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Early Access Progress Report and Thoughts

William Murphy Posted:
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A while back, I gave you all some insight into the technical tests I played for Insel Games and Runewaker’s Guardians of Ember. In short, I saw potential, but had a few worrisome notes about the combat specifically. Early Access on Steam (essentially launch, as there will be no more wipes) is here, and we’re diving in to see what’s changed for the worse or for the better.

To be short? Not a lot has changed since I first wrote about GoE. The combat is still oddly paced, slow, and lacking that flare which makes games like Path of Exile, Diablo, or even Marvel Heroes retain a following. Guardians of Ember (formerly Emergarde in Taiwan before being whole-hog delivered by Insel Games worldwide), is an MMORPG first, and an Action RPG second. They’ve got all the features you’d expect of an MMORPG, even in an Early Access phase. For $20, with a limited Cash Shop (for now at least), you get a decent time for your money.

The problem lies in the combat. And since the game posits itself as an MMO with Action RPG combat to rival Diablo, well… it’s a shame it gets the combat so terribly wrong. You move with WASD, which isn’t a problem per say. The game even supports the controller, which is a nice touch. No, the problem is that combat itself isn’t smooth at all. Effects on skills and spells have been tuned up to make things flashier, so there’s one issue I mentioned earlier being rectified. This problem will be harder to fix, I expect.

You see, what makes Diablo, Path of Exile, Marvel Heroes, even Devilian or MU Legends work well as ARPG experience is that their combat is fast, fluid, and responsive. None of this is true when it comes to Guardians of Ember. Attack speeds are slow, mobs TTK is too high most of the time, and movement and attacking can’t be done smoothly so it means your character feels clunky as he or she must stop and jerk around to attack. On top of it, attacks themselves seem to have a delay (this may or may not be server side) so everything that’s slow and cumbersome about the combat mentioned above is worsened by unresponsive controls.

It’s not all bad though. Obviously, if you don’t like linear theme parks, GoE won’t be for you. But the game opens up and gives you some nice side activities like, housing and crafting down the road. You can even pause to fish for crafting materials. I will still say that the game should offer a sprint, increase run speed, or give players a generic mount that’s permanent off the bat. The zones are decently big, and you’ll do a lot of running around, but it feels like a snail’s pace without a mount and you’re constantly just training mobs all over the place.

Skill Progression is pretty decent early on, too, though I’ll have to see how it works later.  Right now I worry that it’ll have sort of Guild Wars 2-itis. You’ll unlock a fair amount of skills, but you’re going to find favorites and stick with them. It’s also annoying that you’re limited in how many you can actually use at once. Like Diablo 3, you have to swap them out – only one primary, one secondary, one for the number 1 key, one for the number 2 key, etc. It’s nice you get to apply extra stat points, though they don’t seem to be very impactful – like a fraction of a percent increase each time you add one.  If you hate how slow main attacks are like I do, I’d recommend a good dual-dagger set, and pumping points into the stat that increases attack speed.

I find it interesting that GoE uses the trinity too, without focusing too much on that fact. If you go into a group dungeon, and want to have a good time, someone should spec out skills that heal. I did so to take down Soba (the first big dungeon) and my team thanked me profusely. I still did off-DPS with skills, but my primary skill was an AOE heal that kept the two melee knights alive.

Eventually, once past the first dungeon and getting my house and second class (I went with Engineer and Priest), I found the game's pacing speeding up. I equipped two one-handed cross-bows, reset my skills to pick the ones I really wanted (which is free up until level 25), and found things much more to my liking. Combat was still really clunky feeling, but the TTK was better, and my combo of skills from the two classes worked well to keep me alive and deal tons of damage.

There is a boatload of gear that drops though, and daily login rewards include extra keys to unlock extra loot boxes at the end of a dungeon. You can also get the keys from Loot Orbs, basically the only additional microtransaction available right now in Early Access. It doesn’t seem to be unfair, especially since you can only pick one thing from the extra chest, and it might not be the best. We’ll have to see how PVP plays out later.

Right now Guardians of Ember is in Early Access, costs $20, or $50 if you want a costume, some loot orbs, and an early permanent mount. It’s on sale too, at around $16 bucks, so if you’re curious I’d say give it a shot. It’s Early Access, so the game can and will hopefully become more polished. We can only level to 30 right now and only play Acts 1 and 2 of the main story as well. So there’s definitely more to come, provided Insel and Runewaker deliver on their promises.


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.