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Early Access Impressions

William Murphy Posted:
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Guardians of Ember, Runewaker’s latest MMO (being published by Insel Games), recently entered an Early Access “Technical Test” before the game goes into wider release on Steam. Our own Bill Murphy bought into the test for the Action RPG MMO via the IndieGoGo campaign, and came away with some thoughts after a few hours’ play time.

Guardians of Ember’s first test hasn’t been without its issues. Namely, it seems a good number of folks can’t launch the game, there are random party disbanding issues, and some dual class questline issues. Indeed, the launcher itself just has the Community Hub from the Steam Game Listing as its backdrop, indicating very clearly that this isn’t the “launch” for Guardians of Ember.  Even for me GoE only launches on my laptop and not on my desktop. There are a lot of placeholder bits and pieces, and the in-game real money store isn’t functional, but some folks are already worried about pay. It’s worth noting that progress will be wiped when this test concludes later in the week, and that the official early access launch of GoE hasn’t yet been announced.

So, while the launcher issues are a problem (and reportedly fixed), and the cash shop is something that must be monitored, I’d like to instead focus this article on how the game plays – both the good and the bad.

While a lot about Guardians of Ember feels like it’s lacking polish, there’s a lot to its systems that bears mentioning. Character creation is robust for an Action RPG. You can change the scale on your character’s body parts, make them fat, thing, muscular, etc. And though the requisite Lolli race is there, so too is the burly dwarf so I’m willing to let it slide. I could do with a few more options for hair, face, and so forth, but given the comparison to other ARPG’s character creators this is quite nice.

Combat and skill tree info from Insel Games

The actual localization is being handled quite well too. Writing is good, sometimes even interesting, even when your quest is to go kill a few of this or collect a bunch of these. I also appreciate that controls can be done with the traditional click to move or WASD, something I was quite fond of in the competitor ARPG MMO Devilian. Unlike Devilian though, aiming and targeting feel much more attuned in Guardians of Ember.

I also rather enjoy the progression of my chosen class, the Knight, as I played. Each level gives you points to spend on stats that greatly impact several categories from healing to attack speed, defense and critical chance. Additionally, you unlock skills, both active and passive, relatively quickly as you level up and then the real customization comes in the form of where you put skill points to further evolve those skills. Each skill point also adds a bit of a stat increase to your overall character such as crit chance, healing, or so on. As you evolve the skills, like my Knight’s whirlwind secondary skill, the evolved forms do different things much like the rune system in Diablo 3. The one I used pretty much exclusively added healing to the whirlwind, but once you unlock a form of the skill you can swap them around out of combat whenever. So solo you might run with extra healing, while in groups you might run with more tank-specific bonuses since the Knight is supposed to be the tank of GoE.

Graphically, Guardians of Ember is a mixed bag. It looks good, don’t get me wrong, but the animations leave a lot to be desired and the actual combat suffers because of this. There’s a certain amount of “oomph” and visual flair needed to make ARPG combat look and feel good, and the animations of special skills as well as the animations of basic character attacks are just lacking in general. I would watch the below video from Insel Game’s own YT for examples. Screen shake, more apparent spell effects, physics on creature death, and even better display of combat numbers would go a long way towards making combat feel more impressive.

Character Creation and First 15 Minutes

The time-to-kill or TTK is also somewhat odd. Often I can slay monsters in a matter of seconds if I just spam whirlwind and spin like a top around the map, but my main attack is both slow and weak comparatively, meaning it often seems almost useless. Even with faster weapons and stat points spent on attack speed, I’m often left feeling weak unless I just hold down whirlwind.

Early in the beginning quest series, you’re given a temporary 1-Day mount to use. I really, really hope that this becomes a permanent mount at Early Access launch, as the game will have you hoofing it over rather large maps and the mount is a godsend. It’s a long time before you unlock a second waypoint to other maps, and if you need to go back to a spot that’s not the main town, running can feel like it takes forever. Still, I’m glad that Runewaker opted out of an auto-run feature which just cheapened Devilian’s travel far too much.

I’d also like to say that the questing feels decent in Guardians of Ember – by this I mean that unlike its contemporaries, GoE doesn’t give you too many or too few quests. While I think the leveling speed is a bit too slow to keep up with the level of quests (I was 10 when facing level 12 mobs in the first main dungeon), I very much appreciate the somewhat slower rate of leveling and having less quests makes it feel like each one matters more. As opposed to just getting a dozen random points on my map to chase down, I’m following a main story. This will make for linear playthroughs, but at least its guided well. That said, the rewards for quests are nowhere near equal to the rewards you get as item drops, and that should probably be considered. Especially when you finally beat the first dungeon and get a weapon that’s less than half as effective as an item you picked up several levels prior.

I didn’t quite make it to the Dual Class feature at level 15, nor the personal housing feature. I did get to try fishing, but for the life of me I can’t see why anyone would do it since crafting doesn’t unlock to level 40 and the fish and shrimp I caught didn’t seem to offer any benefits. I assume from the level 40 gate; crafting is expected to be a mid-late game activity and part of the endgame. We’ll have to wait until later in early access to find out if that proves true.

Today another Action MMORPG launches into beta with Webzen’s Mu Legend. It’s nice to see so many Action MMOs coming state side, and one should wonder if they’re all trying to beat the elusive Lineage Eternal to market. That said, Guardians of Ember shows a lot of promise, but Runewaker and Insel Games have some polishing to do if they want this little gem to shine when it goes live on Steam in the coming weeks.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.