The Vale is an action-adventure game with an intriguing premise: it’s an audio-based, story-driven experience with barely any visuals.
If you go to the game’s official Steam page or watch the launch trailer below, you won’t see much of anything. All the screenshots and videos are pitch black, and the only thing you’ll see are colorful small orbs floating around, like the patterns and colors you see when you close your eyes (these are called phosphenes).
There’s plenty to hear, though, so headphones are highly recommended. More than recommended, as without them you won’t know what’s going on.
In The Vale, you play as the second-to-the-throne, exiled to the edges of your kingdom when your elder brother is crowned king. Blind from birth, you have lived a sheltered life, but now is your chance you finally taste adventure on your way to the distant borderlands. But your journey comes to a halt as hordes of invading troops attack the caravan you’re traveling with. After a narrow escape, you are left alone and defenseless in a hostile, unfamiliar land.
You will have to master skills, use magic, befriend travelers, and survive the dangerous quest home. On the way, you will learn startling truths about your kingdom, the land, and the royal family. But you don’t have to rush home. There are over 20 side quests and audio cutscenes to discover – some have the potential to change the way your story progresses.
Since you are playing a blind character, The Vale relies entirely on audio for both storytelling and gameplay. Developer Falling Squirrel utilizes binaural audio technology, expert voice acting, and haptic controller feedback to “[guide] players through battle, quests and cut scenes,” in a AAA gaming experience accessible to visually impaired and sighted players alike.
“We’re excited to share a project that reflects our passion for exciting and unique entries into the gaming sphere,” says Falling Squirrel Owner and Game Director, David Evans. “We hope that through The Vale we are able to remove barriers and demonstrate that creating a gaming experience that is accessible to visually impaired gamers can still engage the sighted community.”
With no visuals, sound is the only way to get around and understand what’s going on. You’ll be able to hear the rustling of leaves in the forest, far-off echos in dank caves, and the cacophony of the battlefield. Yes, there’s combat in The Vale, including random encounters and boss battles, though we’re still not sure how the “intuitive battle clamor” will help use attack and defend against enemies.
To overcome your foes, you will upgrade both your character and your equipment in a classic RPG fashion. There are numerous skill and magic branches to upgrade, equipment to purchase and loot to scavenge. Equipment doesn’t only boost your stats, but also provides unique sounds that should help you get around and fight better.