Here I sit, trying to think of a way to introduce Heaven’s Vault by Inkle Studios, freshly released on Nintendo Switch today January 28, 2021, and I’m failing miserably. How does one start to write about such a gorgeous, expansive game?
I love open, exploration games. I love how I can get lost in them, finding every nook and cranny with all the secrets and surprises they hold. Heaven’s Vault is all that and more. When a roboticist from the University of Iox goes missing, Aliya Elasra, an archaeologist, begins a trail of discoveries that will lead to the very edge of her world – and the ancient secret of Heaven’s Vault. The more you explore the Nebula the more mysteries you uncover, learning about ancient civilisations from ages past, tracking down various collectibles that drive the main story, and learning more about Aliya by how she interacts with others and deals with situations. It’s an engrossing game and one that I found hard to pull myself away from.
As you fly/float around the Nebula, you’ll come across ruins or other ancient sites, some you can land on and look around, others your robot sidekick, Six (so named because he is your sixth robot, just don’t ask about the other five), will head down and see what he can find. Some of these ruins may contain traces an ancient language and it’s up to the you to learn it. One thing I really liked about this was that after a while you notice that similar words look alike, and as you learn about the civilisations you see how their language reflects their beliefs, such as the word for God/Goddess being like the word for Emperor, showing how their rulers thought of themselves as Gods. Even words with similar leanings like you/your and we/our look the same, giving you a way to work out their meanings.
Finding more artifacts in Heaven’s Vault unlocks new places you can travel to. To start with you might have only found one or two pieces from the same location which will highlight a large area on your map as a clue to where it might be, but as you search that area you’ll find more artifacts, narrowing the search area until you can find somewhere to land and search buildings.
I went through different phases when it came to travelling between moons. The scenery is gorgeous, and I just wanted to explore everywhere. After a while I just wanted to quickly get to where I was going. There is a sort of quick travel, where you set your destination and get Six to pilot your ship there. This is only available after you have discovered a location. If you haven’t found it yet you have to manually travel there first, then you can use Six. But I quickly found out that, along with the beautiful environments and wonderfully scored music, Aliya and Six will have conversations that enhance the story of the game and give invaluable backstory to the characters and the history of the Nebula.
The game does limit you in where you can travel to start with. If it’s not on your map you can’t really travel there, which for me was a shame because I just wanted to explore the whole map and learn as much as I could about the Nebula. Still, the game fairly quickly opens up more and more of the map, giving you plenty to see and do.
The narrative in Heaven’s Vault had me hooked from the get-go as well. I love me a good mystery and this game presents more than one. One of the groups in the game believes in the Loop, that what came before is what will come to pass, and that by learning ancient history they’ll learn how to stop any threats that are coming. So the present day story has you learning about a possible threat, while at the same time learning about multiple past empires and what they were like. At the same time there’s a personal story for Aliya, learning about her past and reacting to learning things about people she admired from her childhood.
Heaven’s Vault is releasing on the Switch on the 28th January and for the most part it plays well enough. The game looks and sounds amazing, but every now and then it will lag a little bit, just in the visuals, sound will still play normally. I thought it might be my TV but it also happened when I had the Switch undocked. I could also see that the draw distance for objects was affecting how parts of the Nebula loaded in. Walking around on moons was fine as everything seemed to load in upon entering said moon.
That doesn’t take away from the game itself. It is a wonderfully crafted title with a large world and so much going on that I would lose myself in it for hours on end. Very worth playing if you enjoy your exploration and story games. This review utilised a Switch code provided by the publisher. Heaven’s Vault is out now for PlayStation, PC (via Steam) and launches for the Switch today, January 28, 2021.