What is the concept? Nearly two decades after its original release, Baldur’s Gate remains one of the most influential interactive adaptations of Dungeons & Dragons. The latest effort to draw ideas from BioWare’s prodigious effort is N-Fusion’s Interactive’s Ember, which marries the tenets of party-based exploration, pausable real-time combat, and loot acquisition into a remarkably affordable PC title. Crafted across a ten-year development cycle, Ember might still reveal a few small interface-based issues, but these blemishes barely impair the potential for enjoyment across the title’s twenty-five hour expedition.
A fleeting cinematic frontloads the bulk of Ember’s exposition, detailing the rise of the Lightbringers, a primordial culture empowered by when the game’s eponymous resource rained down from the skies. But over time, the race was brought to extinction, reducing ember to an aesthetic commodity. As the game opens, players step into the role of a recently-resurrected Lightbringer, choosing an introductory loadout from melee, ranged, and magic-using weapon selections.
Explanation of Ember’s assortment of mechanics arrives via the discovery of in-game books. Walking up to each illuminates the complexities of combat, combat, character progression as well as the game’s sophisticated crafting system, where the title adopts a decidedly Etsy-esque approach, statistically favoring handmade items over off-the-shelf purchases. Later, these texts contribute additional exposition, detailing elements of Lightbringer history in manner that shuns the dry description found in many Western role-playing games.
What are the game’s strengths? Ember’s battles bridge the difficult division between accessibility and intricacy. With little distinction between the overworld and interiors, battles can erupt at almost any time, whether wild beasts take notice of an adventuring party or dialog between communicative beings breaks down. Although party members show some autonomy and even pursue fleeing foes, on Ember’s higher difficulties, gamers will need to step in and commandeer combatants. Hitting either the space bar or an icon on the bottom of the screen freezes time, permitting players to draw lines for adventurers to follow, target specific foes by sticking on them, or summon special attacks by dragging icons onto opponents or areas of effect.
Aesthetically, Ember largely excels. Even on an i5-powered laptop without a discrete GPU, the title managed 1080p output with only a few dropped frames across some of the busier environments. Character designs divulge a pleasing amount of detail with party members flaunting any equipped weapons and armor. Although monster design cull from familiar CRPG archetypes, almost all are well-drawn and their lethality is often signaled by environmental details such as the unfortunate human cocooned in spider webbing. Sonically, the game excels with the title’s symphonic tracks augments by sound effects that recreate the clangor of weapons sinking into creatures. When hordes of enemies attack, the occasional cacophony of samples erupts, but players will likely be too busy strategizing to become too distracted. Voice acting is generally solid and the only downside is that it’s not consistently offered for each conversation.
Another of Ember’s virtues is the sense of independence across the game world. Although a map points players to the direction of a quest that will push the plot along, you’re never forced to follow that path, and can go about collecting natural resources for your crafting recipes. Likewise, the lack of a rigid class system allows gamers to approach things their own way. Whether you have a band of intellectuals able to talk their way out of confrontations or just a squad of burly thugs, Ember gives a great amount of flexibility. Just don’t expect the game’s world to demonstrate much reaction to your moral alignment. While the developers went to the trouble to give the game a day-night cycle, your Lightbringer can be unrepentant thief and NPCs will largely treat him the same as a roving saint.
What are the game’s weaknesses? While Ember’s mouse-based control scheme is mostly intuitive and functional, there are moments where things become obtuse or cumbersome. Essentials like consuming health replenishing items or opening locked treasure chests are more complicated than they should be, with each often requiring players to open in-game windows. Sure, you can map inventory items to a hotkey, but there are a limited number of compartments available. Another niggling detail is the game’s sporadic incorporation of incredulity. Sure, setting up a camp site offers an easy way to restore the party’s health and even pays an experience dividend, but when you’re snoozing within the visual range of fiends, something seems off.
To a lesser extent some of the game’s deviations from convention are bound to be contentious. Adventuring parties are limited to three-person teams, so the loss of even a single member can be devastating. On the upside, Ember counterbalances this by automatically resurrecting any of your fallen comrades. Special abilities are also contained to three per teammate, which isn’t devastating in itself, but tying them to your gear is an odd decision. A such, the game occasionally the tough decision, like forgoing a group healing skill for an item that a notable statistical improvement. While the dilemmas are interesting, the design decision does less the sensation each party member is gradually improving. Other divergences are no less interesting- with characters unable to devour large quantities of the same foodstuff. After all, who would want to accompany a fighting who is persisting on an all-cheese diet?
Is it worth the price? Coming in under the ten-dollar mark, Ember is the rare CRPG that combines polish with an unusually low purchase price. Although the game’s protracted campaign doesn’t quite express the epic story implied by the opening cinematic, the journey is fundamentally fun and allows for a great deal of flexibility. So for players seeking an experience that recalls the rudiments of Baldur’s Gate, Dragon’s Age: Origins, or Pillars of Eternity, Ember is an advised, affordable pick.
Ember was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PC, also on iOS
Developer: N-Fusion Interactive
Publisher: 505 Games
Release date: September 9thh, 2016
Price: $9.99 via Steam