Guardians of Ember looks like your average hack-and-slash RPG. You create a character, choose a fighting class and set out to explore endless environments, kill monsters and collect loot. This is the age-old recipe that's been used to create fantastic RPG's for decades, and Guardians of Ember has used it masterfully.
Guardians of Ember is also an MMO which allows you to play alongside countless warriors from all around the world. Together you'll skewer some of the nastiest creatures you've ever imagined. In utilising the MMO aspect, the game frequently presents community quests that are available for a fixed time and are not related to the campaign. This usually just involves continuously killing enemies in a certain area until the meter is full but it carries with it some nice rewards. There is also a PvP mode that can be unlocked later where you can duke it out with your friends, rivals and complete strangers. Unfortunately, this also means that you need to be online to play the game and, of course, there is no way to pause.
The game has a new quest around each corner which means the action never takes a back seat. As expected, the creatures you kill will drop crazy amounts of loot such as weapons, armour and gold. Where they store those things, we'll never know, but they are rather useful nonetheless.
Guardians of Ember may not revolutionise the RPG genre, but Runewaker Entertainment has used this age old game concept and released a phenomenal fantasy game.
Guardians of Ember is now available on Steam for $19.99.
Unlike some mainstream RPG's, Guardians of Ember doesn't impose any limits to your character design. You start by choosing one of four races including human, elf, dwarf and neia. Each race has its own detailed backstory which makes for some fascinating reading.
Next, you'll select a class. Each class has their strengths and weaknesses, and they provide ample information to let each player choose which class will best suit their playing style. Classes include the knight, priest, arcanist, engineer and ranger. Knights are your typical melee warriors who are great at dealing and taking damage on the front line. The ranger is a bow-wielding ranged fighter, damage rating is high but defence not so much. Arcanists are this game's version of sorcerers and priests are the party healing support units. Engineers are somewhat unique in that they carry firearms and are skilled at building bombs and traps.
Once you have the important bits out of the way, you can spend the next fortnight deciding what your character should look like. I haven't seen this much variance in character configuration since I last had to create a wrestler in a WWE game. You start with basic things the colour of your skin, hair and eyes along with your face type and haircut. Then you move to your body where you can adjust nearly everything from torso length and shoulder width to palm and buttock size. You'd think that would be the end of it but then you can change the details of your head and face which has nearly as many options as the previous menu. Honestly, I think this is an unnecessary feature as I suspect most players will simply adjust the first few options and carry on to the action, like I did, but there are those who will spend many hours adjusting the angle of their character's forehead until the glint of the sun is just right.
As an extension of the character, players are later awarded some land upon which they may build their home. You can hire various sprites, who are basically mutant domestic workers, and you will pick up items on your quests that will help them better do their job. Just don't think these sprites offer cheap labour. You can also purchase various pieces of furniture and arrange them around your house as you see fit. I cannot fathom why so many RPG games insist on including this element nowadays. Why anyone would put on hold monster slaying to redecorate their living room is beyond me. Is this not why we have The Sims? Seriously, why is this a thing?
It's important to note that the game is still in early access so there are a number of bugs still present, however, the development team is working hard so most, if not all of these should be resolved by the time the game is complete.
There are some issues when launching the game which frequently require that I close and launch it again, however, the most pressing issue is the frequent connection problems during gameplay. The game would either freeze and continue a while later after my character had long since perished or I'd receive a connection error and had to restart again. Sometimes after the restart, I'd be exactly where I was before the crash and would just have to slay a few monsters a second time while other times saw me being teleported back to town and I'd have to fight through an entire area again.
There are other areas of the game that still requires some polishing. Item values didn't always make sense, I'd pick up a new item that's worse in every way than the one I'm using but somehow it had a higher selling price. I also frequently found items with pointless magical properties like an axe that would enhance my wand mastery. Since you can only use one or the other, I don't see the purpose of this. Similarly, I could wield two, one-handed weapons but my character would always only use the one.
Also, there is a half-second countdown after each attack before you can attack again. Half a second may not sound like much, but when you're surrounded by several horse-sized, mutant squirrels it becomes a problem. Additionally, there's a major cooldown period after using potions. Health potions have a 20-second cooldown and only restore your health over a long period which makes it near useless when things get heated. Energy potions are even worse with a 1-minute cooldown between uses.
Finally, the game feels less "precise" than other RPG games I've played in the past. Attacking a monster feels more like you're just swinging your blade in that general direction instead of focusing on a specific enemy.
