Having been there in the early builds of Vambrace: Cold Soul, it’s been interesting to see the multiple tweaks, additions and quality of life improvements added to each update just in time for launch and continuing regularly thereafter. The various changes have been positive to see after community feedback. The developers, Devespresso, continued making the their game a better version of itself all while not sacrificing their true vision. To put it simply: the one major criticism was difficulty. Vambrace: Cold Soul was deemed too punishing. Being able to attest to it, this was definitely the case. Trial and error would let you sink time into one area, the first area, only to fail with little-to-no reward for it. That is no longer the case as the features added are more than just adjusting the difficulty slider. On top of balancing, there’s just more implemented here just in time for the Nintendo Switch release and what you get is a challenging, but fair venture into the cold world of Icenaire and its peoples. Cut from the same visual cloth as their 2017 title, The Coma: Recut, and gameplay most related to Darkest Dungeon (both on Nintendo Switch), Vambrace: Cold Soul will push your buttons and encourage multiple playthroughs as you will miss out on certain quests, story and unlockables depending on the choices you make.
Vambrace: Cold Soul is heavy on atmosphere. From the ambiance of its environments to the chillingly and beautifully detailed artwork that’s presented to you, it’s easy to be immersed into the world of Icenaire and it sells it well. Backing that up is the lore that’s ready for you to uncover, many of which can be overlooked if not given the time to seek it. The characters all have something to say, all have an agenda, yet all are in a predicament together. The factions and races must get along during the worst time of their lives and it’s all part of a plan set in motion.
You play as an Edeni named Eveline Lyric, daughter of a famously renowned Dr. Nicolau Lyric. We find out about his death and it’s revealed to us that in his will he bestowed his encrypted journal to Eveline as well as an ancient and unique vambrace known as the Aetherbrace. She sets out on a specific goal to uncover the truth. In the Dwarven realm of Dokkheim, people from all walks of life are trapped in an underground establishment known as Dalearch. The reason for the entrapment is that an entity known as the Green Flame has placed Frostfell (wall of ice) around the city allowing no one to come through and no one to escape. That is until an expedition from the Guardians finds Eveline passed out and question her entry. Her vambrace allows the destruction of smaller Frostfell and the search for more answers begins here.
Dalearch serves as the main hub to then visit anywhere else you need to go. It is essentially the only safe zone. Here you will be able to recruit members to take with you on your expeditions, make acquaintances, sleep, buy gear and items, change outfits, find new quests and more. The peoples here are trapped, but somehow find a way to manage their own community and get along. Being so close to each other, their living quarters feel very similar in design and materials, but they are able to spruce it up to their own liking based on their own culture. Entering each building offers a feeling of cozy familiarity all while being distinct at the same time. You’ll learn of the humans, elves, dwarves, shadowmancers, a cat race and other races as you explore. Pressing ZR will allow Eveline to sprint in Dalearch. Pressing and sometimes holding A will interact with objects in the environment and talk to people.
The one major way to live under these conditions they’ve been put in is to go exploring territories to gather materials under the risk of meeting up with Spooks — souls who carry on in the same land and want to destroy the Guardian’s Resistance thanks to the Green Flame. The only way one is able to venture outside of Dalearch is by using ancient Dwarven tech known as the Ascending Room. The Ascending Room is an intricate elevator system that travels through a massive grid of tunnels to specific destinations, thus making it hard for one to track the origin of where it came from and is the only safest way to travel to the different districts. Eveline and her recruits will be doing the same. And before venturing out, the best and really only place to gather such recruits willing to lend their specific skills and sacrifice themselves for the greater good is at the Hunter’s Camp.
There are different classes to choose from at the recruiting board and as you make progress the number increases as well as more classes to choose from. During your expedition you may come across a band of members setting camp who you could recruit for a price (because you may need one), but the one at home base are always free. Once you choose one and decide to release them, they’re gone and you must wait for more to be available listed in time. You will want to find ensemble works best for you. Each class is proficient at various tasks that aren’t necessarily for battle alone.
For instance, it’s a good idea to recruit someone with a high camping skill so when camp is set up, you reap the benefits once set up. Someone with high awareness will most of the time avoid hazardous traps. Failing to avoid several traps in a row could be the thorny threaded line of bad luck that could cost you. You may need supplies when exploring, so someone with a high merchantry skill will give you better items when coming across a reoccurring merchant character. Someone with high scouting skills can open treasure chests and crates more efficiently, netting you loot. In all these cases, the higher the stat number, the better successes and even critical successes providing bonuses to each of these.
Random events also appear which you may have the chance to engage or disengage with. You may come across a hole in the wall with the option to explore it, not knowing what the end result will be. You may find a hidden shaft. Often you’ll come across different kinds of wraiths who have their own engagements (you can pet the ghostly dog). Depending on choosing to engage and which member is doing the engaging, there will be different outcomes if not randomly chosen of the dice.
It’s good to be cautious at all times as venturing in freezing districts with wraiths wandering about takes it toll on everybody. There’s two key elements to maintain in order to stay alive. One of them obviously being Health, depicted by the red gauge. The other is the green gauge, depicting Vigor. Since travelling around the haunted hoods can be daunting, each “room” you visit reduces Vigor down by one. Players have a Geistometer that keeps track of the terror and once it reaches a certain point before making it to the next area, players will find themselves with Green Flame wraiths in every room. Since the game’s been updated, the meter fills more slowly now giving players the a little wiggle room to explore before things get dire.
