Video games are always innovating—that’s one of the things that make playing a variety of games fun. Sometimes you’ll have those games that are variations on a popular theme, but then other times you’ll have games that take a familiar genre and present it in a whole new way. There are a few games that try to emulate what it’s like to be blind, with horror game Perception being the one that immediately comes to mind. But before I’ve played The Vale, I’ve never played a game where sound is essential, and there are almost no visual cues at all.
In The Vale: Shadow of the Crown you play as a blind second heir to a kingdom whose king recently died. Sheltered for most of your life, and hidden away due to your disability, after your father’s death you’re made warden of a small castle on the outskirts of the kingdom. On the way there, you’re attacked by an invading army. Without an escort, blind in the wilderness, and surrounded by hostile forces all around, you have to make the long dangerous journey home.
The Vale has the most minimal graphics possible. There is a field of sparkling motes that float in the air, and that’s it. These motes represent the time of day, or sometimes your character’s mood changes, but the main purpose they serve towards gameplay is showing the barriers of a specific play area. Despite being blind, there are sections of The Vale where you walk around much like a game played from a first person perspective. These motes show the barrier of travel in these sections, but give no clue as to the contents of the play area. That all depends on what you can hear.
Sound matters immensely in The Vale. It might be worth noting that playing with headphones is almost essential. Everything from inventory management to accepting quests is done with audio cues only–even combat. In combat, you can wield a sword and shield, and must block and attack based entirely on the sounds your combatants are making. Attacking is purely directional, with the ability to attack to the front, left and right. Enemies can and will move throughout your attack range, and you have to listen carefully for an opening so you can attack at the appropriate moments.
You are guided through each of these systems in flashbacks that also serve to dole out The Vale’s lore. Story rich, The Vale has plenty of intrigue and a compelling plot with a mystery at its heart. The characters are fleshed out and interesting. You learn to learn to trust and befriend by the sound of someone’s voice alone. It helps that the voice acting is excellent.
Since sound is so important, it seems like a lot of attention was made towards the quality of that sound. Everything audible is appealing, from the fantastic voice acting, to the immersive 3D sound engine used. Even with partial deafness in my right ear, I was able to play with hardly an issue.
Despite there being hardly any visual graphics to speak of, The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is a fully realized role-playing game. There is inventory management, companions to meet and recruit, a magic system, and vendors to interact with. Playing it reminded me a bit of playing in a tabletop game, except my actions were done with a controller instead of verbally.
Being blind lends itself to unique gameplay. There are stealth sections in The Vale, with your protagonist’s greatest strength in her ability to pass through dark areas the same as light. There was a tense moment early in the demo where you have to navigate a camp of sleeping soldiers only using the sounds of their campfire banter and snoring that really showed the potential of this title.
There’s a demo available on Steam right now that gives a nice taste of what to expect in the full release. The full release, according to the Steam store page, is expected to have more than five hours of gameplay. The Vale is also fully blind accessible from the get-go, adding to the growing lineup of games for the visually impaired.
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