Out of all the game genres out there, MMOs are probably the least represented in terms of independent game development. Truly, it makes sense. MMOs typically require massive amounts of resources, 24/7 attention, and a deeply dedicated core team of developers. However, sometimes a handful of people are able to find workarounds for issues and create something that they can be proud of for a small, yet active, community – such is the case with EverEmber Online.
Before setting foot in this charming little world, be warned: the game is still very much under development and is very indie. I don’t mean indie like a lot of the multi-million dollar projects you see on Kickstarter, I mean indie as in a team small enough that could easily fit at a single dinner table together. Graphical assets appear to be largely comprised of RPG Maker resources, the engine is based on Eclipse Origins, a relatively popular 2D MMORPG engine, and overall the team was able to cut many corners that would normally bottle neck a small group.
None of this is meant to necessarily take away from what they’ve accomplished, however. While the game lacks originality or truly innovative ideas, I cannot overstate the charm. From the moment you visit the website, you’ll notice the sheer excitement expressed from the team members and community, as even though it may only ever have a maximum of a few dozen players online (which is a lot by these standards, it was usually under a dozen every time I logged on) they are passionate.
The new player experience is a bit shaky in its current state. I was faced with fairly poor timing in terms of trying to play the game – it seemed to be down often and they had lots of issues with the download and updating system. Once it was working and I got in though, things were very smooth. You get to choose a name and make very limited character appearance selections, so don’t expect anything too revolutionary as far as character creation is concerned. I also want to go on note as saying that, I’m not sure if it’s original or not, but that main menu music is actually quite infectious.
Once you’re plopped into the game world, an old man is walking around aimlessly in front of you. You progress through a series of tiny little rooms, talking to random NPCs, as they teach you some of the basics of the game. After that, it’s really just about exploring and enjoying the atmosphere. EverEmber isn’t a game about “graphics and fanciness” as the developers put it, or even storytelling, it’s all about simply enjoying an old-school inspired world. With a heavy focus on player-interaction, free-form gameplay, and an open-ended design in a 2D world, EverEmber is undeniably unique, even if it does lack polish.
EverEmber Online contains fairly traditional gameplay systems that players expect from a 2D MMO of this caliber. Everything is grid-based (think old-school Pokémon games for example) so each movement you make is an increment of the game’s presumed square tiles in the game world. The unfortunate results of this are overtly symmetrical environments, unnatural map layouts, and a lack of movement precision. However, these minor limitations of the game engine and quality of graphical assets chosen do provide for a significant level of consistency in aesthetic and functional design.
Ultimately though, this all takes a back seat once you get invested in the game itself. The open-ended design, player-run economy, PvP, guilds, and overall social interaction combine together to elevate an otherwise unremarkable game to truly engaging heights. Players aren’t restricted to certain classes and don’t even have to level up their crafting and other resource gathering abilities – materials are all open to you from the very start. While it can be difficult to find a good group of players to play with on a consistent basis, there is a lot more to do than you would initially expect.
Interestingly, the paradox of the design decisions is that, with a game so reliant on player-driven systems, a vibrant and active community is a necessity. While I don’t doubt that the development team will be able to build an audience for their game, it will be difficult to maintain in the long-term. On the flip side of that though, is the fact that the omission of most traditional quest structures, means the turnaround time for frequent updates will be much quicker.
What EverEmber Online lacks in innovation, polish, and breadth of content, it makes up for in its charm and knack for pulling you into its atmosphere. By smartly utilizing premade resources such as the Eclipse Origin engine and Enterbrain’s RPG Maker assets, EverEmber Online elevates itself to the status of an overall quality 2D MMORPG. While the approach and art style is surely not for everyone, its engaging design choices are worth checking out for fans of retro and indie MMO fans alike.