Each district allows you to take different routes until you reach your objective area. Each area you explore is called a neighborhood. Each neigborhood is randomly generated with rooms and its contents making each run not feel the same. One must go through 5 neighborhoods before reaching the boss of that district. Although each room reduces you go through fills up your Geistometer, it resets when entering a new neighborhood. At any time if you feel you are overencumbered with items or low of vigor/health to make it out alive, players can choose to retreat back to Dalearch with everything they’ve earned up to that point. The only loss is the expedition progress and players must go through 5 neighborhoods again. This can be a good way to grind for loot to sell or gather materials for crafting. Or players can get to the end and not worry about it.
Camping is a good way to recover health and vigor, which can be done by both playing resting and playing some music to raise spirits, respectively. In fact, camping is crucial. It’s the only way to consume items in between rooms. However, camping may only be done at camping sites meaning you could miss it, have it be at the beginning of a neighborhood or towards the end of one. Both sighting a camping spot early and late in neighborhoods serve a good purpose, despite its randomness. You may want to heal yourselves before going through the rest of the rooms, or you may need to heal just directly after tackling them all. Never take it for granted. One quality of life feature added was the ability to camp outside of neighborhoods and in between them. Here, players are always ensured a camp sight as well as a crafting forge. The pacing changes and opportunity for preparation is warranted here and is greatly appreciated.
Once completing specific story beats and/or quests, players are granted Perk points. While recruitable members have high stats in certain categories, here players are able to upgrade Eveline’s stats to their liking. There’s only a handful earned so know what to be most proficient at is important. Players can get their stats up to a decent enough point where certain situations are manageable and not failing most of the time. I found this is a mixed bag, but also vastly different depending on play style. Maybe you want your team consisting of classes who are good at one particular thing and don’t have a high enough awareness to avoid traps. Instead of requiring one who has high awareness, players can get improve Eveline’s awareness instead and have her team be a meat shield, if you will. Awareness also effects speed in which players get their turn in combat.
Combat is performed by various contexts. Players can escape or change formations of their groups. Certain classes have different attack range as well. In a fight against 4v4, formation and class types are key. Short-range fighters can only attack the first two enemies in line; eliminate #1, and now both 2 & 3 are now in reach. Mid-range fighters extend towards the middle even if there’s a gap between enemies (say #2 gets eliminated, but 1 & 3 are still standing), and Long-range fighters can attack anyone. It’s best to keep long range members in the back so they absorb less damage and take out long range enemies, so on and so forth. Players can defend without taking damage to their health by pressing X. However, it does take a hit to the Vigor reducing it by one. Special skills pertain to each class and these are called Flourish, which can only be performed if there are enough Flourish Points for that character.
Flourish points can be earned by successfully landing an attack or defending against one. They can be earned by successfully avoiding traps or doing accomplishing a whatever traits they’re good at. Pressing B performs a Flourish skill with the less amount of Flourish Points needed while pressing Y will require more. These can be stronger attacks or greater heal buffs. Relics can be equipped outside of battle. These are generally armor or accessories that provide buffs (as well as nerfs in some regards). Relics can also be ranked by color or be specifically made for certain classes, often making ones Flourish have greater effect than normal.
Vambrace: Cold Soul offers plenty to see and a lot of it can be missed. Some of these aren’t the fault of the players, unfortunately. The game is comprised of chapters. While most of the time you’ll have access to all of the people you know and areas you’ve already visited, the quests and dialog still changes. Some quests even begin but become broken due to timing or miscalculation. At one point, we gave an item to someone that wasn’t even in our inventory, but upon going back and talking to the person who was supposed to give us the item and then did, the quest went into a loop of half-completed and never-will-be-completed. It never halts the road to the endgame, however. It does change the story as you proceed, but often the rewards are outfits and they’re an attraction that’s easy for completionists who want to collect them all. Collecting them all does require multiple new playthroughs. There is no New Game+, but there is the ability to bypass and access different chapters once you’ve completed the game. Done in an interesting, if not convoluted way, players can choose their starting point and “Good, Neutral, or Evil” playthrough to get new endings, unlock new art in the Achievements category, as well as see new points of story bits and outfits.
The easter eggs and nods are plenty. The art in Vambrace is gorgeous that wanting to collect outfits is even more of an incentive since Eveline’s portraits are portrayed during dialog. Furthermore, her appearance also plays in-game. They’re worth seeking out and seeing your character in a different light as you play. It makes all the difference in an already-engaging story. And that’s something I wish to touch on. The exchanges between characters and the lore behind grabbed my attention. A lot of it is also easy to miss. After every event or story sequence, in every chapter, every main character and NPC you find will have something new to say. I found myself going through every community and talking to everyone over and over just to hear what they had to say. Your actions leave an imprint on everyone around you and for anybody who just wanted to get through the next run and see it to the end, a lot of that impact can be lost. My words of encouragement is to at least make your way to everybody as much as you can. Especially when it comes to the main characters, there’s an attachment to their personalities that you’ll feel strongly about one way or another. While there are 3 different save slots, only one is made for each playthrough. The game auto-saves and doesn’t let you cheese your way through the decisions you’ve made even if you’re not happy about it.
The Nintendo Switch version is also not a lazy one and may or may not be the definitive version. Players have the choice to do everything via controller input, but handheld players will also get the benefit of touchscreen mixed in if they so choose. Icons on the screen both inside and outside of battle can be tapped. It almost doesn’t seem necessary, but this is also the default standard for the PC version. Eveline’s voice actress does a fine job in the opening sequence and the remaining grunts and voice samples from her and other characters do the job. The music and sound effects also add to the tension.