but rest assured, the story is deeply engaging.
Joining Aliya on her quest is a robot she names Six. The robots of this world are discovered buried in the ground and nobody knows how they got there. They are another part of the overall mystery, but Six is integral to the story and the player’s connection with the game.
Despite being a robot, Six is the emotional core of the story and I found myself relating with him throughout. Even Aliya, who named him Six due to the five before him she had broken, grows attached to Six.
Six and Aliya discuss the nature of being human and what it means to be alive. They talk about loyalty and where people come from and even what to expect after we die. It’s these conversations that elevate Heaven’s Vault above your standard adventure game. In fact, Heaven’s Vault is full of ethical discussions regarding right and wrong, nature versus nurture and all manner of deep emotional issues.
Not everything in Heaven’s Vault is flawless though. A lot of game time is spent sailing between moons on mystical ‘rivers’ and this is not much chop. It’s slow and boring and really pretty pointless. You are able to discover some lost artifacts out there in space, but really, it’s just a time sink that I could have done without.
Additionally, I’m personally not a fan of the artwork. I like the hand-drawn quality of the characters, but when the game zooms in, which it does often, you can see how low resolution they are.
The 3D environments are quite low-poly and murky textured and the animation of characters is sub-par. It’s clearly a stylistic choice by inkle, but for me, it just doesn’t work.
The audio design in Heaven’s Vault is great though. The score swells and falls to drive tension and mystery. A small amount of VO work lends a human voice to proceedings and helps connect you to Aliya. Her broad, British accent giving the game an earthly, familiar quality.
As you explore the moons, background noise is filled with chatter and all manner of sound effects to make you feel like you’re really there. And each moon is vastly different from the others so you feel like you’re stepping into a different country each time.
Minor issues aside, the gameplay is just sublime. I never would have thought that I’d enjoy an archeological/language adventure game so much. Heaven’s Vault is a stunning achievement in interactive narratives and is an absolute must play.
Heaven’s Vault was reviewed on PS4 using digital codes provided by the developer.
Game title: Heaven's Vault
Incredible Lore and world building - 9.8/10
Vastly different outcomes based on choices made - 10/10
Figuring out the ancient language is fantastically rewarding - 9.6/10
Characterisations are wonderful - 9.1/10
Visuals are unique, but underwhelming - 4/10