It’s been almost a year since the Guardians of Ember beta was released on Steam, followed by a month of Early Access. The question is, was this month used wisely by the developers? I’m pleased to tell you that yes, yes, it was. Insel Games clearly went to a lot of effort to improve the game in myriad ways; there’s more content, the mechanics have been polished and the game has an improved appearance all around. It’s clear that Insel listened to the feedback they received from the gaming community.
To date, the Game has 6 playable classes, each with an extensive tech tree. There are 8 unique regions, each with their own terrain and landscapes that cover almost 50 maps. Additionally, there are over a hundred dungeons total with almost 800 specific enemy and boss types, all bound together with a detailed story line. That isn’t even counting a bunch of varied side quests and missions for you to tear into. And that’s only at the 58th level out of the 100 it takes to complete the entire story. How long will that take? A buddy of mine said he got to level 58 in 6 days but I’m not sure if I believe him. By my count you’ll need at least a month to reach the game’s current top level, unless you are just sprinting through like a madman. But I digress…let's take a closer look, shall we?
Unique Immortal Guardians
The game's character customization system lets you select the appearance of your Immortal Guardian based on 4 races: Human, Elf, Dwarf and Neia. The last two have no gender selection, and it’s all pretty much cosmetic; your race and sex have no in-game effects.
For those of you who like to really customize your appearance, you can trick out your costume and get unique cosmetics for your warrior. Once you’ve finished refining your look, you choose one of six primary classes, which is way more important than how you look. The available classes are: Knight, Priest, Ranger, Engineer, Arcanist and Dark Knight (no, it’s not a Batman-class, but that would be a rad). Each have their own pros and cons, but luckily, even if you aren’t stoked with your choice, the game encourages experimentation and you can freely play with your skills, stats and passives with no penalty.
In the spirit of experimentation, you can have multiple characters at the same time, so you can play around with all the individual classes in addition to trying out various class combinations once you unlock the Secondary class at higher levels. The great thing about the Secondary class is that it isn’t fixed, so you can switch it around without losing the level of your primary class. Of course, the new Secondary class you try has to be leveled up again, but this makes for some pretty rad possibilities for group dynamics. For example, groups of players can change their classes to adapt to an upcoming challenge, be it a tough boss or a specific raid. Even cooler, at higher levels you can swap resources between Immortal Guardians in game. All told, there are over three-hundred active skills and seventy passive skills available to create your perfect hero, not to mention hundreds of items to equip. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
Live Game World for any taste
Guardians of Ember operates from a third-person fixed-camera “isometric” perspective, the classic visual set-up of the ARPG genre. The landscape is mostly smooth and level, with trees, walls, and towers creating the illusion of a 3D environment and they fade in and out as needed, so they won’t obstruct your view. Obstacles like carts and fences can’t be interacted with or destroyed, which is a bummer, but then again, you have better things to do than chop down trees.
The game world is divided into separate regions which are mostly tied to Game Chapters, so they only become available as you progress through the Story. Each area has several maps with area-specific landscapes, in addition to numerous randomly generated and preset dungeons, all populated with various sets of enemies and bosses for you to kill. When you’re rolling with other players, killed enemies respawn over and over again and the speed in which they spawn is tied to the number of players on the map, i.e. the more players in-game, the faster your enemies come back. Each map has 3 or more “Game Events”, which are basically endless local quests that players can complete again and again in order to gain exp., fulfill “daily tasks” and earn one type of game currency.
Another big chunk of the game is dungeons. Players have to complete dungeons to progress in the story, but there is also crucial loot and special resources to be gained, not to mention that dungeons provide the biggest challenges in the game. Dungeons come with three difficulty levels; the first level is mainly for solo play, while the second ramps up the challenge and pushes players to grab a few buddies to tackle them. The third difficulty level is the perfectly named “Nightmare Mode” and is almost impossible for lone players. As I write this, no one has been able to do it without relying on the support skills of the other raid team members and Guild abilities. Yeah. It’s tough.
Lot of side activities
Aside from brawling in the regular maps and the dungeons which can be completed solo or cooperatively, there are a bevy of other activities. You can craft and upgrade your gear in many different ways, which requires gathering numerous resources, be it loot from combat, mining or fishing. That’s right…fishing. You can fish as a hobby for 10 coins a day, but it turns into work for Alchemists who need to fish to make potions. There are four Crafting classes to select from, but it's an optional activity, so I’m not planning on getting too deep into it. You can also garden at your plot and train your sprites to cook and produce different beverages, although so far they aren’t all that useful. Let’s just say that there are some benefits you can only get from Crafting, but the game doesn’t force you to do it.
No surprises here – the controls are standard, just what you’d expect from the genre. You move and attack using both the mouse and keyboard (WASD), and most common actions can be performed with a mouse-click or an assigned key on the keyboard, which comes in handy when you need to act fast in combat. The left mouse button governs all kinds of context-sensitive actions, while the right mouse button fires your secondary weapon.
As for the interface itself, the most vital information can be found at the bottom of the screen, and there’s a fast access panel on the right. That's all you’ll need in combat; the rest is done using icons at the top of the screen which open popup windows, but it’s not smart to access them mid-combat.
Graphics and Sound
Guardians of Ember boasts some pretty high-quality graphics. Intelligent color selection and high-resolution models ensure that you’ll be able to pick up even the smallest details without having to strain your eyes. The landscapes are full of color and diverse background elements, and the transition from one zone to another always feels natural and unforced, which gives the game a good sense of immersion. After playing through the main game, I can tell you that everything flows smoothly, and I never experienced problems with the frame-rate or graphical hiccups.
The sound fits in perfectly alongside the graphical style and overall feeling of the game. The background music provides a nice layer to the atmosphere without getting annoying, and the sound effects are right on target as well. In short, the sound does exactly what you want; it blends seamlessly into the background when roaming around and brings it on home in battle.