Heaven’s Vault review for Nintendo Switch, PS4

Platform: Switch
Also on: PS4, PC
Publisher: Inkle
Developer: Inkle
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Heaven’s Vault is the third game I’ve played from developers Inkle, and I’ve got to say, it took me some time to get used to it. The first two Inkle games I’ve played, 80 Days and Overboard!, were both essentially text-based adventures. Heaven’s Vault is certainly built around text, but more in a ?deciphering ancient runes” kind of way than in a ?North American-style visual novel” kind of way.

That said, much like 80 Days and Overboard, it’s also outstanding. Just…in a very different kind of way.

Heaven’s Vault is much more like a traditional adventure game: your character, Aliya Elasra, wanders around environments, looking for clues and going through dialogue trees. If you go in expecting that kind of game, you’ll be fine. That said, it’s important to remember who created the game — which means that even if it shared a lot of DNA with a specific genre, it does some things very differently.

For starters, the dialogue here works differently than in your typical adventure game. It’s not just that it’s better-written (though it is, as you’d expect from Inkle), but it also flows much more naturally. What you say matters, too, since it feels like everyone you come across responds to what options you pick — approach someone aggressively, for example, and they’re not likely to take it well.

For another thing, Heaven’s Vault doesn’t stick to one specific subgenre. Even though it’s got a lot of vaguely Middle Eastern or North African trappings, you quickly learn that the game is pure sci-fi — your character has a robot assistant named Six, and she flies around the galaxy on her own spaceship.

Perhaps the biggest departure, though, is the way the game makes use of Aliya’s background. She’s an archaeologist specializing in ancient languages, and she’s called on — you are called on — throughout the game to use that specialization to figure out what ancient writings mean. It’s a key part of the story since, much like with the interactions, what you interpret changes how the story evolves, which means that you need to puzzle out what makes sense and where you want the plot to go.

With the game designed to allow the plot to change and evolve like it does, it should come as no surprise that Heaven’s Vault is also much more substantial than either 80 Days or Overboard! Where you could get through a single playthrough of those games in well under an hour, Heaven’s Vault is much more open-ended, with a story that lasts more than 20 hours.

Now, a 20+ hour adventure game may not be everybody’s idea of fun. And, truthfully, even if I liked Heaven’s Vault, I definitely didn’t love it the way I did Overboard! and 80 Days. But at the same time, I can’t deny it’s an interesting, unique spin on a genre — adventure games — that sometimes feels like it’s been set in stone for a few decades. Given that it’s from Inkle, this should come as no surprise, and it’s another reminder that they’re an absolutely outstanding developer.

Inkle provided us with a Heaven’s Vault Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: A-