Choose My Adventure: Embers Adrift defeats me


You know how last week I mentioned I was mad? Well now I’m just disappointed. Mostly in myself, but also in Embers Adrift.

To preface, I feel the need to point out that I’m not new to the old ways of things; my first major game was Final Fantasy XI after all. Nor is this column meant to be a final review or verdict of a game, as we’ve discussed before. Additionally, I will also point out that playing a game angry is never a particularly great strategy. Still, you all also deserve my honesty and as full of an account of my experiences as I can muster here, and my experiences with this game just continue to move from bad time to bad time.

For a little while I was kind of operating under the guiding principle that held my interest in other sandbox MMORPGs, which is to just wander around and try to make my own fun. See the sights. Fight some fights. Hope that I wouldn’t have to make another bag run in doing those two things.

And for that little while, things were all right. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was having a particularly great time, but I was at least coming to grips with things. I started to become a little more learned about what fights I could reasonably handle by myself, for instance. Most of the time it was single white chevron or single yellow chevron encounters, but now and again I would also manage to get past two white and two blue chevron fights, aka fights that are decent and reasonable challenges for me and a friend respectively.

I should explain that learning here didn’t necessarily mean I felt better or smarter or had more enjoyment. The reason being is that these learned metrics wasn’t always a guarantee of success; not all yellow chevron fights are created equal, and sometimes I would face two single white chevron encounters or two single yellow chevrons, forcing me to beat a retreat and run away once things got too heated. And while I at least had a baseline of expected performance and understood risk, I ultimately still feel like I was less doing well by skill and more winning because the in-game dice rolling went my way. That’s not a really engaging feeling. I’m removed from combat for the most part, bereft of agency.

Of course, that’s not to suggest that this was all an auto-battler or an idle game. There are skill buttons to press. But as I mentioned before, these abilities – melee abilities, I remind you – have a wind-up/cast time. Every single button. On top of that, I started to notice that my basic auto-attacks also had a cooldown.

Once I started paying closer attention to my hotbar, I kind of began to work out weaving my ability presses in-between my auto attacks. Every auto-attack takes four seconds to cool down. Every ability has about a three second cast time, followed by cooldowns of about six seconds and ten seconds. So I figured I should press my abilities in the spaces between auto-attacks in order to ensure as much DPS as possible. Right?

Nope. Turns out that the auto-attack cooldown pauses when an ability is being wound up. Speed limit.

The tugging of the reins didn’t stop there either. After some time I learned how to navigate the world a little better by looking at the sky, since a massive planet indicates which direction is north (no, there isn’t a compass), which led me to explore a little further and find a quest objective that I thought I could do by myself. Turns out, however, that the next quest step would explicitly point out that I would need to recruit others in order to complete it. The game also went ahead and advised to basically use shout chat to make this happen.

After a bit more wandering, I decided to just ignore the few quests I did have in my journal and just roam instead. I managed to head into the game’s first major city for a little bit but left shortly after since it was a bit too medieval realistic (i.e., ugly), found a couple more ember campfires, and eventually gained another level all by my lonesome.

That level, by the way, awarded me a defensive boosting ability, which lasts for 20 seconds and has a minute-long cooldown.

The discoveries slowly began to continue as I played. The baseline for safe combat started to become more obvious. I learned that urine that dropped from bears can be used as an “irritant” item to make my Provoke skill work better. Things were just plodding along, but it was forward movement.

Finally, I got to a point where I was fighting constantly respawning thieves who forced me to run away to the town guard to wait for him to navigate around a fence to one-shot the threats and save me. After several times of this happening, I decided to just stop, log out, and uninstall.

You win, Embers Adrift. You win.

I should offer some concessions to the game here. I will concede that the fact that this game came out at all concerning its history is something of an achievement. I will also concede that the few interactions I’ve had with other players in the game have been wonderful. I will also concede that my patience and time for MMORPGs of this kind is thinner than it probably should be and so this isn’t the kind of sandbox game I want.

With all of that said, I still don’t like the way I felt while in Embers Adrift. I was corralled. I was forced into the precisely crafted mold that the devs wanted me to fit, and when I tried to shift out of that mold, the game tried to hammer me back into it. That would be fine if there were more people playing at the lower levels of the game, and in my experience that is just not happening. Stormhaven Studios can make the hardcore old-timey MMORPG it wants, but that only works if there is a breadth of players across every level range. And instead of adjusting for the people they have and not tweaking those early portions, the studio instead hopes that a fire sale prices on the box and sub will be enough to draw fresh blood.

I cannot handle this anymore, so I’m done. I’m through with sandboxes for the time being, to be very completely honest with you. They all seem to be made to be as irritating as possible, loudly ignoring the things that don’t work anymore and hoping that people forget there are so many other options out there.

I’m glad that MMORPGs like this can find their niche, but I just don’t fit into it.

Choose My Adventure

  • RuneScape (21%, 30 Votes)
  • Vindictus (12%, 18 Votes)
  • Uncharted Waters Online (32%, 46 Votes)
  • Neverwinter (36%, 52 Votes)

Total Voters: 146

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Polls end at 1:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, March 17th. Sorry, everyone, I tried.

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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