I liked this game a lot.
At its heart is the translation of an ancient language, one that
might hold the key to the prevention of "history repeating".
At first its just guesswork, picking a possible translation of a
particular glyph set from among a few suggestions. As you progress, you
start to see sets repeating, in different contexts, and you can begin to
formulate ideas about the true translation. Words previously translated
will appear with that same translation, perhaps giving contextual
insight as to whether it is actually correct. At any time you can go
back and retranslate words and phrases from before, based on new
knowledge or insights. Like all languages its more than just words, and
identifying things like tense can make a difference. Keep going, and
more things will fall into place, earlier guesses will be ruled out, and
a possibility/likelihood/certainty will eventually set in. It's both
satisfying and exciting when it does.
You do this as Aliya, a history aficionado tasked by a Professor at
the University of Iox to find a colleague who has gone missing in the
Nebula. You are to be accompanied by robot Six, and neither the task or
the company appeal to Aliya. But the brooch shown to Aliya by the
Professor is intriguing. Sent to the Professor by the missing colleague,
it bears strange glyphs and may be the "find of the decade".
Or maybe not. Regardless, Aliya sets off.
There is much more revealed in the early interactions, but you can
discover those for yourself. I liked the way the details unfolded, and
they shaped how I felt about Aliya in particular.
Speaking of details, the event timeline is full of them. A little
overwhelming at first, it places what you do into what is essentially an
historical narrative, able to be interrogated at will, or ignored as you
see fit. I settled into how it worked, and found myself dipping in and
out, at times spending quite a while in there poking about.
The Nebula is traversed onboard the Nightingale, a ship in every
sense of the word. Initially, you steered it along what are akin to
rivers, directional arrows telling you when to veer left or right, until
you arrive at your destination. My enjoyment lasted just about to the
end of the first journey, which must have been the experience of others.
An update introduced a fast travel ability, for which the makers need to
be congratulated. Paying attention and responding to your playing
customers doesn't happen nearly as much as it should.
The game provides feedback on translation in a number of ways, and
other characters might also assist. Aliya's scholarly friend Huang at
the University, and her perhaps less than reputable antique dealer
friend Tapi, can provide comparisons with similar text in their
materials and collections. I thought this aspect was well balanced,
aiding rather than answering. And while I have never translated an
ancient language, it seemed credible in its approach.
You don't need to correctly translate the language in order to
complete the game, and based on some googling it appears you might not
have to get much correct at all. While the translation isn't all there
is to this game, to me it was the centrepiece, so this seemed a little
odd. But it does mean you can enjoy the other things that are on offer,
without worrying that your skill as a linguist will be hindrance.
Which is a story rich in lore, whether you dip into the timeline a
lot or a little. Events are spread across the moons and planets of the
Nebula, and locations are varied and generally worth exploring. History
is something which most believe just loops around and around, and the
here and now is all that matters. It gives rise to religions, Empires
and some interesting existential conversations. Some big ideas are
raised, and like real life, not everything that is addressed or occurs
is happy and positive.
Aliya and her interests are an anomaly in this world, which might
help explain her demeanour. But the breadcrumbs she is following will
inevitably draw her on.
Conversations are many, generally providing a range of responses. It
was not clear exactly how the responses affected the various threads and
the bigger plot, but there was a definite sense that conversations
current and future might be shaped by how I responded. In any event I
treated all of them as if they mattered greatly, and perhaps they did.
More obviously they might result in a pin in the timeline or the opening
up of a new location.
Almost everything said is read, via stylised speech bubbles. Aliya is
the voice you here the most, and (in my opinion) she has an appropriate
British lilt (Rachel Weisz will forever be my standard for an intrepid
history buff). It isn't by any means a silent endeavour; musical
interventions and ambient sounds provide the auditory palette. And even
read, much of the dialogue is well written and at times almost poetic.
You move and utilise the conversation options with the keyboard. The
mouse operates as a camera, and can also be used to click on hotspots
(easily identified) and entries in the timeline. The game autosaves and
gives you a short "the story so far" when you next play.
The best way to appreciate the look of the world is to check out the
screen shots. Character animation is limited; they move but there is
nothing as elaborate as lip-synching. However at no stage did it feel
wooden or stilted.
You can tweak settings in the menu, including the volume of various
tracks. If like me you don't like the drum beat when you choose a
dialogue option, you can turn it down to zero.
Some might call Heaven's Vault slow and repetitive. I call it a
measured and elegant narrative adventure. Much more than the sum of its
parts, those parts are themselves worth experiencing, and together they
capture the inquisitive nature of Aliya's calling. There is much to
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-6700 4GHz