Ember is developed by N-Fusion Interactive and published by 505 Games. [Disclosure: Before I get into the review, I want to say that a free Steam key was provided to write this review]. Ember is an isometric story-driven RPG that really takes you back to the good ‘ol days where games like the original Diablo and Baldur’s Gate were at the top of the charts for PC RPGs.
Ember takes that classic concept and way of story telling and has brought it back for modern day RPGs. The story is great and would fit in quite well with other RPG classics. The writing is witty in parts, has humor, can be serious, and most importantly is well paced. The characters have depth and the overall world and history has enough lore to make a trilogy of prequel novels if they wanted to do so. Needless to say, the world the development team has put together is very well thought out and extremely detailed.
There is also a lot of reading in this game. Like, Elder Scrolls-level of reading with books about almost everything there is in the world, there are even books about the best drinking spots around the region and favorite fashion choices for the different races. Not all of the books are about history and lore, some of the books are fiction and quite enjoyable to read, one of my favorites was The Plaything book series; the ending for the first book was fantastic!
Reading however is not completely useless or just there for fun, because my character actually gained a few intelligence points from reading the books, which is a great way to increase your stats outside of combat.
I want to avoid major spoilers in this review so I’ll try to skip over a few key details, but I will recap the story so you can get an idea about what is going on. You play as a Lightbringer, a type of magical Druid that was once part of a very powerful society of magic users that have a special connection to the Embers.
If you are familiar with the Final Fantasy series and their Espers, I will compare the Embers to them. They are magical beings that fell from the sky and look similar to glowing colorful flames, but they also contain a great amount of power.
Some of the more powerful Embers can speak and have intelligent conversations, but all Embers are alive and sentient. Over the course of the years, people have been taking the Embers and using them as a source of power, not always magical and in war, but sometimes for simple things like to light lamps or wear as jewelry, and as a result, the Embers life force is slowly drained and they die.
When an Ember dies, its life force becomes tainted, and anything in the area becomes corrupted and goes insane. Thousands of years later, and the world is now on the brink of destruction as almost all of the Embers have been used up, and when the last Ember dies, the entire world will be covered by the taint of dead Embers. Your job as the Lightbringer is to save the Embers, and in turn, save the world.
The first thing I noticed when starting up the game was that there was no create a character menu, you only choose a name. Also, there is no class system in Ember. You can use whatever you want as long as you have the appropriate stats to equip the item, and although your team members have preset “classes”, they serve more as base archetypes to get you started, but if you wish to re-roll their stats and invest points into another area, you can do so to build the team the way you want them to be.
This goes for skills as well since they are attached to items, but your characters can only have three active skills to choose from at a time. When enchanting new Skills onto items they are referred to as Runes. As you progress through the game you can find a variety of different Runes to attach them to equipment to customize your items to your liking.
When it comes to crafting, you can craft weapons and armor, cook food to restore your life, and make different potions to heal yourself or give you temporary stat boosts.
You can drink potions at any time, but they are quite expensive and can be challenging to make if you don’t have all the items you need. Food on the other hand can be found in abundance with all the wildlife around, but you can only eat it after it has been cooked and when you are outside of combat. You can also sleep to restore your life, and if you can manage to go a long time between sleeping and healing you will be granted an EXP boost for it.
Crafting is complex enough to make it rewarding, but also simple enough to learn quickly so that it is fun instead of it becoming a chore, however I think it is more of a side concept to fill the game in with something to do and not really something you will need to use often.
Majority of the random items you come across — such as bundles of wood or a clove of garlic — can be used for crafting in some way, but there are other items that are purely there to be sold as junk for money.
Combat And Party System
I’ll try to avoid major spoilers, but I will say that I wasn’t very fond of the character Coren that joins your team early on. His personality was a bit annoying and from the moment he joined the team I wanted to replace him. You meet a few people that will join your team, but you can only have three active members at a time, any more than that and you will have to choose who to replace and who will still fight. Whoever you get rid of will normally return back to their home town for you to find later.
Almost all of the important dialogue in this game is voice acted, but there are a few lines that you simply have to read for yourself. You can also talk to your team members to learn a bit more about their story, but sometimes they are a bit tight-lipped and don’t feel like sharing at the moment (which is majority of the time).
The Combat system was a bit confusing and clunky at first and I didn’t really understand why the developers chose this system, but after I learned how to play, it all works rather well. The battles play out in real time, but you can also pause the game so that you can think things through and plan all your actions out.
In simple terms, Ember uses a drag and drop arrow system to issue out commands. If you want to use a specific skill, you click that skill located on the top character status bar and drag and drop it where you want the skill to be used, if you want someone to run to a specific area, you click the icon at their feet and drag and drop it to the location you want them to go to. This works well, but sometimes I forget to click the characters. By default, any actions you choose to do will only move the Lightbringer around, so you have to manually click the other characters to move them or issue them commands.
I found that this also goes for items as well, so by default if you eat some food it will go straight to the Lightbringer first by default. As a result, I wasted a lot of dinner rolls because of this because I kept forgetting to select the character with low health. For most games the default option moves the entire team and not just one character, or will ask you who should consume the item when clicking on it. This can be a bit frustrating in combat when a party member is about to die.
Speaking of combat, if two or more of your team members use their skills at the same time on the same enemy, you will also be able to deal out combo bonus damage. In this way, the combo system reminds me a bit of Chrono Trigger’s team skills because you can essentially recreate moves similar to the X-strike attack.
