Vambrace: Cold Soul is a roguelike dungeon crawler in which the player plays as Lyric: a woman led to the land of Icenaire by her father’s vambrace and codex. On her journey she must confront the King of Shades and the spectres that haunt Icenaire with the help of other adventures she recruits.
Vambrace starts out with a brief tutorial, following some soldiers (two with familiar names to Final Fantasy fans) on patrol in the snowy wasteland; which would be okay if it wasn’t throwing all of the mechanics in your face at once. Honestly it might be a little overwhelming for some people because it gives you a lot to go through all in one go instead of telling you things as you naturally progress. If you do you forget anything though you can always check the help section of the menus. At the end of the tutorial the soldiers stumble upon a girl laid out in the snow and bring her back to the city of Daelarch where it’s safe. This is where we are introduced to Lyric.
After some dialogue and a brief introduction to Lyric and her goal, she gets released from the town’s prison and is allowed to wander the town in a limited capacity while you meet some characters. When the witch, Isabelle, who was in the prison at the same time as Lyric escapes, a brief encounter has Lyric earn the trust of the townspeople and be given her first assignment: Find Isabelle on the surface. Upon being given this quest, the game finally starts to open up and you can start getting dug in.
Daelarch is the main hub, here you’ll make preparations for the expeditions, rest up if you need to recover from coming back from the surface, and interact with the people around the town. Despite the fact it’s a town it isn’t particularly lively outside of the inn and the camp fires around the recruitment board, which is fitting for an environment that is pretty much suffering an endless winter. It’s a nice contrast though between the town, where people live and the surface, where there’s not much else besides spectres. It never makes the town too lively though and keeps the feeling that it’s a town fighting for survival. Daelarch is also inhabited by various races such as Dwarves, Elves and of course Humans. Lyric can talk to different people around the town or find missing codex pages to find out more about the world and both it’s history and current situation. If there’s one thing Vambrace does really well it’s its world building. Something that isn’t particularly easy either when most of it is a frozen wasteland.
The biggest part of preparing for the surface is team building. Lyric can go to the recruitment board in town and choose up to three other team members to accompany her on an expedition. Each person on the board will have their own role and stats. Dragoons are more tanky, frontline fighters, Fencers are all rounders and then you have ranged roles like Archers and Fusiliers. Generally each role is associated with a race so you can tell what each role is at a glance of the character. There are multiple other roles as well that you’ll have pop up on the board as it changes the more you go out to the surface and return. Each role also has its own abilities to use in combat so it’s when recruiting you have to take if each member’s abilities compliment each other. Since each team member has their own stats which effect things like their ability to open locked containers or detect traps, really you’ll have to find what team has the best synergy for Lyric. This is because she is the only one that can level up stats through a menu. Stat boosts for party members have to come from equipable items, bare in mind you can use these items on Lyric also.
Before departing on expeditions, Lyric can head to the inn and go to her room. While there she can rest up and recover team health and vigour, change outfit, store items and craft. While in the main area of the inn she can also talk to her team members through some brief dialogue. I should note that the dialogue in game is done through text accompanied by character portraits, but this really isn’t a big deal. The dialogue is isn’t badly written and the art in the game is one of its strongest points, with a great style that really suits the game and it’s setting, giving distinctive visuals to some of the districts of the town that are occupied by specific races, such as the elven area having a distinct green hue.
When you finally go to an expedition you’ll find yourself having to take a path to reach your goal. This path can be branching, taking you through different areas so you can encounter different things but your end goal will be the same. Each area of an expedition is broken down into a map with multiple rooms, each with their own loot and encounters. Some encounters can be combat, while others can be something like a trap, that may or may not harm you depending on your team and their stats. Occasionally you’ll get encounters that are short cutscenes where you make a decision. The result of these encounters is random so it’s a risk reward element for the person that makes the decision. On thing that was a little off putting is the fact these encounters can repeat so there can be times you might get the same encounter back-to-back.
As you progress through rooms your team will lose a little bit of vigour and their terror bar (indicated by a Geistometer) will also slightly increase. The only way to reset the terror bar is to progress from the current area and move to the next, so getting through each of the rooms is pretty much timed unless you want to be dealing with squads of ghosts every time you enter a room. In some rooms you may find a campfire so you can temporarily rest. Having a party member with a good overwatch stat maximises the benefits of using these camping sites. When set up you can send a raven out to scout a room for you if you have someone of the right role or you can entertain you team to regain vigour or sleep to regain health. All of which comes at the cost of terror though so you have to consider the risks of stopping in one area too long. There are also shelters in between each area but you cannot sleep or rest there, only craft.
Instead of camp sites in some rooms you may also find a merchant or a camp already set up from other adventurers. I feel like the merchant is self explanatory but the adventurers are quite good if you run into them in the right conditions. Normally the roguelike aspect comes from carrying items back to town because of a maxed out carry weight or retreating because you lost party members. Normally in the case of lost party members you’d have to go back to town to replace them but at the camps you will have a couple of people you can hire at a cost but without going back to town. Normally these can be a life saver if you’re late into an expedition but down a party member or two, especially if you’re about to head into a boss encounter.
Losing party members is going to come from either their vigour running out or their health being depleted in combat, which can be very unforgiving. When in combat there’s quite a lot to take in. It’s turn based, so you get time to plan moves out ahead which is nice, and also ability based. Every party member will have a base attack that costs nothing to do but can use other abilities at the cost of vigour, or in some cases health, or a flourish attack which is a sort of critical hit that can be earned by building up flourish points in the fight. Attacks and what they can hit are also dependent on the type of attack being used. Close range attacks can only hit the two closest enemies. Mid range can hit the middle two enemies and long range attacks can hit the farthest two. The type of enemy and what’s hitting them also has an effect since there’s a sort of element system that can give damage buffs against enemies of specific types.
Alongside all this there’s your standard stuff like class specific abilities, buffs and debuffs. My only real big issue with the combat is that there isn’t lots of variety in the abilities available to each role. For example: most archers will have the same abilities and I feel like it could’ve gave some of the team members more personality if they had unique stuff to them. Instead of just seeing them as a role on the board with a different look they would’ve been their own character.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher