Game Recs

The Banished Vault Is the Best Sci-Fi Indie Game of 2023

Have a little faith.

Originally Published: 
The Banished Vault key art
Bithell Games

The Auriga Vault, a massive space-faring ship, travels through the empty planets of system after system. Its residents take what resources they can from planets while always moving forward in hopes of outrunning a mysterious entity called the Gloom. Once The vault leaves the system the only sign its residents were ever there is a lone Scriptorium on a deserted planet that recounts the Vault’s journey in case anybody comes through this part of space again — or if the Vault no longer has residents of its own to tell that story.

Life in the space exploration sim, The Banished Vault, is not an easy thing. It takes planning, resources, and (most importantly) faith. The responsibility of managing the lives of everyone on the vault in order to make it through as many systems as possible is a challenging puzzle in the form of management sim mechanics, hooking you into the loop of trying to keep the vault alive.

Bithell Games

At the heart of The Banished Vault’s gameplay lies an interesting resource — faith. The lore of the game centers around massive monastery ships called vaults that act as traveling vessels for the members of the game’s primary religion. While every action in The Banished Vault takes physical resources and time to complete, they also require the residents of the Auriga Vault to have enough faith.

The game plays out in turns on a system map. Each system has a randomized number of planets that have the resources needed to continue the vault’s journey. The primary goal of each system is to collect enough Stasis in order to let your crew hibernate on the next leg of the never-ending journey to outrun the Gloom. As the journey continues and tasks become more difficult to complete and resources become scarcer, residents will lose faith in the mission. If they lose faith entirely the journey ends.

The lore behind The Banished Vault’s mechanics holds a wealth of potential for emergent storytelling. Every journey the vault takes is your own, and you can piece together what life is like for residents based on how the luck of each system allows them to progress or not. By spinning the concept of space exploration into a sort of religious exodus for a dwindling group, the stakes are extremely high.

The in-game manual is your best friend.

Bithell Games

It almost makes you feel like you shouldn’t be having as much fun as you are while making such life-altering decisions. But the tabletop-inspired design of The Banished Vault is too masterful to not enjoy. Each system feels like a self-contained puzzle that rewards smart planning to solve. Escaping every system feels like you made it through by the skin of your teeth thanks to your ability to take just the right moves.

The Banished Vault’s extensive mechanics can be intimidating, but it is made all the more approachable by one of the game’s best elements — the in-game manual. It’s constantly updated by the developers, and introduces you to the game’s mechanics in an approachable manner. Reading might not sound like fun, but learning the ins and outs of The Banished Vault leads to better play as well as doling out more fascinating lore.

Starfield is still coming later this year, on September 6, and promises to offer players a starry-eyed vision of space exploration. But The Banished Vault’s unique take on the genre makes it a thrilling adventure for players willing to face the dangers of space.

The Banished Vault is currently available on PC via Steam.

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