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Heaven's Vault

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Heaven's Vault Game Poster Image
Non-violent sci-fi puzzle adventure with strong female lead.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Though rooted in a sci-fi setting, the story touches on familiar real-world issues such as learned prejudices held by people with differing backgrounds. The branching dialogue demonstrates that what we say has consequences, both in terms of how events unfold and how people interact with each other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aliya is a smart, confident, and resourceful historian and scientist, but also sometimes a little bit rude and condescending to those with whom she interacts. The player can customize her personality to a degree by choosing how to respond to other characters.

Ease of Play

Exploration and movement are simple, and dialogue selection is intuitive. But the hieroglyph translation puzzles will leave some scratching their heads, and sailing Aliya's ship between moons can be a bit frustrating thanks to awkward controls.

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know Heaven's Vault is a downloadable futuristic adventure for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PCs. The game is about a historian attempting to decipher ancient hieroglyphs found on moons in a strange nebula. It hasn't got any inappropriate content. The heroine is a smart, strong-willed scientist who uses her intellect to solve problems and collect information from people -- though, depending on dialogue choices made by the player, she can sometimes come off as a bit rude and condescending. Players gradually come to understand that their choices have consequences, since the characters with whom Aliya interacts remember what she says to them. Parents should be aware that even though there's little here that's inappropriate for younger players, the translation puzzles and narrative themes are geared for a slightly older audience. The story lightly touches on some familiar real-world issues, such as learned prejudices held by people with differing backgrounds.

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What's it about?

HEAVEN'S VAULT puts players in the shoes of Aliya, an intrepid historian on a quest to find a colleague who's disappeared. The futuristic story takes place in a strange nebula with moons connected by flowing waterways that Aliya traverses in her ship, the Nightingale. She's joined by a robotic companion named Six, and together the pair journey from location to location interviewing locals, with players able to choose how to react and respond in conversations via a dialogue tree with branching paths. Along the way, the duo recovers several artifacts that not only help them in their search, but also gradually reveal events on a growing historical timeline that spans thousands of years, dating back to the earliest days of an ancient empire. A key part of the adventure involves translating an ancient language by learning to identify words and phrases. These hieroglyph puzzles can be found almost anywhere, from pieces of ancient jewelry to doors and statues and even stitched into the lining of old clothes. It's always up to the player to decide where to go, with whom to speak, and how to interpret the artifacts they discover.

Is it any good?

An open world adventure focused on storytelling and puzzles and free of fighting makes for a refreshing change, but it may not be for everyone. Heaven's Vault's greatest strength is also bound to be what turns off some players: Its translation puzzles. Inkle has done an admirable job making a game out of the process of examining rune shapes and using what you've previously learned to make educated guesses as to their meanings. It really does feel like you're playing the role of a historian doing a historian's work. The downside is that there are times when this work, well, feels like work. Players stab around in the dark -- much as a real translator of hieroglyphs probably does -- until something finally clicks with Aliya and she becomes certain of a word's meaning. Some players will relish the authenticity of these puzzles and may even feel like they're really learning a new language, while others are bound to quit playing in frustration.

Assuming you're among the former group and you keep at it, there's plenty of other stuff to enjoy -- especially if you like discovering new worlds. Aliya is a compelling character, and getting to know her quirks -- such her frequent annoyance with Six -- is a pleasure. Plus, the millennia-spanning timeline that slowly develops as the game progresses tells a separate but equally fascinating story of a mysterious and powerful empire, and how the subject of our search is connected with it. Time spent sailing the waterways between moons can get a little tedious, mostly due to awkward controls, but thankfully far more time is devoted to exploring each location, finding artifacts, and getting to know the locals. If you take to the challenging translation puzzles, Heaven's Vault should prove a smart and charming alternative to action-oriented open world games.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about screen time. Heaven's Vault lasts around 15 hours, and its open world design means it isn't really broken into separate chapters, so what's a good tactic to ensure your play sessions don't stretch on too long?

  • Can you think of a time in your life when you used your intellect to come up with a cool way to solve a problem?

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