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Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: N-Fusion Interactive
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Ember'

by Brian Dumlao on Nov. 4, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Ember is a classic role-playing game featuring 70 distinctive quests, a phenomenal story, unique combat system based on real-time decision-making and more.

The computer-specific RPG is another genre that seems poised to make a comeback after being ignored for a while. Some of these are more Diablo than Baldur's Gate in that there is more of an emphasis on action than tactics, but the genre now has enough quality titles that players have some real choice instead of settling for a mediocre game. In this regard, Ember is distinct in that it's both tactical and action-packed while riding the line between simplistic and deep.

Thousands of years ago, a great meteor shower occurred, and a bunch of them landed on Earth. While most people hid from the falling glowing objects in fright, a few sought to study them. The Lightbringers found that the meteors were actually sentient creatures and were able to harmoniously use their powers to benefit all. The jealousy of everyone else soon caught up, and the Lightbringers were wiped out. Thousands of years later, the meteors are being mined and drained of their energy while corpses are made into fancy jewelry. This has caused calamities in the world, forcing some people to resurrect you, the greatest Lightbringer in history. Weakened due to a long slumber, your goal is to restore your powers and save Earth.

While it's a creative idea that living beings are being drained of power and used for trinkets, the story itself is pretty standard. Your amnesiac hero is an expected plot device, and while there's plenty of lore, none of it goes beyond RPG conventions. Having the main villain be called the Darkbringer is somewhat expected, but he'll show up every now and then to trap you, so the execution feels cheesy and the story feels like it was ripped from an old cartoon. The story is serviceable enough that you can forgive the predictability.

Ember takes on the familiar guise of an isometric RPG. You begin in the dungeon where you were resurrected, and while you'll spend a great deal of the game exploring even more dungeons, the environments open up to more locales, like forests, towns, and ruins that are inhabited by monsters and wild creatures. Loot plays a big part in the game, as just about anything that isn't nailed down can be picked up and stashed in your inventory. Conversations with others are also aplenty, though the choices you can make ultimately lead to a small reward or an impromptu battle, neither of which greatly affect the overall story's outcome.

In matching with recent trends, there's a crafting system in place that covers a gamut of options. In a way, you can craft just about anything in any discipline. Alchemy, leatherworking, and tailoring are just a few of the things you can do once you have the correct ingredients and locate the necessary tables or spaces. It's pretty cool to use the junk you gather, but the technique is likely going to be used to make room in your inventory and create stuff that fetches better prices when sold. On the other hand, cooking with food retrieved in battle is almost invaluable since your dishes provide more positive effects than anything you can get from a merchant.

For the most part, this title doesn't present anything necessarily new or out of the ordinary. None of the environments feel different from what other games offer. Combat is exactly how you'd expect it to be, as you can pause a fight to think more tactically, but you can still tackle it from an action perspective, albeit at a slower pace. The weapons and armor are pretty standard, and the boss fights are not surprising. What the game lacks in intrigue, it makes up for in being solid. It does everything well enough without trying to go beyond, and it doesn't mess up too badly with what it has. It fits the bill for someone who's looking for a somewhat familiar RPG experience on the PC.

At the same time, you can't help but look at the game as something of an introductory title for newcomers to the genre. Points earned when leveling up only go toward four different categories for your character (dexterity, intelligence, strength and vitality). You can manually configure the points of your party, but there is a button to let the game do that automatically for you. There are no character classes, so everyone can use any weapon without restrictions. By paring down these two major areas of an RPG, it leaves room for new players to get used to everything and encourages exploration beyond the given path. Combined with an auto-saving system that's pretty generous with checkpoints, and it's a good way to ease beginners into RPGs without bombarding them with minutiae.

One thing you'll have to get used to are the controls, specifically the incessant mouse clicking. There are a few keyboard shortcuts, none of which are customizable, and a few feel too spread out for those who want to access those hotkeys with one hand. Beyond that, most of your controls are done with the mouse. Combat and movement are handled with the left mouse button, as you're simply clicking on spots to complete your action. While most people click away as if this were Diablo, you can drag lines from one party member to another for movement and specific creature attacks. It can feel strange to do this,  since you can't hold down the left mouse button to constantly move your party forward. It comes as part of the game being developed with a focus on mobile, but it would've been nice to see this tweak done to be more intuitive for those transitioning from the Torchlight style.

Graphically, the game is pretty good. The environments are well detailed, and animations are good for your heroes and the creatures you face. The effects aren't exactly spectacular, but the lighting remains vibrant where it needs to be. The real estate provided for the icons and the rest of the head's up display can feel small, but when you consider its mobile roots, it isn't that bad. Those mobile beginnings do affect graphical options, though, as the only thing you can control is resolution. It doesn't take much horsepower to run the game at a smooth 60fps, but it would've been nice to have access to extra options for further tweaking.

The sound in the game is fairly decent. The music is exactly what you'd expect from the genre, with epic and moody tracks dominating the speakers. "Dominate" is the perfect word to describe it, as it's loud enough to drown out the volume of voices whenever someone speaks. Voices are fine, and characters tend to chatter at expected times, like when they're encountering enemies, defeating them, or getting low on health or energy. They don't speak much outside of that, so expect to read more about what they're saying instead of hearing it, even if those same characters were fully voiced a few lines ago.

In the end, Ember is a good RPG that caters more to genre beginners than veterans. The trimming of the traits and the abolishment of classes makes it easier for some players to concentrate on the gameplay instead of character and party micromanagement. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as everything from the gameplay to the story is rather solid despite not really doing anything to stand out from the crowd. Some will argue that making more PC-specific changes, such as familiar mouse controls and more graphical options, would've made the game better, but for the most part, it remains a solid game at a good price. As long as you aren't expecting this to be the next great RPG masterpiece, fans who aren't too deep into the genre should give Ember a shot.

Score: 7.0/10

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