Heaven’s Vault is all about discovery. This may be the discovery of a lost artefact, temple or perhaps even a moon lost in the mist in the depths of The Nebula. It’s about deciphering a lost language of the Ancients one hieroglyph at a time taking you on a thrilling journey filled with twists and turns.
Heaven’s Vault is a new open-world adventure narrative game from Inkle Studios. You take on the role of Aliya Elsara and her robot sidekick Six as they explore The Nebula searching for clues and trying to prevent the same disasters of the past. Discover lost sites, explore ancient ruins and translate inscriptions to help piece together the puzzles and understand what’s coming.
As we meet Aliya we’re on Iox which is the centre of The Nebula. “All rivers run to Iox” Aliya says during the game as it’s a place where academics and scholars gather to unravel the mysteries of the past. We start outside the university on Iox and we’re called in to meet our mentor and sent out on a quest to find a missing person who’s made a significant discovery on a nearby moon. What he discovered is a mystery, but it could have wide-reaching implications for everyone on Iox.
Aliya is an archaeologist who has a passion for treasures of the past. There’s a couple of mechanics in the game that accompanies Aliya’s passion – deciphering an entire hieroglyphic language and our timeline.
As we travel around The Nebula discovering statues, treasures and secrets we encounter inscriptions. It’s our job to decipher this hieroglyphic language. Every word has a meaning and the translations we choose feedback into the story. However, as players, we’re never sure if we have something correct until we verify it a few times. At first, we only have knowledge of a few words in our dictionary of Ancient. However, as we progress through the game we become more sure of translations as we find words and characters which are similar and confirm our previous predictions. Sometimes we find phrases and sentences we don’t have any clues for and they are stored for later. As we go we build up more and more words, allowing us as players to translate more complex hieroglyphics. Uncovering the stories of the past this was is unique and the care and attention to this language development are clear.
Our timeline mechanic allows us to look back on events from the short, medium and long term past from a few minutes ago to years ago. Each event is recorded as we go which allows us as players to delve back into the rich lore of the game is we choose. However, it’s not mandatory and is there if you want to delve in.
Aiding the sense of discovery is sailing The Nebula. Rather than a modern spaceship with a talking AI like we see in other games, this is more like a ship sailing on the high seas carved from wood. As you sail through The Nebula you find more lost treasures or even new sites lost in the mist. At one point I dropped onto a moon where the winds were raging. Aliya could hardly make her way through without her lungs getting full of sand. I turned a corner to find a beautiful temple. I won’t give away too many story details but the sensation of discovery in this game is a fantastic feeling and if you give it the time it will reward you back with some wonderful experiences. Since the games release Inkle have released a patch which allows you to hand over the controls to Six on your ship to fast travel to a location where you have been before which is a nice improvement.
As you travel throughout the moons, planets and cities of this world you meet an interesting cast of characters. Some selling or trading and some old friends. You meet characters deeply suspicious of Ioxians but also characters who want to help you on your quest. There’s a sense of class divide which reflects our own world and has been carefully captured in this game.
The game is slow and methodical but that’s not a criticism. It’s a refreshing outlook on an adventure of discovery. I’ve not played a game like Heaven’s Vault before where the focus on language is so front and centre. It’s certainly unique and if you’re interested in the trailer for the game then I recommend picking it up. As you progress through the game there are spine-tingling moments of discovery. Often you don’t know the intent of your side-kick Six and he keeps you guessing.
Overall I’d recommend Heaven’s Vault to anyone who enjoys adventures games. Rather than go in all-guns-blazing this is a game about learning, discovery and taking your time. There are memorable moments in the game and Heaven’s Vault offers you something a little different from the rest of the games out there.
Developer: Inkle Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4
Release date: April 16th 2019
Check out my interview with Joe Humfrey discussing the development of Heaven’s Vault.