Heaven’s Vault

Heaven’s Vault, Inkle’s latest, was released back in April, and I’ve been meaning to get started at it since. To be honest, I’ve never actually completed an Inkle game — not even 80 Days, which I’ve started numerous times. But HV has that one extra element that promised to be more compelling: the deciphering of an alien language. As people familiar with my own IF works could guess, this is a matter of some interest to me.

Not that I’ve seen a lot of stuff to translate yet. I’m still in the early stages, and presumably will have more to say about the translation mechanics later. For now, I’ll just say that it seems to be manageable without external note-taking. The game takes notes for you, organizing and indexing them in various ways. In fact, it does an impressive job of that generally. You’ll be talking to your robot sidekick and an offhand mention of something in the player character’s past will provoke an unobtrusive pop-up letting you know that it’s been added to the timeline of past events. Much has been made of the game’s eagerness to remind you of where the plot stands and what your goals are.

The management of history is particularly relevant to the story because that’s the player character’s job. You play the part of Aliya, a historian and archeologist, simultaneously looking for a missing roboticist and investigating the forgotten past of the game’s sci-fi setting. That setting is a peculiar one, apparently consisting of moons connected by airborne rivers that you navigate in a sort of mini-game. The player’s piecemeal discovery of the details of this world parallels Aliya’s discovery of its past and its past’s language.

The game’s dominant mode of interaction is conversation, but it often makes this simultaneous with freeform exploration, like in Firewatch or even with navigating the rivers, like in Wheels of Aurelia but with rivers instead of roads. That is, there are places where you enter a distinct dialog mode and are forced to make a choice (or let it time out), but there are also places where it just prompts you to optionally press a button to start or continue an ongoing conversation. In the latter case, you don’t get much choice over what you say; the prompts are along the lines of “Remark” or “Query?”, and the game is essentially just asking you whether you want more world-building right now or not. I pretty much always do.

More tomorrow!

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