Embers Adrift is a medieval-realistic PvE fantasy MMORPG crafted by the ten developers that make up Stormhaven Studios. Focusing on group-centric gameplay and inspired by tabletop games and early MMORPGs, Embers Adrift isn’t looking to fit into the modern mold of MMOs today. Instead, Stormhaven Studios created a title that looked to capture the nostalgia of yesteryear while sprinkling a little of their own zest into the pot. Eager to give it a shot, I laced up my boots and got ready to leave the unforgiving mists of the Darklands in favor of a greater adventure.
If you read our Ember's Adrift Review in Progress, then you already know how I feel about character creation in Embers Adrift. For some, character creation doesn’t really matter, and for others, it’s a huge part of immersing themselves in an RPG. I can really go either way. I can spend hours in a great character generator perfecting every angle of my character, but it’s not a necessity for me personally.
Embers Adrift has a fairly barebones character creator, but despite that, it does possess a few unique features. For instance, you can create your own hairstyle by combining three separate pieces of hair, but there aren’t very many pieces available to begin with to combine. You can also change up your body shape by selecting pre-made builds which are extremely diverse. I also really like the callback to older RPGs by letting you select character art for your portrait. This only serves as a visual indicator for when other players click on you, but it’s a nice touch.
So, all in all not a complete dud!
Plenty of “modern” MMOs like World of Warcraft don’t have any of those features, so I like that they’ve tried to offer a little more variety. WoW, for instance, only has two bodies to choose from. While they now have tons of hairstyles for the various races, they are static hairstyles that only offer color customization. With that being said, only a handful of customization options in Embers Adrift tends to make everyone look the same. I would have liked to have seen a lot more options for hair pieces or even faces to make player characters stand out from each other. Really neat idea, but poor execution.
Once you have an avatar designed, it’s time to leave the Darklands and journey forth to the small town of Newhaven. You’ve lost many of your memories as you left that place, and it’s now time to adapt to this new life if you want to survive. After a brief tutorial that introduces you to some basic movement, and combat through the first few NPCs, you’re on your own. With no visual questing indicators for pickup or turn-in, you’ll have to talk to each and every NPC you see if you’re interested in acquiring a quest. Something I had to learn the hard way, is that you really must take your time and read through the quest dialogue. If you don’t, you might find yourself stranded out in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no clue where to go or any idea of who to talk to. It’s meant to be this way by design, as even the website for Embers Adrift mentions that you may have to take notes here and there.
While you do have a questing journal, not every quest has a great summary for you to reflect on while the quest is in progress. If you didn’t take good notes and you go a few days without playing, this means that you effectively log in and have no clue what you’re doing. Being new to the game and still not familiar with NPCs or names means a lot of backtracking and trying to find the quest giver to remind you of the quest. Since Embers Adrift is still young and new, there really isn’t that much information out there unless you join the official Discord and ask for help. With that being said, that’s what Discord is there for. The developers are very responsive and helpful, and you can generally get a response back if you’re stuck. However, I am a fan of having all the tools you need be present inside of the game.
Going back a bit to the dialogue, the quality of the writing in Embers Adrift is enjoyable though difficult to parse through. The dialogue feels pretty natural even if at times it does seem like an info dump-especially at the start of a new journey. I enjoy that the flow of the text gives off that feeling that I’m in a tabletop game with emotes in the text that describes the NPC motions as well as their unique quirks. Even so, the UI feels like it works against all of the interesting stories that the NPCs have to tell. With every conversation, a large black window appears at the bottom of the screen and it just spits out even larger paragraphs of unending text. Not only this, but the text is all presented at once, without introducing smaller chunks that might have made it easier on the eyes to read. A side-scrolling marquee could have been helpful here, or even just breaking up the chunks of dialogue into smaller ones that could be clicked through. Quests at the end of these conversations also do not give any experience, but instead reward consumables and sometimes armor. All of the above made for a somewhat tedious questing experience.
So if quests don’t give experience, what does? Killing mobs is the only way to gain experience in Embers Adrift. In between trying to assist the citizens of Newhaven and the surrounding areas, you’ll spend several hours grinding deer, bear, rats, bunnies with quills, and bandits to get to that next level. You don’t have to constantly fight. You could stop to craft or pick some flowers, though crafting won’t benefit you much until later on as that requires its own grinding journey. What about the grouping system? Some of the most fun I had in Embers Adrift came from random players inviting me to their party out in the world to spend the next several hours grinding bandits or rats. After every fight, we would sit down together to eat and regain health, and maybe share a laugh about the difficulty of the pull.
