Vambrace: Cold Soul
Developed By: Devespresso Games
Published By: Headup Games
Category: Roguelike Adventure-RPG
Release Date: 08.29.2019
Trends are something that most businesses follow in order to stay current or to try to take advantage of someone else’s success. When an indie comes out and has a new formula that impresses the gaming community and they blow up to the upper echelon of what is revered in the space you have tons of followers to that game’s release that take up that game’s newly minted mantle and try to create their own success from that ones, or they have a way to take that formula and do something a tad different with it. Vambrace: Cold Soul takes a formula created by 2016’s Darkest Dungeon, of which it received national recognition, and adds on its own flavor to try to make something with similar gameplay, but its own charm. Get ready for another grueling descent into the dark, while also being really, really cold.
You are Evelia Lyric and you are searching for your father. Your journey has taken you to a desolate landscape of cold and ice, and you were found lying in the snow by a militant group who is defending the area. Upon your arrival you learn that the city you are in, Icenaire, has been cursed by the wicked King of Shades and with that curse you have the cold storm blight on the city, as well as the fact that the dead have begun to rise. The band of survivors who has taken you in need your help, and lucky for them you have a magical item that allows you to cross through the barriers put in place by the mad king, and so you have now given a final hope to the people of Icenaire. This story is way more developed than most games from the genre, which is a definite plus for a game that is lacking in conciseness in its systems.
Similarly to Darkest Dungeon, you have huge difficulty spikes running down into the dungeons and you bring a party of assembled cohorts with you through a grueling mess of encounters. Unlike Darkest Dungeon, you party is made up of characters you will have much less attachment to, as there personalities and look are more or less just molds of the same 6-8 character types, making the punch in the stomach you would feel when losing characters in Darkest Dungeon something that escapes you in this title. As much as I don’t like losing my favorite characters, you have more skin in the game that way, and the fact that you don’t have any attachment to these characters makes squad wipes little more than an inconvenience, or a waste of your time.
Beyond that you have basic turn-based combat that leaves something to be desired. Each character has an attack or two they can perform, and then a buff of some sort for certain characters. This makes your runs more about having characters with good initiative stats so that you can swing your big sword before the dead guy can swing his big sword, rather than about being strategic in how you take on the baddies. A turn-based RPG like this one has some traits that are considered necessary for them to be enjoyable, and having a deep strategic sense is something that I think cannot be omitted. The fact that you basically just hack and slash your way through encounters and let RNG be your guide is something that makes your long hours involved feel like they were scooped up and thrown into a snowbank. Super cold.
Your characters have several sets of stats to check out that add some of that much needed deepness, however you have very little of that that is actually necessary to pay attention to outside of which guys have the highest attack and best initiative. You have very little management that you have to do over your party, and that makes for an experience that just makes you feel like it’s missing something. You have the basic measurements that are customary in most RPGs and that is about it, outside of this game’s “fear” mechanic, which doesn’t go nearly to the extent of Darkest Dungeon.
Dungeon traversal is something that I enjoyed, but it felt like you were trudging along most of the time. Traps are probably the most annoying aspect to this game outside of missing attacks, and there are a ton of traps scattered throughout the dungeons. You have to have a character with a high enough skill in trap detection to discover them before hitting them, as they are hidden from the screen, but even with a character with good stats in this department you will hit your fair share of traps. These traps add on traits that make your characters less and less useful, and so it is just a jolly old time to run into them. I will say though that this mechanic at least adds onto the strategy you have to consider, as your gameplay style can be altered based on hitting traps that give certain negative side effects. A hard game isn’t a bad thing, and this system definitely makes the game harder.
The thing I hate managing the most in RPG titles is an inventory. I don’t mind games that allow you to hoard cool weapons and potions and carry anything you may need in a given situation, but when they make a difficult RPG with an encumbrance system it makes me want to throw up. Encumbrance in a game like Skyrim makes sense, you have areas for storage, and little need to carry around tons and tons of supplies and random items, but in a game like Vambrace where you already have a ton working against you it would have been nice to be able to carry around all of the goodies that you find along the way so that you are ready rather than having to choose between that sick new weapon or the crafting materials you desperately need.
The best part of this game is how beautiful it is. Well-made hand drawn art throughout makes for characters and environments that have an extreme amount of detail and lots of charm. This is probably the only one-up that this title has over “game which shall not be named again” and thus is something definitely worth mentioning. The time and effort put in by the artists over at Devespresso Games is truly something to take note of as they continue to make games in the space. I can only imagine if they took these talents into other genres that were less dark and confined.
Vambrace: Cold Soul is a completely competent roguelike fantasy-adventure, that takes a popular formula and makes something that fans of Darkest Dungeon (oops) will definitely want to consider checking out. Increases in the story and beautiful art are the points of this game that really excel, but the lack of concise systems and UI, as well as boring combat that is lead by luck make for an overall experience that is just as difficult as you would want, with all of your strategy being removed. You can’t do a whole lot to help your way through this one, and just hoping for better results is where I found myself pretty often. Having less interesting characters culminates all of these negatives into an experience that falls quite short of expectations. However, as a stand-alone product you have a game that does what it is trying to do quite well, while simply just not respecting the time taken to play through it.
Buy Now – $24.99
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*The Switch Effect was provided a review code for this game*