Number of Reviews: 3
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Not really a text adventure, but fun if you know what to expect, December 3, 2021
Full disclosure: I tested The Vaults after IFComp was over, so I've been able to see a lot that wouldn't be accessible in two hours. I think I've worked well with the author, and he's been attentive about bug fixes--he even responded positively to a one-star review! I've enjoyed my time through it, and again. So this review will be a combination of my IFComp experiences and why it placed where it did, as well as a look forward, and things that are fixed if you want to check out The Vaults now. TLDR: there's a lot more player help and balance.
Within the two-hour judging limit (I think,) I got my keepers to level 2 in The Vaults. I saw basically what was going on: you have little three mini-ghost keepers, replete with hoods, who go about a terrain and fight adorably grouchy little knocker goblins. They're bluish and keel over and grimace further when they die, which is quite frequently. I even managed to gain my keepers armor and gauntlets. The armor cost one maximum hip point, which shows the author has put effort into balancing things in addition to, well, getting such a massive effort to work.
From a gaming perspective, I enjoyed The Vaults very much, but as a text adventure or perhaps freeware, it's wanting. It's in Unity and takes a while to load--longer than Cygnet Committee, Silicon and Cells or Mermaids of Ganymede. There are in-game purchases, which is just fine for a game that is going to Steam, but other people found it iffy. The ethical considerations here are tricky: you won't see all of the game in two hours, especially with all the special effects, but if you buy a pricey item, you can move forward quickly and thus be able to judge more! I think The Vaults unintentionally found a loophole that should be closed. I doubt this was through malice. The author probably saw, hey, there's a contest for unreleased games that starts just as my game is scheduled to release! So I think IFComp needs to re-evaluate its stance on in-game purchases. Competitors shouldn't feel pushed to make them in the name of fairness. This is far less black-and-white than releasing a game before comp start or actually charging, but I think now we've seen it, we need a future rule.
However, the main reason this game didn't work for IFComp is that it wasn't really text-based at the time. The big text gulps are before you go exploring, and then the screen times out before your next fight. It's possible to take a screenshot, but it shouldn't be. A few tutorial dialogues popped up but not enough to help you understand what was going on. Often text would disappear after some time out, or I'd just want to get through the splash-screen before the next fight and suddenly realized that text might be valuable! So having an information, umm, vault full of these screenshots would be nice. There are starting tutorials, but I wasn't in a position to really understand what they mean until you play a few fights. The game precluded you from doing certain things, too, such as attacking when attack power is zero and now I've gotten through it a bit, it's obvious to me, but not newer players. I almost gave up, and I maybe would've, too, if those poor cute knocker goblins hadn't shown terrible strategic reasoning by attacking me. I eventually decided to see what would happen if I just sat around and let them kill me, and at that point I realized what some of the numbers around the combatants meant.
All this is done much better now, though it's still light on text. Having said that, the graphics are good enough to figure what the red, blue, green and purple are for without text. I did it myself! Thankfully, you won't need to any more.
As it was, I assembled a deck by trial and error (it's now automated--your default cards go to a default deck), and I got bopped pretty badly as I pushed forward outside the first area. So I stuck with knocking around (ha!) the poor knockers goblins, deal with summons, and attack only when it's useful. I was overwhelmed by who did what at first, and again, there are helpful popup boxes now. The author's done a lot of this--allowed for more detailed graphics or animations, or just "hey! Here's the treasure from those twenty chests!"
The Vaults is an impressive piece of programming. I get a sense of strategy that interested me, even though I'm not big on card games. But I definitely wasn't in the right frame of mind for it, and given how I wound up grinding in the first area, the story was almost non-existent. It only unfolds with each new area and tougher monsters. That said, I did get to the end of the second map with a clear idea of what was going on. Even then, I hadn't explored duel mode or really used the Forge, which combines items (you get experience, and it costs gold) into more powerful ones. You also get to choose a specialization class later.
So The Vaults is a bit heavy on the technical effects, and thus it put itself at a severe disadvantage in a text-based contest such as IFComp. I feel like a goon playing gatekeeper and saying "IFComp isn't the right place for this game" because, after all, I did enjoy it. But all the same, given that the author has ambitions to put the game on Steam, I suspect the game's placing will be outweighed by the utility of any bugs judges find and report. I've learned a lot about the whole RPG creation process. And at any rate, it's really cool to be able to say I sincerely enjoyed my time testing both the first- and last-placed games in IFComp 2021, albeit for different reasons.