Vambrace: Cold Soul, is a roguelike that caught my interest because of its highly stylized, graphic novel-esque art style and grimdark atmosphere. You play as Lyric, a young woman searching for clues about her late father’s mysterious past, who ends up trapped in Icenaire, a city surrounded by enchanted walls of ice that kill anyone who touches them…
Story and World Building
… Except Lyric. The enchanted vambrace permanently affixed to her arm allows her to bring down the smaller of these walls, which makes Lyric the best choice to lead expeditions to try to find out how the city can be freed of its icy curse. This is the initial setup for the plot of Vambrace: Cold Soul.
I really liked the worldbuilding in Vambrace, however some “show, not tell” writing would have gone a long way. The setting and various races are fairly detailed and interesting, and there are a wealth of conversations to be had with NPCs around Icenaire (explorable city hub featured in above image). While the lore is surprisingly expansive, it is rarely relevant outside of conflict between the races and is often squirreled away behind codex entries that need to be found or the information is spoon fed to you via exposition dialogue with characters rather than learned from setting or context clues.
Clearly inspired by Darkest Dungeon, Vambrace’s art and animation are rock solid, but the lovingly crafted aesthetic does not do enough to hold up the gameplay and I would have gladly trading away some of the visual polish for deeper combat and progression systems. Combat is turn based with turn order decided by the Awareness stat and each character has a specific skill loadout.
There are plenty of choices to fill out your party from the recruitment board, but you’ll quickly fall into the same combat routine of the most efficient moves in each enemy encounter. The only progression that seems to exist is in the form of slightly better item upgrades you can craft over time, however these mainly affect the two resource bars (health and vigor) of the character, and their other stats minorly. Ally vocals in combat are particularly repetitive, especially when taking damage. Looking at you, way-too-dramatic female hedge elf scream.
Needless UI Holdups
My biggest complaint about Vambrace is its UI speed. Every action taken by the player is slow. Opening and closing menus takes a moment longer than should be necessary, something that is not a big deal unless you are opening the menu a lot, which you will be for many reasons such as party order swapping or discarding items when you are frequently overencumbered, causing you to notice the nagging delay constantly. There is always a noticeable pause when lock picking boxes, checking traps, etc.
Attacks could certainly be faster as well and you cannot run unless in the hub city. You are forced to move at a slow walking pace through all of the dungeon rooms, even when backtracking through fully explored spaces, and it is especially maddening when completing the puzzle dungeons (above image) that require visiting multiple rooms more than once. This factor in combination with the slow UI makes for a needlessly arduous and monotonous experience hidden behind the pleasing, artistic visuals. It just doesn’t feel like smooth gameplay at all. However what bothers me may not bother you.
Contrary to my above gripes, I very much enjoyed Vambrace: Cold Soul, or rather wanted to enjoy it more. The art and worldbuilding compelled me to keep playing because I was interested in seeing the next dungeon’s setting, though the attractive art design did only a little to mitigate my frustration with the sluggish core nature of the game.
Vambrace: Cold Soul isn’t too long, with only 7 chapters, and if you happen to clear the main story dungeon run for each chapter without failing, the game can be finished fairly quickly. Vambrace is available for $24.99, but I would suggest waiting for a deep sale to give it a try if it appeals to you. $15 would have been more appropriate considering the game length and amount of content found within it. Vambrace: Cold Soul earns a 7/10 in my book.
Thanks for reading!
Note: Game key kindly provided by HeadUp for the purposes of review.