If you look around the Free-to-play section of Steam, there is a huge range of different MMO-RPG titles with a flavor of that famous anime style that promise to fill up your library and offer you some good hours of relaxation and fun, depending on what you like. One of the companies that goes against these standards and walks a different path, is the Taiwanese company Runewaker that right after Dragon’s Prophet makes a comeback to the lairs of MMO-RPG games, this time in a more Diablo-style way, through their latest game creation, Guardians of Ember.
Guardians of Ember is a top-down MMO-RPG that follows the steps of Blizzard’s famous game, Diablo. The title is at this point in time still in its Early Access phase on Steam. To be honest with you, I believe that there is a superstition about all these F2P MMO games since most of those games more or less follow the same motief, without having any kind of unique attributes that would make them stand apart from the rest. Even though I was looking forward to trying out this title, since I also watched its progress on Indiegogo and how it managed to reach its funding goal, I came into its world while feeling that I would get the same sort of experience that I would with all those other MMOs that I mentioned.
The story of the game makes the player travel through the world of Olyndale, that is in chaos after years of relentless war. In order for Olyndale to be restored to its former glory, a Guardian of Ember must go against the forces of darkness that threaten this world and bring back the much needed balance. Starting in this universe, the game starts with the classic character creation screen, where we are called to choose between 5 of the game’s classes (Knight, Priest, Arcanist, Engineer and Ranger). We also get to choose between 4 races (Humans, Elves, Dwarves and just like any other MMO that respects itself has, a loli-looking race that in this case is called Neia).
Having armed my ranger character (in the looks of a Demon Hunter from Diablo) I let myself out in this world that was fairly big and filled with lots of dungeons that would test my instincts. In its core, the game follows an ARPG style, while maintaining many of the genre’s aspects. Every quest has its own usual line that introduces us to allies and enemies. The story of the game is told in a somewhat slow pace and things happen generally quite slowly. It will take several the exploration and “cleaning” of several dungeons before we get to the point where we learn what happens next. In those dungeons, the player chooses a difficulty level and starts his own small journey towards a specific boss, that in the end will reward the player for finishing the dungeon, as well as for finishing it at a certain difficulty.
Of course, if one clear is not enough for us, we can always try it again and again, allowing us to get various achievements for our character. Other than that, throughout each region, there are various public events that we can either finish alone or with other players by following a series of objectives. These public events will reward us with XP and gold. In our travels, our trusted companions are our set of abilities as well as our arsenal of weapons. Every character has a very satisfying range of abilities that offer more than effect depending on how ranked up they are. In addition to all that, we can also gain a second class after a certain level in the game, that will reward us even more abilities that can combo with the ones of our first class.
Regarding its combat system, Guardians of Ember has the typical combat system one would expect from a game of its genre. There is a notable feeling of repetition but our abilities can keep things interesting as we move on in the game. What I was personally looking for though was a better balance between the player and the difficulty of our enemies since I followed the main quest, going through easy levels and at a certain point of a game, enemies started being way harder than I expected.
Even though the game is online, I barely noticed any problems with lag throughout my playthrough, but I have to say that I was quite annoyed that the game was stuck at a 25 to 30 fps at all times. The only way to enjoy it at a 60+ fps rate, I had to do a forced borderless windowed mode which after a certain point in the game, started causing the application to crash (especially during loading screens). Since the time I played it, a lot of things have been fixed, with one of those being the constant freezing of the game at certain points of it. But once again, it’s an Early Access title, so we can only expect the company to keep fixing and improving it until it is ready for full release.
What I really enjoyed in the game was that even though there is a pay-2-win model within the game, there are plenty of ways offered for a player to get things that others might otherwise buy with real money. These can come in the form of farming or the completion of daily quests. We can gain things li ke, extra inventory slots or boosters to money or experience. Something I did not try, was the PvP part of the game, since I focused mostly on its co-op potential rather than the PvP one. It should be noted though that anyone willing to fight it out against other people online, can do so through 3v3 and 5v5 arenas.
Guardians of Ember is still in Early Access, but we generally get a very pleasing image already that only makes us think that performance issues will be improved and we will get something amazing when it is ready to come out. It is still held back in terms of comparison to other good games of its genre but it is definitely very promising. I trust that the developers will not leave it as it is so I am definitely looking forward to trying it out again when it fully releases. Time is surely Runewaker’s companion in this journey though.
Guardians of Ember is available on Steam at 18.99€
-Vasilis “Eniantas” Kamakaris
~Translated by Konstantinos “Kelfecil” Christakis