You know, some people need to redefine «fun». First and foremost, that goes to everyone working at THQ Nordic, but then we have the occasional independant studio like «InselGames Ltd» who produced Guardians of Ember, an MMORPG with top-down perspective same camera angle as Diablo (with which a lot of people have compared it), but different graphics style.
The truth is Guardians of Ember takes a lot more ques from World of Warcraft (and let it be said: You can never get enough ques from WoW), often feeling like a multiplayer Titan’s Quest with fishing. The MMO aspects of Guardians of Ember will take quite a while to be revealed though, as the player will first have to go through quite a few hours of grinding «Goblin»s, before he can advance to the truly juicy parts of the game, where he will start grinding «Tough Goblin»s.
Something evil attacks kingdom, take hero, defeat hordes of monsters, spend stats, fight more monsters, wonder if you should have taken the +0.01 critical instead of the +0.01 dodge, take a moment to admire the occasionally really pretty graphics, goto 01.
Honestly, Guardians of Ember is pretty disappointing as far as stories go. I do understand that when you have a relatively unused concept (like Diablo-ish MMOs) you don’t have to pay much attention to the story, but GoE’s focus on that aspect is way beyond minimal. This is generally a problem I’ve had with a lot of Diablo-ish games, minus Diablo itself (surprisingly), but when you have slain your 1000th goblin and you still feel like you have made zero difference in the world, even the excitement of exploration starts to wane.
I believe saying it’s Diablo but with WoW influences pretty much covers it, but in case it didn’t, lets start at the beginning. When you start the game, you are led to select one of the four incredibly low-res sprites to be your avatar. We have the humans (male/female), the elves (male/female), the dwarves (male) and the lolis (female). Obviously they’re not called «lolis» in-game, but judging by the exposition text-dumb the race was accompanied with, the developers paid even less attention to their backstory than I did, so we’ll go with «lolis».
After I had selected my race (loli obviously, due to her small size she looked slightly less worse with the pixelated graphics than the rest of the races did), I had to select a class. Having heard that the game had serious problems with ranged attacks, with the players pulling more mobs than they could afford to accidentally, I tried to give the game a fair, open-minded chance, so obviously I chose mage (if you’re gonna bury something, you gotta make sure the grave is deep enough, right?).
An uninspired generic-looking tutorial later (Oh, no, the evil hordes of darkness attacked, is there anyone who could save us?) I was pitied against a troll warrior, where I started realising the game was sadly devoid of challenge. Either I’m a stat genious (which, after 10+ years of yugioh I hope I am), or the game has serious balancing issues. I didn’t notice the problems all that much, since any icebolts that accidentally hit an unintentional target usually ended up killing him as well, so I guess it is true that you can solve one problem by creating another.
The game generally reminded me a lot of Titan’s Quest, except that, since it was an MMO, opponents respawned within 5 minutes, so you felt your impact on the world even less than you would in a single player game. Other than the overworld, there were the occasional dungeons, where the difficulty surprisingly increased 10thfold, with the game switching from ridiculously easy to unfairly hard in a manner of seconds. The bosses used relatively complex tactics, with area-of-effect attacks and minion summons constantly pausing the slap-exchange and the more I progressed in the game, the more complex these seemed to be.
That was one of the ques Guardians of Ember took from WoW (for the better I’d say), with the boss fights strongly reminding of a WoW encounters post-Cataclysm. Of course after the boss fights started the loot-fest THQ Nordic has gotten us used to, an annoying process of looking at each stat trying to decide what it useful and what should be dropped. The amount of crap collected in your backpack was made all the more obvious by the absence of merchants in most NPC camps of the game.
Back to the overworld, as you level up Guardians of Ember starts displaying its MMO-ish aspects, with professions such as fishing starting to emerge (that’s as far as I went, I’m sure there were more gimmicks thrown in later on). You might have noticed that I keep referrencing other games as I’m trying to describe Guardians of Ember, rather than focusing on GoE itself. That’s because Guardians of Ember has no character to speak of, a completely pointless and time-consuming experience in the long run, that is somehow too unmemorable to stand on its own.
The graphics are quite satisfying at times, especially near rives and other sources of water (typical, for developers water is like the car they get to show the neightbours, it needs to be as polished as possible outside, even if they haven’t changed the tires since Bush lost the elections). Other than that thought, the optical aspects are usually quite bland, leaving little impression, the typical sunset environments in grain-fields being the most characteristic of the game.
The sound doesn’t do much better either, though I gotta say I appreciated the occasiona voice acting by the goblins and the trolls, trying to give some semblance of a story to the game (unsuccessfully, but its the effort that matters). The controls were fairly typical (left click to move if you select an empty space or attack with the equipped spell if you select an opponent) and buttons 1-5 storing spells in a very limiting manner (the game just wouldn’t allow me to store a main attack in button 1 for example, despite the definition of «main» being vague at best when ana arcane explosion aoe could murder everything in half a kilometer radius.
To sum it up: Boring, unimaginitive and largely indifferent. It does have the occasional moment where you admire the graphics or laugh at the dialogue exchange of the goblins, but other than that the game simply has no «soul». You might as well grind away the 4-5 hours you’d waste on it poking your nose.
Guardians of Ember Review
- Really good graphics.
- Original perspective for an MMO.
- Goblin dialogues.
- Objective-based encounters.
- Certain boss fights are really fun.
- Doesn't have a character of its own.
- The story is laughable.
- The combat is too easy.
- You can't choose which skill goes where.
- The professions are clearly a gimmick
- Due to the respawns, you feel like you make no difference.
- Stat management that reaches THQ Nordic levels.