Choose My Adventure: Starting out in Embers Adrift is just as tough as expected


It took me an alarming amount of time to get to level two.

That’s pretty much as good of a summary as I can come up with regarding my first foray into Embers Adrift for this week. And not just because this game is hard-bitten, old-school, or whatever other descriptors you can come up with that summarize a game that ignores every lesson learned about the genre in years prior. It’s just the way this game is paced. There are speed limits, and you will be destroyed for ignoring them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to move my way through these early levels.

The character creation in Embers was some of the fastest I’ve been through owing to the fact that there were not a lot of what I’d call robust options, let alone ones that didn’t look terrible. But as per the polls, I created my defender character and strode forth into the opening area. It was here that the tutorials made it abundantly clear that going on my own was going to be a very temporary matter and that I was going to need to exercise care.

Exercising that care here meant that I had to read the UI as well as make judicious use of the tried-and-tired yet true method of examining a target to see if I could even survive the fight, which in this game is called the “Consider” button. This isn’t a new requirement to me; I started my major MMORPG gaming in FFXI and so I know all about gauging enemy strength before starting a fight.

Even so, I had to suss out what challenge levels would be suited for my class. The fact that the number of chevrons indicating roughly how many people should fight the monster as well as some color coding for those same chevrons made it easier to at least get a bird’s eye view of what to expect, but the proof was definitely in the combat pudding as I gently pushed the envelope of what the defender is capable of.

What it was capable of was two sword swings, each of which requiring some spool-up time before they actually did anything. I wasn’t expecting combat to involve swift ninja strikes of my sword, but I also wasn’t really ready for a cast bar on a sword swing. Overall, I started to learn more about the fights my character could survive and get XP from, being stopped only when a deer or a wandering smuggler absolutely beat me down when I went too far afield.

I broke the speed limit, in other words.

A lot of the early going is mercifully soloable even so, but I had to go through a small crucible of failure before I felt confident enough in my defender’s meager kit. I started picking up a couple of random little quests as I went along, which further told me a bit about combat as well as the importance of positioning.

I was also sent out to do a bit of gathering and slight crafting as well, but that was all but easily ignored once I found out how frustrating it was to spot mineable ores. Again, I appreciate what Embers is trying to do here insofar as keeping hands off to let me learn myself, but there wasn’t even any way to vaguely triangulate ore at the interim, and I didn’t know a node was something I could interact with until I was right on top of it.

Once I finally started to get a general idea of how gathering worked, I headed over to do the next crafting tutorial step… which saw me fail almost immediately with the few pieces of copper I was able to successfully harvest. That meant I had to wander around the wilds some more to try and find the right gathering nodes. Eventually, I stopped failing the dice rolls long enough to get the requisite success, collected my reward, and immediately stopped caring about gathering within nanoseconds.

As I roamed around, a pervasive worry that I was alone in a very small crowd started to overtake me. There were a couple of random people milling about as I went through the opening zone, but those few were dashing around on their own little solo discovery journeys, so I didn’t interact. During one of my login sessions, however, I just so happened across a random person who saw me resting after fighting a very dangerous (to me) rabbit and asked if I wanted to group up.

Sure, why not. I knew I was going to have to at some point anyway. This was going to be foisted upon me, so I might as well see what grouping is like.

Our party of two slowly started to grow into a party of four as we gathered together for a common purpose: to take out some smugglers and find some weapons. This was, as near as I could tell, the first “proper” group quest of the game, so I was feeling reasonably all right about our chances, especially when we got to the camp and found that the enemies were two or three chevrons – they were dangerous, but surely numbers would tell, right?

Nope. Again, we didn’t respect the speed limit.

The aggro ranges of enemies are extremely hard to really tie down, and my very few number of skills that I had to draw attention and let others slap the baddies – aka be a tank like I was trying to – weren’t really working. The long slow windups and even longer cooldowns between my sword swings meant keeping aggro was next to impossible, and the number of foes that swarmed us time and time again meant that we were setting ourselves up for failure on multiple attempts.

This rather neatly segues into this game’s punishment for not respecting its speed limit: ye olde corpse run. Or more specifically, running back to get a dropped bag – but not before I had to sit at an ember campfire to recover spent health and stamina and heal the small percentage chunk taken out of your maximum HP as further reminder of my apparent hubris.

After a few more attempts, some possible working out how pulling and aggro works, followed by the game telling us in no uncertain terms that we were wrong and were too underleveled to be in this area, we broke out and I logged off. This was after dropping my bag four different times, one of which was because the game crashed and my character died. And I had to sit and wait for the game to slowly make camp for about 10 to 15 seconds and then log me out.

Speed limit.

To the playerbase’s credit, the people I was partying with were very patient and friendly. Also, we just happened upon someone who was giving out free leather armor to people in the noob zone. My problem so far is not associated with the players of this game, as they’ve all proven to be quite lovely.

Also, I don’t mind if a game wants you to take your time. I respect when a game has a certain pace and play behavior that’s expected of you. And I also don’t mind that there’s not too much direction given and that I have to think things through or read quest text to get vague ideas of where to go. What I mind is when the game punishes you for not learning fast enough, when it doesn’t even give you hints if not tools, and when its information doesn’t always end up being accurate in terms of what can and cannot be survived.

To say that I’m frustrated is an understatement, but then I also am furious at being effectively told off by a game. It’s now personal, and I plan on trying at least one more time to succeed not just because of this column and you fine folks reading but because I am now powered by unfiltered spite. You do not get to tell me what to do, video game. I will break your damned speed limit.

Even so, I don’t know that there’s much more that I can successfully do in Embers for this column’s purposes, which kind of leaves me bereft of ideas for a poll this week except for the usual roll/reroll option. It’s clear to me now that being in a party-angled position is going to be vital, which means I have to ask whether I should stick it out with the defender or reroll as a healer archetype.

Should I stay with the tank or reroll a healer?

  • Tank. Keep going and push forth. (60%, 138 Votes)
  • Healer. People love healers. (40%, 91 Votes)

Total Voters: 229

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But this is totally going to work out, yeah.

As usual, polling closes at 1:00 p.m. EST on Friday, March 10th. I’m going to put this one aside for now, but just know that now I’m mad.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Chris each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures – and you get to decide his fate. Which is good because he can often be a pretty indecisive person unless he’s ordering a burger.
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