Heaven’s Vault: Choice and Abundance

To elaborate on what I was saying in the last post: The sense of abundance is a major part of the feel of Heaven’s Vault. It isn’t just that there are inscriptions everywhere, it’s specifically that it feels like there are more inscriptions than you need. That you can miss a few here and there and it’s okay, because, with occasional exceptions, they’re not individually important. The moment-to-moment gameplay is like an adventure game, but this is a radical departure from the usual adventure game world view, in which each and every little thing is crucially, individually important — perhaps not to every path through the story, but to some branch.

It isn’t just the inscriptions, either. There’s a whole system for finding clues to the locations of sites. When you have a vague idea of where some artifacts came from, you get a greyed-in region on the world map. As you find more artifacts, chunks of the region get carved away. Understand that this is rather abstract; you’re not told how or why each artifact reduces the search area, just that it does. Again, each clue is individually inessential. The player gets to decide just how much precision they desire before doing the rest of the search manually.

Mind you, even knowing this, I’m trying to be thorough in scouring each site for artifacts and inscriptions. Maybe it’s partly just ingrained habit from other adventure games, but, like I was saying before, most of the joy in the game is in finding stuff. Usually there comes a point in my explorations where my robot companion points out that I’ve already made whatever discovery is necessary to advance the story and asks, repeatedly, if I’d like to return to the ship now. And I’m always telling him “No, I’m not finished here”. As long as there are rooms I haven’t poked around in, I’m not done. I want as much of that abundance as I can find. But once I’ve poked around to my satisfaction, it’s comforting to know that anything I missed was probably unimportant.

And that extends to narrative choices as well. Choice often brings a sense of anxiety in games, a worry that you’re cutting yourself off from opportunities if you choose wrong. Here, I know for sure that I’m cutting myself off from opportunities, but I’m not particularly worried, because it seems like there are going to be plenty of others. The story starts with a character named Myari sending you on a mission. Some time back, I made a major discovery relevant to that mission, one that Myari would want reported to her. And ever since then, the game has reminded me, every time that I board my ship, that I should do so, that giving my report to Myari is, essentially, my primary mission now and the thing that advances the plot. But I’m pretty well advanced in the game now, and I haven’t gone back to Myari. I was unsatisfied with the mission’s resolution, so I decided to check out some more details first, and that led to more things to follow up on, and so forth. I’m basically doing the same thing that I do when exploring a site, but at the story level: continuing to search thoroughly even though the game has given me permission to move forward.

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