The Vaults

by Daniel Duarte


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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A card game without much to offer IF fans, November 21, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Itís a rule of thumb that every Comp has at least one oddball entry that strains the bounds of what counts as IF. In the last couple years, Jared Jackson has taken care of this slot, with last yearís deckbuilder and a Zachlike programming puzzle the year before that (I really enjoyed both, for the record). Comes now The Vaults to try its luck: itís a virtual CCG whose claim to IF-dom appears to rest entirely on the paragraphs of static text that play between bouts of the PvE campaign.

Sadly, I didnít find much to enjoy here, either as a piece of IF or on its own merits. On the former side, the gameís story appears to be very generic high fantasy, and the paragraphs only stay on screen for a little while, so I missed some of the plot due to alt-tabbing to take notes. Without any choices or interactivity between the battles and the story so far as I could see, thereís not much here for a traditional IF audience to glom onto.

As to the CCG, this isnít my genre of choice Ė give me a deckbuilder any day Ė but even so, I think itís too slow and confusingly-presented to be much fun. I eventually grokked the gimmick, which is that you have a trio of persistent ďkeeperĒ creatures who generate your mana, but only if you donít use them to attack. Thatís a fair enough tradeoff, but it made me feel like I struggled to make progress, as I was either forgoing attacks, nerfing my mana progression, or unsatisfyingly trying to split the difference.

The playerís starting deck is also oddly tuned, with few low-mana creatures, which added to the frustration as I repeatedly drew cool cards I couldn't do anything with. Finally, the visual design is muddy, with card watermarks making text hard to read, and colors rather than icons are used to convey too much information, so I couldnít always remember what a creatureís purple number was supposed to mean. All told I won one round, lost the second four or five times, then decided The Vaults simply isnít for me Ė though Iíd be curious what someone better versed in CCGs thinks, and if future developments in the story make the game more satisfying for IF mavens.

Highlight : Your little keepers are kind of adorable, Jawa-like minions.

Lowlight : One tooltip mentioned that you can link any NFTs you own to the game, which is just the worst.

How I failed the author : I played this during a very late-night (or more optimistically, very early-morning) feeding for Henry, and my fuzzy brain was very much not up to retaining the info conveyed by the tutorial. I also played the opening cutscene but didnít have the audio on, since Henry was drowsing awake, so the plot was pretty much lost on me (there were scrolls and a dude in armor?)

- Spike, November 17, 2021

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A F2P-mobile app-style fantasy card game with a variety of quests , October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

One of the games I've put the most hours to in the last few years is a lesser-known Hearthstone clone called Plants vs Zombies Heroes. It's the only card game app I've played, but it has a lot of features in common (I've heard) with the other big ones like Hearthstone.

So that's my basis of comparison.

This is an Online unity game. The download is a webpage with a redirect to the online play. Starting play has a lot of download bars as various things load. It has an opening movie cinematic with voice acting. After that, there is something of a tutorial, and then it opens up.

The main idea is that you open packs that contain cards or gold or other things, then you assemble a deck. You then play different levels or (eventually, but not now, I think) PvP. During gameplay, you have three keepers that generate points to buy cards with or attack (but not both). Keepers that get to 0 hp are taken out of play, same as for enemies.

Overall, this game is, to me, a mismatch for the comp. The spirit of the competition has generally been that you provide a complete gaming experience which can be archived and stay free forever, with possibly a better version released later for money (like Scarlet Sails). The two hour rule is there to encourage games to be substantially completable in two hours.

Neither rule is hard or fast; there have been games in the past which could not be archived (like Paradise, a text MMO game that was like a reinvented MUD) and the winners each year tend to take over two hours. But it's a bit odd to see a game like this which has different quests which can only be played once every 28 days (!) and has a cash shop with items up to $10.99 (none of which seem to be needed for progression).

I played the first two levels of the main game, but it seemed like GUI-based combat is the main thrust of the game with little text. Compared to Jared Jackson's Tragic from last year, it has much less of a strong storyline).

I don't generally include UI in reviewing, but it's an important part of this game. This UI could use a lot of tweaking; it popped up for me far too large for the screen. I think it told me to use CTRL+'-' and CTRL+'+' to adjust it, but I couldn't tell because I couldn't see. When I did get it to fit, it was usually too small to see, in a small rectangle with a blank white border around it. When opening packs, you had to slide a key from left to right. The interaction felt off; I think it was missing some kind of subtle highlighting when hovering over the key or inertia when sliding it. And you had to repeat it 30+ times in a row, making it kind of slow. The tutorial explains stats, but in-combat it's hard to remember; having hovering tool tips would be better.

Overall, this feels like an open beta for a commercial F2P/IAP game, which is why I provided the feedback above.

For my IF ratings:
-Polish: The game could use some tinkering with, as described above. I saw a couple typos, too, in the main story text, but I can't remember where.
-Descriptiveness: Most of the 'flavor' is communicated through images rather than text.
-Interactivity: It was difficult to figure out combat; all the mechanics were thrown at once instead of introduced one at a time, and complex opening and deck-creating had to be done before fighting. I prefer the tutorial of PVZ heroes, which has ultra-simplified combat happening first with a pre-made deck, then slightly more complex battle, then adding just a few cards to your pre-made deck.
-Emotional impact: I was too lost to get deeply involved in the story.
-Would I play again? Not without significant changes.

The scale I use doesn't really apply to this game; as a card game I'd probably give it 3/5. But I'll use my IF scale on this website for consistency.

Note that this was just my personal experience; others may have wildly different reactions to the game!

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