Hands on – Guardians of Ember (PC early access)
Genre: Action RPG, MMORPG
- Large world, with room for exploration and public events popping up to keep providing things to do
- Steam page being kept fairly up to date with progress on the game as development continues
- Cash shop also accepts a currency earned in-game, without too much grind involved
Not so much?
- Within the first ten to fifteen hours of the game, there has felt like little need for grouping up, leaving the "multiplayer" part of "MMO" in question
- As it stands, the flow of the game - at least in the early stages - feel slow, unless you're in a dungeon or boss battle.
GamesFiends grinds their way through mobs in the first few hours of Runewaker’s early access ARPG-MMO – how does it stand up?
The hardest part of writing an opinion of an MMO is knowing when to stop playing and start typing. It wants you to sink in potentially hundreds of hours of your time – is 5 hours enough to get a feel for it? Ten? Twenty? There is no right answer. These are games build on their endgame – at least, the most successful ones tend to be – and there is no way of seeing that without putting a lot of time in… but if the early content doesn’t impress, you’ll never get there anyway. Sitting down to the early access of Guardians of Ember, I fed the game a solid fifteen or so hours, and am genuinely undecided if I’d see it to endgame or not.
Let’s start with it being in early access. Developed by Runewaker Entertainment, who also developed the formulaic-but-fun Runes of Magic and the less formulaic-and-less-fun Dragon’s Prophet MMORPGs, Guardians of Ember takes things in a more action-RPG direction as you grind your way through masses of creatures to eventual success. Content is still being created, added and tweaked in the game, and looking at the news updates on Steam shows a commendable level of information from the team about what is currently missing, being corrected and so on.
[There were also enough comments on Steam to work out why the game didn't initially work, instead failing to ever connect to the servers – installing the default client isn't foolproof, it seems. Instead, after downloading and patching, have Steam check the integrity of the game's cache, which it appears sometimes finds errors and redownloads key files.]
The game begins with a goblin attack on a village being foiled by the arrival of a lone hero – your good self, of course – before realising it’s part of a greater threat the world. Now, if you’ve played any two RPGs in the last few years, this is probably the plot to at least one of them, but story is probably the most forgiveable shortcoming in an MMO when you’re looking for content that is fun to play repeatedly.
Your first step is to create a character, picking from four different races and five classes (the publicity consistently says six classes, though only five are available in the current build). You can also customise your character’s appearance, adjusting everything from hair colour to arm musculature and sculpt who you want to be… which will sadly be lost within a few seconds of the gameplay beginning as you zoom the camera out for a clear view of the playing area. The core gameplay is hack and slash ARPG territory, very much like Diablo or Path of Exile, and having that overview of where mobs are in relation to you is key. As it is, even zoomed out to the maximum several skills go beyond the screen borders, and you’ll find yourself in one fight while unintentionally kiting in the next.
Those skills can be broken down into at-will skills, usually generating energy; secondary skills that spend that energy; and tertiary ones on cooldowns that tend to have greater effects but need more tactical use. Once a skill is unlocked it can be freely swapped in and out of use – although with a few conditions attached. Unlocking is achieved by spending points on trains of passive stat bonuses – go certain distances along the lines to unlock the skills – and these points are gained one per level. So far, so good, though after level 15 they can only be reset again using a special item, fresh from an in-game store that is one part achievement based, two parts cash shop.
As an MMO, it’s understandable that some way of paying towards the servers will make up part of the game, and while Guardians of Ember is advertised as pay once, play forever, the free-to-play roots of Runewaker’s previous games does show through with a game system that needs cash shop items to do basic skill resets, as well as increase inventory space or add cosmetic options.
… and then the game immediately shows a redeeming side of itself again, as daily achievements reward a pseudo-cash shop currency, allowing you to buy the essentials without opening your wallet. Yes, it may take longer, but potentially nothing worse than a few basic tasks for a day or two. It may not be intuitive, and undoubtedly is hoped to make the game profitable beyond anything basic game sales may return, but having a cash shop accepting fairly easily earned in-game currency does feel like a breath of fresh air after seeing a lot of cash shops in other games, both big and small.
That said, it’s something to keep an eye on, just in case the opportunity to acquire convenience items in the shop leads to unnecessary inconvenience in the game itself.
Running around, grinding mobs and seeing other players doing the same is all very well, but to remind you that this is an MMO public events regularly occur at points on the map, setting special tasks that reward everybody who contribute to their completion. These often overlap with core questing areas too, and even with the reduced player base of it being early access, there seemed to be random people focused into these areas whenever the game wanted ratmen fought or goblin weapons burned.
Each of the classes has an MMO-familiar role designation – though also being an ARPG, all classes are DPS too! But it offers a tantalising idea of what may be possible, where a knight can also tank, a priest be primary healer and so on. On reaching level 15 (and a certain stage in the storyline) characters can also dual-class, taking the ability to add skills from other classes. While it’s one of those ideas that sounds better in principle, in theory it would allow the member of a team to carry a fallback skill to cover another classes specialist role (in practice, it feels like it could spread a class rather thin if they’re trying to specialise on a role).
That all said, in the time played until writing, none of the content had been so testing that it felt like it needed to be met with a team. Occasional moments of skill swapping may have been needed, as was keeping gear up to level (the random item drops from enemies being largely superior to quest rewards), but beyond that the early stages of the game were very much solo friendly.
Perhaps it could be faulted for not being challenging enough. As an MMO, it follows the tradition of having groups of enemies standing around in the wilderness waiting for passing heroes to attack, and their lack of ambition to actually harrass the player until approached leaves the game feeling a touch slow. Some of the dungeons – with denser clusters of mobs and sometimes mob rushes before or during boss fights – show how much more aggressive the AI can be, and add welcome punctuation to the general wandering around the map.
For all this, the fact that Guardians of Ember is still in development means that pretty much everything can change between now and some point of release in the future. As it stands, it’s already offering what feels to be a large world to wander, with several distinct classes to explore it in. The inclusion of regular public quest events is a very welcome way of making sure there is always something to do, and even more welcome is the way to earn currency for the cash shop in-game, even if the presence of the cash shop itself is something to approach cautiously. However, it is an MMO without much push towards being multiplayer, at least in the first few hours of gameplay, which leaves it sitting in the middle of the road regarding pace and potential. Certainly, if you like ARPGs, it’s one to keep an eye on, but while the potential is there it still needs more polish to feel like it can properly realise it.
The early access of Guardians of Ember can be bought on Steam.
Family Fiends Findings?
- Generally tame, but with some moderate swearing in some quest givers’ text. Nothing overwhelming though.
- As an online game, there are other random players to be aware of.