Vaporum Review

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2017-09-28
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Introduction

Vaporum is the debut effort from Slovakian developer Fatbot Games.  It's being listed as a "Steampunk Dungeon Crawler," and that's pretty accurate.  One could also call it "Grimrock Lite," and that would be accurate as well but perhaps not as complimentary.  In any case, the game is a grid-based, real-time RPG where you explore a multi-level dungeon filled with monsters and puzzles, and where you slowly become more powerful so you can defeat a big, bad boss at the end.

As Vaporum opens up, you wake up next to a large tower, but you have no idea who you are, where you are, or what the tower is.  However, the tower opens up to you, so with nothing else on your agenda, you decide to go inside.  From there you have to explore the tower, evading and defeating its security measures as you slowly regain your memories and piece together what's going on and how it relates to you.  Then it's just a matter of escaping, which is easier said than done.

Character Development

You only control one character in Vaporum, and that character has to be male.  On the first level of the tower, you find three "exo rigs," and you're required to wear one of them as you explore.  The exo rigs are basically how you choose your class in the game, with "combat" (DPS), "heavy" (tank), or "thauma" (magic) being your options.

Interestingly, you don't improve your character as you defeat monsters and solve puzzles; you upgrade your rig.  So instead of having health, mana, spells and skills, you have integrity, energy, gadgets and circuits.  You also quickly discover that the tower is a research center for an alien substance called "fumium" (which can energize, upgrade, and manipulate objects), and instead of earning experience for killing creatures, you collect fumium from their remains, and it's fumium that allows your rig to become more powerful.  Sort of sadly though, since Vaporum is played using a first-person perspective, you never actually see your rig, and the game plays exactly like other RPGs, just with different words for familiar concepts.

There are nine circuits / skills for you to choose from: blunt weapons, blade weapons, handguns, rifles, dual wielding, armorer (which improves integrity), blocking, thauma catalyzer (which improves gadgets), and fusion conversion (which improves energy).  Circuits have five ranks.  Each rank improves the circuit in some way, but ranks 3 and 5 also give a special bonus.  For example, with dual wielding the regular ranks simply improve your accuracy in that mode, but rank 3 also improves your dual wielding speed, and rank 5 either allows you to dual wield two-handed weapons or steal integrity with your attacks.  You only gain about 15 circuit points in the game, so you can't learn everything.  You have to focus on a few circuits.

There are also several gadgets / spells for you to choose from.  You can equip two of them at the start of the game, and then if you invest in the thauma catalyzer and fusion conversion circuits, you can add up to two more.  Gadgets do things like deal damage, improve your defenses, and improve your attacks.  At the start of the game you only find "basic" versions of gadgets, but then eventually you uncover "advanced" and "superior" versions, which are more effective but require more energy.

I tried three different characters in Vaporum.  For my main playthrough I used a "combat" character with blunt weapons, blocking, and armorer.  Then I worked through the first few levels using a "heavy" dual-wielding swordsman and a "thauma" guns and gadgets expert.  The three characters played differently but not wildly so, and since all of the enemies and puzzles in the game are fixed, that leaves Vaporum's replay value a little limited -- unless you want to go for all of its achievements, since many of them (like dealing 1 million damage) require multiple playthroughs.

Gameplay

Vaporum uses a square-gridded environment, and you play using a first-person perspective, so the interface has a lot in common with RPGs of old (like Wizardry and Might & Magic) as well as some newer incarnations (like Legend of Grimrock).  You move and turn using the WASD and QE keys.  You attack with the mouse buttons (and since you only have one character, it doesn't matter where you click).  You switch weapons by pressing the Z key.  Repair kits (for restoring integrity) and energy cells (for restoring energy) use the R and T keys.  Gadgets are mapped to the 1-4 keys.  And you can quick save and load by pressing the F5 and F9 keys.  That is, the controls are pretty standard, and you're allowed to remap them however you see fit.

Vaporum is played in real time, and a certain amount of agility is required to defeat enemies and solve puzzles.  Luckily, enemies do not respawn and they don't wander far, so you just need to prepare for certain battles and puzzles, and you can relax in between.  Plus, you can save whenever you want, so if an action sequence goes poorly, you can just try again.