Guardians of Ember is an MMORPG being developed by Runewaker, who is also responsible for Dragon’s Prophet and Runes of Magic. Guardians of Ember combines the world and multiplayer elements of the MMO genre with the combat and progression systems typically found in action role-playing games. Currently, the game is in a buy-to-play state on Steam, along with a few DLC upgrade packs. However, it should be noted that it’s in Early Access and Runewaker is still working on adding more chapters, content, classes and polish.
As a descendant of the Ember god, the player takes on the role of a Guardian of Ember and must defend the world of Olyndale from a variety of sinister forces. It borrows a myriad of mechanics from both MMOs and ARPGs and has a few unique elements as well. A handful of its features include an MMORPG world with hack’n’slash combat, housing, a dual class system, randomized dungeons, guilds, crafting, gathering, PvP, and basically everything else you would expect from the typical MMO. So let’s take a look at how well Guardians of Ember interlaces these two genres.
The overall setting for Guardians of Ember is fairly standard medieval high-fantasy. As far as aesthetics go, it chose a fairly muted color palette that one would expect from a more realistic looking medieval time setting. The general color scheme and environment patterns remind me a bit of Diablo 2, but the textures are definitely more current.
Depending on preference, this can be a determining factor on whether Guardians of Ember will interest you or not. A lot of recent ARPGs have had over-the-top fantasy settings, like Devilian, and this one has a more down-to-earth feeling. This can also be said about the skills, as well as the environment. Don’t go expecting any Diablo 3 style particle effects when shooting arrows or casting fireballs. Many of the skills look very bare bones, but this also makes it very easy to see what’s going on during combat.
Customizing Your Avatar
The Character creation tools in Guardians of Ember are strong for an ARPG but weak for an MMO. Currently, there are four races, two genders, five classes (with a 6th coming), and a handful of face and body options. The default face and hair choices are a little lackluster, with only four faces per race and twice as many hairstyles. Thankfully, the body customization is a bit more in-depth and includes everything from skin color to butt size, however, a couple of the more ridiculous proportion choices can cause clipping issues with armor. You can also modify the default faces by adjusting shape, eyebrows, eyes, mouth, nose, and ear position.
In terms of attribute and skill choices, there is a fairly decent number of options. However, it definitely feels like the actual options lack variety among themselves. For example, during my playthrough I chose to mainly use the Ranger class. Skills are broken down into Primary, Secondary, and Advanced. The Primary skills are your basic attacks and build energy. The Secondary skills are slightly more powerful and spend energy. Then the advanced skills usually use energy and have a cooldown attached. Each skill also has minor upgrades, such as .5% hit rate or damage, and major upgrades that morph the skill into something slightly different.
Unfortunately, many of these skills feel incredibly similar to each other. The primary skill Precision Shot fires a single piercing arrow, while the secondary skill Continuous Shot feels like a faster version of it. Furthermore, Crescent Blow and Charge shot are both short-ranged cone abilities with a similar animation, damage, and area-of-effect. The advanced abilities aren’t much better with Lightning Dash and Potent Charge both being dash abilities.
The attributes points don’t fare much better. There are only four different attributes: Prestige, Bravery, Blood, and Focus, but there doesn’t appear to be much incentive to spread points out. I decided to put all my points into Blood because it improves both my health and damage at the same time while the other attributes only improve minor stats like critical hit chance or attack speed. There might be a time when attack speed and critical hit are more important than pure survivability and damage, but I didn’t find that to be the case.
I was desperately hoping that the dual-class system would rectify the relatively boring skill trees. Initially, I was expecting more of a sub-class system where players would basically choose a more advanced secondary class. Instead, it’s an actual dual-class system based on the starting classes. That means you can combine any of the main classes in the game together. Currently, these are the five classes available: Knight, Priest, Arcanist, Ranger, and Engineer.
Normally, I would be all for another MMO that allows interesting class combinations. I was a big fan of this in Guild Wars because it allowed for some truly unique builds, as each class had hundreds of skills to pick from. However, things aren’t quite as smooth in Guardians of Ember. Initially, your secondary class only has Primary skills available and starts at level 1, and it levels up alongside (while being about 15 level behind) your main class.
Additionally, a lot of the skill combinations don’t mesh well together. For example, you don’t exactly want a lot of melee Knight skills on a fragile ranged class. There is also quite a bit of overlap with the primary and secondary skills; the Ranger and Engineer primaries are nearly the same. This means that there isn’t much functionality in the dual-class system until both classes are a moderately high level.
Another problem that arises is the fact that many classes use different types of damage. Combining Engineer fire skills and Arcanist Ice skills could be problematic as one uses the Bravery stat while the other uses Blood. In order to get the most efficient skill build possible, it’s probably best to research optimal class combinations beforehand. Unfortunately, this could leave inexperienced players with a high-level secondary class that simply doesn’t work well at endgame. This would require them to start leveling an entirely new secondary class back at level 1 again. It would definitely be a lot more convenient if the secondary class leveled in conjunction with the primary, instead of having a separate experience bar.
One of the unique features of Guardians of Ember is supposed to be the procedurally generated dungeons. No two dungeons will ever be the same; this includes the very first one. You can enter and exit a dungeon as many times as you want and the experience will be slightly different each time.
However, anyone who’s ever played a game with procedural generation should know exactly how this turns out. Instead of having a unique dungeon with interesting design mechanics, you get one with a variety of potential options but nothing that really stands out. Guardians of Ember is very much that. While no two playthroughs of a single dungeon are exactly the same, there’s also nothing that makes them stand out either. Even though it’s a ‘unique’ experience each time, it still fails to be overly satisfying.
Personally, I would rather run a static dungeon that was well designed and has interesting boss fights than one that changes slightly each time but doesn’t include any memorable aspects. From what I’ve experienced in Guardians of Ember, each dungeon is a series of random corridors that funnel into a couple of larger rooms with bosses. The bosses are basically just stronger versions of the other monsters and generally have a couple of class-based skills, such as the Ranger Trap or Dividing Arrows.
From what I’ve experience, the cash shop isn’t horribly egregious. Many of the premium items are handed out to players as they level or can be bought with in-game currency. These include things like skill reset scrolls, inventory expansion items, and instant revives. However, the DLC packages do provide some early game advantages, such as the exclusive Saber Tooth mount and a bunch of premium Loot Orbs. It definitely feels like the cash shop falls somewhere between most free-to-play and buy-to-play models.
Guardians of Ember tries to add a few interesting twists to the typical ARPG, but overall these are rather hit or miss. In its current state, there are also a few bugs and inconvenience issues. It’s not uncommon to get stuck on inconspicuous terrain or run into invisible walls. There’s also a decent focus on grinding, as the leveling process is slow.
It’s difficult to recommend Guardians of Ember to everyone in its state right now. However, if the game improves during Early Access, it might appeal to players who like medieval themed ARPGs and a bit of grinding. There are quite a few other ARPGs on the market right now that are more fun and have more polish, but if your options have been exhausted then Guardians of Ember might be worth a look at.
Related: ARPG, Early Access, Guardians of Ember, MMORPG, Preview, Runewaker Entertainment, Steam