This title was reviewed on PC, but is also available on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Every time a roguelike makes its way to my inbox, I get excited but I also feel a little sad, because I know I’m going to spend so much time playing and experimenting that I’ll I forget I’m supposed to actually review it. That’s exactly what happened with Vambrace: Cold Soul, despite it being a rogueLITE. The game was developed by Devespresso Games and published by Headup and WhisperGames.
The story follows Evelia Lyric, after she was found beyond the walls of Icenaire, which are known to instantly kill whoever touches them. She is brought to the city of Dalearch, a hidden city in the depths of Icenaire, where she learns that she was able to survive thanks to the magical vambrace her late father left her. In her journey, she uncovers the secrets behind Icenaire and her father. The dialog approach to the narrative really keeps you attached to the characters, whilst looking for scattered pages to add to your “codex” always keeps you on your toes for your surroundings. You always have something to discover in Vambrace: Cold Soul, which feeds the curiosity that envelops the player and keeps them playing for as long as possible.
Vambrace: Cold Soul is a story-driven roguelite à la Darkest–Dungeon style. Apart from the main character, you have three companions each with their own abilities and stats. You can recruit companions from Dalearch, where you’ll be presented a selection of mercenaries to choose from when needed. Be careful though, you need to pick well to balance the stats of your party: Combat (Damage); Awareness (Initiative in fights); Sleight (Luck in loot); Merchantry (Better shop prices); Overwatch (Better camping). Moreover, characters have two additional stats: Health & Vigor. Vigor represents the mental state of the character, and requires camping to replenish.
Quests in VCS are in the form of adventures, where you leave Dalearch heading to the surface. You need to prepare well by buying and crafting relics and items to boost your party, and you’ll only have yourself to blame if you go unready. Every adventure requires you to go through rooms that can contain enemies, loot, a merchant, a campsite, or a random event. Upon leaving a room, you find yourself in a cute chibi map of streets where you decide where to head next. So far, you’d think this is a great roguelike and nothing’s wrong, right? The design, sounds, and difficulty doesn’t seem to be a problem…yet.
Enter combat, one of the worst things about this title. It has a mundane, unbalanced, and overall boring system with no mechanics and shallow strategy. Basically, the only thing you need to worry about in combat is placing your rangers in the backline and your bruisers in the frontline, after that it’s just pressing buttons over and over again until the fight is finished. This is because there’s no variety in abilities and actions, as every character has two abilities, one normal and one special. Sure, it’s a thrill when you know your companions die permanently, but how could I enjoy that when I know that every fight I’m engaging in is the same? Not to mention that you can’t heal mid-fight using your items, which is very frustrating for a roguelike-if you ask me. Besides that, this made the map design much worse, as fights are very frequent and annoying. But at least you can retreat from a fight, losing your whole expedition’s progress but keeping your items, right?
I’ll be straightforward with you, Vambrace: Cold Soul is absolutely stunning. I literally couldn’t find one thing about the visuals of the game that I didn’t like (ok maybe not literally but you get it). It caught my attention the second I booted up the game even with the minimal animation in the main menu. It’s sharp and clean, aiming for an almost realistic art-style with a cold and dark color palette. The lighting is dim and blinking across most places, and warmth is not the first feeling you’ll get playing this game. The animations are very smooth as well, despite the abrupt stopping, which I don’t understand (but don’t care about either, to be honest). Combine this with the soundtrack and the great amount of costumes that Lyric can wear, and you’ve got yourself perfect, aesthetically pleasing visuals and gourgeous sound.
Even though I was largely pissed off by the combat system, Vambrace: Cold Soul remains a great title with amazing roguelike elements and gorgeous visuals, and I honestly expected nothing less of a game that has been 15 years in the making. I recommend it, it deserves a try.