Long before I ever set foot in a MMORPG, I was cutting my teeth on dungeon crawlers on the Commodore 64. The Might and Magic series kept me up until the wee hours of the night. Since then the narrow hallways of the classic dungeon crawler have been replaced by grand open world MMOs and fast-paced ARPGs. Occasionally, though, an old-fashioned dungeon crawler creeps up from the depths of obscurity. Such is the case with Fatbot Games’ Vaporum. Will it live up to the nostalgic memories of adventures past? Let’s find out. This is our Vaporum review.
Many times your favorite games just don’t stand the test of time. Not only do the graphics pale in comparison to current titles but the mechanics feel clunky compared to newer designs. At its core, Vaporum is a typical dungeon crawler. It has grid-based movement which will have you traversing hallways with 90-degree turns. You will fight monsters, solve puzzles to unlock secret areas, and of course, have you on the search for better loot. But just because the game’s inspiration is rooted in the past doesn’t mean Vaporum is solely a trip down memory lane.
Vaporum diverges from the typical dungeon crawler recipe in several ways. For starters, Fatbot Games discarded the typical high fantasy theme of the genre in lieu of a Steampunk setting. I am not a Steampunk follower, yet I found the non-traditional setting a welcome change. Dilapidated Victorian furnishings adorn rooms dimly lit by underpowered lighting. Water drips from above to form puddles on the floor, the moisture in the air causing rust and pitting on the metal walls. Big grinding gears and all sorts of steam-powered apparatus add life to the environment you generally don’t find in this genre. The constant hum of machinery completes the immersion, making it easy to imagine you are exploring an abandoned complex from the Industrial Revolution.
As far as mobs go, the usual giant spiders and goblins are replaced with a more industrial offering. Mutated bugs (not such a grand departure from the norm after all) and archaic mechanical contraptions are the standard fare. You won’t find any ogres, but who needs them when you come across a hulk of a man wielding a shotgun. The change in adversaries may only be cosmetic, but they fit in well with the overall style of the game. My main concern here was the lack of variety. Although you will encounter some new mobs as you get into the deeper levels, a large chunk of the game is spent fighting the same handful of creatures.
The unique setting would be for naught if it wasn’t paired with a decent story. Vaporum has the common, “Who am I? Why am I here? Might as well head into that big building up ahead and see what is what” beginning. You will come across notes and audio diaries left by the missing inhabitants to feed you the rest of the story. These devices do a decent job of relaying what has happened, but unfortunately, the story is all too predictable.
Another way Vaporum sets itself apart is party makeup. Most dungeon crawlers start with you creating a party of four to six adventurers and assigning their classes. Vaporum, on the other hand, is a solo affair. At the beginning of the game, your lone protagonist will acquire one of three Exoskeleton Rigs; the Combat Rig, the Heavy Rig, or the Thauma Rig. Each rig will affect your starting stats, so choose the type of rig that suits your playstyle.
All character progression is tied to this Rig. All armor and gadgets (aka combat buffs and spells) you find will be attached to your rig. You also get the typical two slots for weapons and shields. As you gain levels your rig will increase in integrity (hit points) and energy, which is used power your gadgets. At each level you will also gain one point to improve your rig’s circuits. Circuits are your skill tree, giving you the ability to improve your use of specific weapon skills (blunt weapons, dual wield, energy regen, etc).
There are only a handful of gadget types to find throughout the game. You get the basic combat buffs, elemental damage dealers, a life leech, and a few other support gadgets. You will only be able to attach two to four gadgets at any given time, so if you like a large skill bar you will feel restricted. The same goes for your circuits. There are only 9 circuits, with each path having only five levels. The only branch is at the fifth level, and even that only has two options to choose from.
It doesn’t get much better when it comes to weapons. Each weapon category will have a fast attack, low damage option, and a slower, higher damage choice. For melee, you will get blades which deal additional damage to organic mobs, and blunt weapons for the mechanical beasts. You will be able to go sword and board, dual wield, or pick up a two-hander for powerful, slow swings. If ranged combat is your choice, don’t expect to find any bows; this is Steampunk, after all. Be prepared to choose between handguns, rifles, and shotguns. You will find upgrades along the way, but like circuits, your upgrade paths are fairly linear.
You might think this limited system would stifle progression and combat, and at first, I felt the same. I have become accustomed to having a wide array of skills. I also expect every mob and treasure chest to reward me with new shiny loot that is just different enough from the last item that I have to keep them all “just in case.” My character ends up being a prime candidate for a Hoarders episode, and all the while I only use the few items that best fit my playstyle. The design decisions still leave a variety of gameplay options, and instead of just sticking to one or two choices, I found myself mixing and matching weapons and gadgets to best deal with the current threat. With the reduced clutter in my inventory, I could even swap items mid-fight if my tactics needed to be revised.
This leads us to the last major deviation from the typical dungeon crawler: combat. In old-school crawlers, you move your party around until you bump into a mob, which would then start a turn-based battle. Vaporum instead chooses to utilize real-time combat. Although it’s been done in other games recently, this was my first adventure pairing grid based movement with real-time attacks. The resulting union is unexpectedly complex. There isn’t the usual freedom of modern 360-degree movement, so spacial awareness is key to your survival. You often have to use obstacles to divide and conquer, as even just a couple of mobs can corner you, rapidly bringing your life to an end. Sometimes the best strategy is to find a way to avoid a fight completely.
Combat won’t be the only puzzle to solve as you traverse through the story. Puzzles of various difficulty will halt your progress until you complete them. You will start off with simple tasks such as locating a key to open locked doors, with everything you need easily found in close proximity to your prize. Later puzzles require you to cover multiple levels and have several steps to complete. Every puzzle required to advance the story is fairly straightforward, but getting to some of the best loot will require much more thought. Fortunately, I was unable to mess up a puzzle to the point where my actions “broke” the game and required me to reload.
Our Vaporum Review Conclusion
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Vaporum. The developers did a great job of updating a genre that has been buried by the sands of time. They took an old-school dungeon crawl, added a fresh coat of paint (no crappy 8-bit graphics here), dropped it into a fresh Steampunk setting, and added some modern mechanics while staying true to the genre. The story was well told, but it would have been better had it been as unique as the setting.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.