I love the team work and strategy elements and how a good plan can easily turn the tide of battle, even if you are outnumbered and overpowered. I used to play a lot of Path Of Exile, but it was more of a Hack And Slash game and there wasn’t much you could do in terms of Strategy, especially if you were in the heat of the battle and needed to adjust your tactics on the fly. Most of the time it turned into me and my friend dying our way to victory and chipping away at the enemies health until we won; but that isn’t the case with Ember.
If you find yourself on the losing end of a battle, a small retreat to regroup your team and using a bit of divide and conquer can go a long way in turning the tide of battle.
World Map And Player Choices
Ember takes place in a somewhat non-linear, persistent world, so actions will slightly affect things on a small scale. For example, the game remembers slain enemies and items, so their bodies will stay on the ground when you travel back to that location again. So if you wipe out a group of bandits, they won’t respawn within 30 or 40 seconds for you to fight again. However, the world also constantly spawns new enemies into the map that slowly wonder around a small radius and travel the area. So even if you kill a group of wolves, a new pack could slowly wonder in to take their place, then walk and meet up with a second group to form a bigger pack.
This rule also applies to NPCs a little for the town’s people, if the sun goes down and the time of day changes to night, certain NPCs will travel and go home and go to sleep. This makes the towns feel lively as people travel about, run their shops, and go about their day. The system isn’t extremely complex, but it is just enough to make the world feel more alive instead of everything being stagnant.
The world map is quite large with several miles for you to explore and plenty of quests for you to complete. There are only about three main towns or so, with small villages scattered about in-between. One thing I do love though is that they reward your curiosity to explore by hiding little nuggets around for you to find.
This means that a dead-end is rarely just simply a dead-end, there is normally something there for you to explore and obtain to not waste your time. The story is more or less preset, but it doesn’t force you to complete the events they give you. If you want to take a break and go explore, you can do so at any time, although certain areas are more dangerous than others, so it could lead to your downfall.
Another thing I love is that the Lightbringer you play has a story and a history, but is also pretty much a blank slate for you to shape the way you want. Want to kill everyone in your path? You can do so. Want to try to talk your way out of it? You can do that too! Based on your stats, the quest system will adjust and give you different options, for example, if you have enough intelligence you can persuade an enemy to walk away and avoid combat, dexterity allows you to use slight of hand tactics (usually to save a bit of gold), and strength allows you to intimidate people.
I once met a man in game that openly admitted to knowing that Embers were alive, and that as long as he made profit he didn’t care if other beings were enslaved, just as long as he got rich along the way. I had the option to walk away and leave him be or kill him. The funny part about this story was that it happened in the dead of night, so this entire conversation happened while the man was lying in his bed. Needless to say, he didn’t live to see the sun rise.
This now brings us to the last and final point… consequences. I stole from a lot of people, I have killed a lot of people, and just because I’m a Lightbringer, no one seemed to care. This is where Ember and games like Baldur’s Gate differ, because if I robbed people or killed people in cold blood, I would have the Flaming Fist on my tail as soon as the man screamed for help (darn you teleporting wizard police force!), but that’s not the case with Ember. This makes Ember seem a bit weak in terms of storytelling, because as the hero you can pretty much get away with doing whatever you want without having any type of moral code of honor or consequences, and your team members could also care less about what you do or who you kill.
The graphics are simple and nothing that will take your breath away, but the world design is beautiful where it counts and has enough detail to immerse you into the story. I also really love the music and soundtrack to Ember, there are a few songs that sound like they would fit in perfectly in Baldur’s Gate’s world. The songs are also a bit dynamic and will change based on what you’re doing, so if you are just walking around exploring the woods, a subtle slow song will play, but if you enter combat it will be a more upbeat battle tune.
The game is pretty well optimized and I get a consistent 60 frames per second on my laptop. If I went outside the city and was just traveling a big open field, the FPS counter showed speeds that reached up to 80 FPS, which means I could have turned the graphics up to the max and still played comfortably.
So for those of you that don’t have high-end gaming machines, you should be able to play Ember comfortably without any major hiccups in framerate or graphics tearing. As for the controls, they are very simple controls and everything is pretty much point-and-click. Almost everyone will be familiar with the basic setup and you will get the hang of it pretty fast.
The biggest challenge was getting used to the drag and drop command system because it wasn’t always easy issuing out quick commands to team members when I needed to make split-second decisions, but that is also what the pause system is for, but I believe that most people will get the hang of the combat system within the first 15 to 20 minutes of battling enemies.
There is also a menu to view quick keys, and anyone familiar with PC RPGs or MMORPGs will know the buttons by heart. I is for your inventory, M is for your map, C brings up your character status window, etc. You also have buttons to quick-save and quick-load. The only downside is that it appears that you can’t customize or change these buttons, but I found them to be just fine.
Ember isn’t perfect, but I actually haven’t come across any major game breaking glitches since I started playing. The story has a few cliché parts and at times doesn’t do anything mind blowing to advance the genre forward.
The crafting system is nice that it is in the game, but for the most part I don’t bother with it (other than making cheap health potions) because you kind of have to go out of your way to gather all the supplies needed, and since this is a single-player game without a player controlled economy, there really is no point in crafting items to get stronger or to make a profit because the store items or enemy drops are normally good enough to advance through the game.
However, if you grew up playing classic isometric RPGs from the late 90’s, you will probably love the familiar storytelling and world elements that Ember has to offer. So for that, I would highly recommend this for fans looking to play a nostalgic throwback to classic era PC RPGs because it does a great job at sticking to what made those games so fun.
For the low price tag of $9.99 USD, it is hard to find an RPG game that is as solid as Ember and packed with so much content. So if you have nine bucks to spare and you are itching for a classic style RPG, I recommend you pick this one up because I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.