There aren’t many games that expect you to learn a whole new language. But then again, not many games are like Heaven’s Vault.
Casting you as archaeologist Aliya, Heaven’s Vault is all about exploring an intriguing and ancient world, uncovering artefacts and discovering the past. Accompanied by a robot companion, Aliya is tasked with tracking down a missing university professor. But in her quest to find him, she finds way more than she bargained for.
To put a label on Heaven’s Vault is practically impossible; it encompasses many genres, but all of them fuse together beautifully. When you’re deciphering the many ancient inscriptions that Aliya finds, it’s a puzzle game. When you’re exploring an area, and conversing with NPCs, it’s a narrative-driven adventure. When you’re manoeuvring your ship from one area to the next, it’s a flying game.
But despite how difficult it is to put Heaven’s Vault in a box, there’s one thing it consistently is: compelling. There’s just something about Aliya, and the world she’s in, that draws you in from the start. As she explores, you become desperate to uncover some new secret; to learn more about her and her world. The Nebula, a region of space made up of many moons, is an interesting place filled with vastly different cultures. You’ll hop from prosperous market towns to slave-trading slums, meeting a huge variety of people as you go. Each place you visit has something teach you, and you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny.
It’s a game that never holds your hand, either. While you’re generally given a task to work towards, you always feel completely in control of your own progress. Heaven’s Vault is not to be rushed; instead, it’s to be savoured and experienced. Exploring areas and uncovering artefacts will in turn bring up new clues, unlocking new areas for you to visit. It’s a little like a wild goose chase at times, but you never feel like you’ve reached a brick wall.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of playing Heaven’s Vault, though, is in deciphering its ancient messages. Aliya frequently comes across an ancient language, made up of a series of symbols. Over the course of the game, she’ll slowly learn to read these messages – as will you. It’s not as impossible as it sounds; the game gives you hints, and you’ll only ever have a selection of possible translations to choose from. Often, phrases can be guessed by logic and, over time, you’ll come to recognise the symbols for yourself. It’s hugely satisfying, like a detective cracking a secret code, and seeing a long inscription pop up on screen quickly becomes a highlight of playing.
Heaven’s Vault has already been out for some time on PlayStation 4 and PC, but it’s finally made a leap to Switch. And if you’re yet to play this wonderful adventure, there’s never been a better time. Its slow, thoughtful pace is not going to be for everyone, but if you thrive on games that let you take the lead, and allow you the opportunity to explore and think for yourself, then you’re going to love it.