That’s a feeling I haven’t had in a while, and I give so many kudos to Stormhaven for creating an environment that fostered that kind of interaction. The world did however feel somewhat empty with a real lack of mob diversity for a game that expects you to level completely by decimating the wildlife. Every enemy we defeated did feel like an accomplishment, but every death just made me more frustrated. Yes, rats are that dangerous at early levels. Every mob requires planning, and not every mob has the same difficulty rating. Stacked, colorful chevrons beside their names indicate their group and difficulty level and will determine whether or not you will spend the next several minutes running back to pick up your bag of loot if you pick a fight with an R.O.U.S. And I assure you, they exist.
Embers Adrift offers three of the classic MMORPG roles: Damage, Support, and Tank. For this review, I mainly played Striker, which is the DPS role. Movement already feels kind of slow and like wading through molasses, which made combat that much more excruciating. Striker gets three specializations to choose from: Berserker, Brigand, and Warden.
Unfortunately, even a few more skills and the Warden specialization at level 6 didn’t alleviate that much combat tedium. Mobs take a long time to kill, both solo and in a group depending on their challenge rating, but the fight can be expedited slightly by paying attention to which direction the mob is facing. You can take advantage of these weak points to increase your damage, and when I did I actually felt accomplished after fighting a mob. However, combat is slow, and doesn’t feel satisfying at the moment. Because of this, the constant grind to get to the next level was incredibly tedious and painful to slug through. The sound design and animations also definitely left a little to be desired, because every hit just felt like I was swinging at air.
The more I played, the more my eyes started to glaze over while leveling. Everything in the world of Embers Adrift just looks and feels the same, with not a lot of diversity. Lots of mobs, but not a lot of different mobs. To add to that, there are mobs everywhere (wildlife and bandits) but yet it still somehow manages to feel empty and almost artificial. Maybe it’s because there are only a few landmarks scattered here and there, but they could certainly use more since landmarks and the always pointing North “Blupiter” is our only way of knowing where the heck we are at any given time.
It could also be because there are many houses that you would assume belong to citizens or bandits, but you can’t go in any of them. Maybe the citizens got wise to adventurers breaking all their pots and looting their valuables, but it just feels disappointing that you can’t go inside. A sadly missed opportunity to hide lorebooks which could’ve helped with the info dump from other NPCs and encouraged exploration.
When I did finally leave newbie Newhaven, my game crashed. Kind of put a damper on my exploration as this was a recurring theme for the other zones. Frequent server issues and downtime were common issues during play, so much so that it almost felt like I was on a rollercoaster - and not the good kind. I don’t know if somebody forgot to feed the hamster, but give that little guy extra treats, he’s running as hard as he can. I will mention, that there always seemed to be people around to play with, even given the instanced zones and level gaps. The most fun parts for me are probably levels 1-15 because you’re starting fresh, and I encountered a lot of players that made alts after hitting the content wall to re-experience this part of the game and help out new players.
Unfortunately, after some time playing Embers Adrift, I had to come to terms with it just not being the game for me. I really did try to give it my all and spent many, many hours trying to find that sparkle that others who were fervently enjoying the game seemed to be talking about. However, Embers Adrift was just not a fun game for me. I’m still very happy that Stormhaven Studios managed to put out an MMORPG that checks off everything they were looking to accomplish with their project, but it’s definitely aimed toward a very niche audience.
With a promise to keep microtransactions out of their game and running on a “buy once and pay by subscription model”, Embers Adrift has a lot of potential. Just having potential is not enough for me to really recommend the game though in its current state. On top of my currently mentioned gripes, past level thirty there seems to be not a lot of content left to pursue, and I was under the impression that there would be compelling content at every stage of the game.
We’re not talking about an Early Access release. Embers Adrift is fully released and currently available for purchase. Currently, the server is also managed by a single poor soul on their development team. This has led to a lot of server issues in recent days when server stability has been jeopardized, and no one could restart the server because those with access were not available.
Embers Adrift has a lot of fantastic ideas, but I just don’t feel that it is quite there yet. I do genuinely hope that the Embers Adrift team continues to make improvements and listen to their passionate community, because they will be critical in those days ahead as they start to iron out improvements and optimization issues. Maybe one day in the future I will return to Embers Adrift, but for now, I would just honestly rather play anything else.
Full Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.