At last, we can get to the positive side of things and luckily there is quite a bit to offset the things I didn't like. The game features a deep, immersive story which ensures you have plenty of quests to follow. Your objectives are also easy to find making for very little time just wandering around. Additionally, there's a vast achievements list that rewards you for completing various tasks. There are even a bunch of daily tasks that you can pursue every new day you play.
The general gameplay is exactly what you'd expect from a game like this. There are thousands of monsters to kill, meaning you'll never have a dull moment. The loot also seems never-ending, so you might well spend more time choosing the right set of boots than vanquishing evil. But what makes the gameplay great is that they've taken the tedious elements of RPG games and streamlined them, leaving you more time to click away at those vile creatures. Collecting basic loot like gold and potions, for example, happens automatically and you'll frequently find various embers lying around that temporary increase attributes like speed, strength or defence.
Each character has a wide range of skills to be upgraded. It is up to the player which skill will be focused on and after one or two points have been spent, a new and improved version of the skill will be unlocked. Until you reach level 25 you can also reset your entire skill tree and reassign all your points until you feel you've found the perfect combination. Having so much freedom in terms of gameplay progression may seem intimidating to novice players, but this should soon be mastered, and players will end up building vicious fighting machines.
The left and right mouse buttons each has 3 skills to choose from and you can level them up as you like. There are also 6 different skills that can be assigned between hotkeys 1 – 4, so it's up to you to decide which works best. If that wasn't enough, Guardians of Ember also provides a dual-class system which is unlocked later in the game. This allows a player to build a hero with aspects of two separate classes which opens up a nearly infinite number of skill combinations. Of course, the second class is optional and you can opt to focus only on the primary class, however, later on, the additional diversity is a welcomed addition.
The game further features a PvP system to settle those age old "My hero can beat your hero" disputes. This allows players to fight it out in either 1v1, 3v3 or 5v5 formats in various arenas. Fighting in the PvP arenas will not only provide you the opportunity to prove your superiority but also award you with tokens which can be traded later on for special items.
Much later in the game, you are able to craft your own items from scrap materials. These materials can be acquired either by disassembling items found in the wild or by mining for them. Mining presents a whole different aspect of the game since you can purchase various mining items and even create a mining golem to do the job for you. Once you have the raw materials you need, you can go ahead and craft that one sword you've been waiting for the entire game. Just keep in mind that there is so much good loot to be found, you'll probably be replacing your crafted items much sooner than you think. Crafting is actually quite complex in this game, but a fairly comprehensive guide can be found here.
Despite the fact that Guardians of Ember had so many negative points, the gameplay was still fun enough to tip the scales, and I'm sure that anyone who purchases this game will enjoy hours upon hours of entertainment.
Audio and visual design
The visuals in this game are fantastic, if not perfect. They give even the highest-rated RPG games a run for their money. The developers have paid special attention to character and monster designs, something players will see once they create their character. The game includes an endless array of amazingly designed creatures to fight like the man-sized goblins that look like their might be a bit of German Shepherd in the bloodline somewhere. The game also allows you to zoom in really close and enjoy all that pixel goodness.
Another good point to mention is the polished HUD which works really well. Not that I've ever really had issues with game HUD's, it's just that in this instance things were exactly where I expected them to be. My only issue here is that they used some odd shortcut keys for the various menus such as "B" opening the inventory and "K" the skill tree. Even after several hours of gameplay, I still found myself pressing "I" to check out my new loot.
Unfortunately, the design is not all sunshine and rainbows because it would seem that the game designers used all their efforts in the visual department and completely forgot about the audio. The game features some good soundtracks, which sound unbelievably similar to soundtracks from famous movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Troy, but unfortunately, the sound effects are nearly non-existent. You get the occasional grunt from your character as he or she hacks away at some monster flesh followed by a moan of discomfort from said monster, but other than that, there really isn't much. Even the dialogue for the campaign is all in text and includes no voice acting whatsoever.
20 years ago, the PC gaming world was rocked to its core with the release of Diablo. There have been many great RPG games before then but Diablo set a new standard in design, gameplay and gore which has since made the Diablo franchise a sort of benchmark in this genre. Because of this, there have been many RPG games since that have been called Diablo clones, among which are notable titles such as Titan Quest and Torchlight.
Guardians of Ember is another Diablo clone, although not as closely mirrored to Blizzard's offerings as the other names I've mentioned. This is not a bad thing, though, especially for a game from a small development company like Runewaker Entertainment. If you can't yet make history with your creations, then being compared to the leaders of your industry is just about as high as compliments get. Sure, Guardians of Ember may not be as well-rounded, but it's certainly a great effort and definitely worth the price. Guardians of Ember is just missing that special something that separates the greats from the clones.