I’ve been having a lot of fun over the last couple of weeks with deck-builder, Vault of the Void. Developed by Josh Bruce of Spider Nest Games as a hobby project, it’s been in early access since 2020 and is set for a full release later this year. But with the end of the year fast approaching, it seems unlikely that we’ll see large-scale changes to the game (which already seems very nicely polished and optimised) making now as good a time as any to buy into it.
At this point, fans of the genre have a good number of titles to enjoy, with pioneers such as Slay the Spire and Monster Train being joined more recently by similarly rewarding titles like Roguebook and Trials of Fire. The issue for developers late to the deck-building party is that these games are endlessly replayable, meaning new entrants have to bring something new to the genre to be able to find an audience and pull players away from established favourites.
This is something Vault of the Void seems acutely aware of, an impression it gives from as early as the menu screens. Tooltips on the character selection screens spell out the concepts that underpin each, and how they need to be played differently to each other (and to other games that have come before them). The initial tutorials highlight the key differences to other games in the genre in a way that I haven’t seen spelled out anywhere else. Even the game’s page on Woovit highlights ‘Key features & differences‘ when describing itself.
The biggest thematic difference is the game’s approach to randomisation and player control:
This manifests in so many different ways:
- Card rewards are known to the player at the start of the floor. From this, players can plan exactly which cards to pick up from those available – making use of a helpful planner tool to make sure nothing is missed.
- Cards can be swapped in and out of a backpack before fights, and once the enemy about to be face is revealed. This allows the player to set up for a fight with an optimal deck for that enemy.
- The end of floor boss is always revealed at the start of the map (not an uncommon feature of a deck-builder, but useful none-the-less).
- Void stones (things that you can attach to cards to give them an added benefit) are predictable, with the player knowing which they’ll get next and, thanks to a progress bar, roughly when.
- Cards can be mastered at the end of a run, allowing them to be added to the starting deck in future runs.
- Purging (discarding/burning) cards from your hand in a fight gives energy and energy persists between turns. Unused cards also persist allowing the player to set up the perfect combo of things to play later on.
- Players have spells they can call upon on any turn in a fight (on cooldown) giving even greater control.
- At the end of a run, before facing the Void, the player has to face 2 Vault Guardians. These can be chosen, and you can inspect their move set before starting allowing the hardest fights (or fights that aren’t compatible with your character or preferred deck) to be avoided.
- There are multiple currencies that can be spent (e.g. souls, essence) and plenty of opportunities and choice of how to spend them.
The result of this is that Vault of the Void feels very different to other deck-builders and comes with a different challenge. The randomness of Slay the Spire, for example, requires the player to go with the flow – adapt on the fly and make the best of a given situation. It requires them to take risks, to judge situations and yes, occasionally, rely on blind luck. Vault of the Void asks for a broader consideration of all the possible options available. If you can think up the perfect build then you can much more reliably procure its components. You are limited more by your understanding of the possible tools within each character’s repertoire than simply by what is offered to you.
This has three knock-on effects. The first is that, and this is not meant as a criticism, the game offers a flatter emotional experience than other deck builders. It avoids the immense frustration of never finding that one card or relic that really unlocks a build, or not finding a card early on that the deck can be built around. But, in turn, it also lacks that incredible feeling that comes once that unlocking element is found. In knowing which cards are available, the player can see what is going to be possible in a given run and then can take the actions needed to make the most of that. Fortunately, the satisfaction of achieving a high-functioning build remains.
The second is that the pressure to discover multiple viable builds is reduced. With all deck-builders, once the player has found a build that works it takes a lot of self-discipline to try something new. With randomness scaled back in Vault of the Void, there are fewer occasions where the player is forced to find a new solution or way to play.
Thirdly, the game is quite forgiving on lower difficulties. I defeated the Void on all four of my first runs with each character on normal mode, and I’m by no means a skilled deck-builder. Hard fights can be avoided, progression can be planned and overall risk can be reduced.
All three of these effects will better suit newcomers to the genre or more casual players. Builds can more reliably get going, RNG frustration is reduced and once a class has been practiced then victories on normal difficulty are more or less guaranteed. But the game has sweeteners for the more experienced player too. Impossible and impossible+ difficulties quickly escalate the adversity, and the challenge coins provide modifications that make runs unique and less predictable.
Overall, I’m hugely impressed with Vault of the Void. It’s an absolute steal at its current price on Steam, and a brilliant achievement for a solo developer who was just playing around with some ideas, to learn how to code. It brings some fresh ideas, looks and sounds great and is a delight to play. I look forward to exploring more of it and seeing how it does on its full release.