Revenge is a dish best served cold. However, it’s also an all-consuming power that will control every aspect of your being. Consequently, you must be strong-willed, disciplined, and willing to see your plans through. Winter Ember focuses on this dark emotion in its cruel and melancholy plot.
Developed by Skymachine Studios and published by Blowfish Studios, this is an isometric stealth game. It’s set in a seedy and sinister Victorian world and relies heavily on dark shades and moody music. What’s more, it utilises crafting and RPG elements as well as an expansive landscape to explore. I found it to be unnecessarily cruel at times, as well as being disjointed and perhaps a little too adventurous with its core mechanics. In short, it doesn’t get everything right, but it’ll appeal to many gamers, nonetheless.
Winter Ember tells a familiar tale.
Wanting to seek revenge for wrongdoings against your family has been done a million times before. Yet, if it’s done well, we can overlook the well-trodden story. I admit I admired Winter Ember and its rich plot and sinister world. At first glance, it was captivating, and I found the sombre mood to be endearing. However, this does somewhat wear off as the game lingers on.
You control Arthur Artorias, the only surviving member of a powerful and rich aristocratic family. After the dust settled and the crimes were “forgotten”, Arther started to piece together his plan. Subsequently, he trained to become a thief and an assassin! His new skills allow him to discover the truth and right the wrongs of the past. As I said, it’s not the most inventive of tales. Yet, it works well with the setting while providing some much-needed depth to the gameplay.
Wonderful stealth mechanics.
Unsurprisingly, the stealth mechanics in this stealthy title are incredible. There is something truly fascinating about hiding in the shadows and pouncing on your foes. Fortunately, Winter Ember captures this essence perfectly within its gameplay. Each area you visit has items that you can hide behind or within. Whether it’s a chest to dive into, reeds to crouch behind, or crates to stand on top of, it has it all. Furthermore, you can extinguish flames to enhance the shadowy world that is essential to your success.
This lowlight setting is supported perfectly by the clever use of line-of-sight mechanics. Therefore, most of the landscape is hidden behind a “fog of war”. Consequently, the map will only reveal itself when your line of sight is clear. Thankfully, this also applies to your opponents, so if you can’t see them, they can’t see you. I adored this deadly game of cat and mouse as it brought out the inner assassin in me. However, the slow and steady approach won’t be for everyone! Winter Ember requires an awful lot of planning and patience and the occasionally snail-like pace can be unbearable.
This being said, if you like a slower and methodical title, then this will be perfect for you. You’ll enjoy searching manor houses, peeking through locks, peering through windows, and clambering over rafters. All in all, it creates an absorbing and sneaky game that demands a calm and well-thought-out approach.
From sublime to disappointing!
Games rarely divide my opinion as much as Winter Ember has. When it got everything right, it was phenomenal. Unfortunately, though, it got too many elements wrong. First, there is the badly synced cinematic that also juxtaposes the Victorian setting. This was stylish to look at, but it simply didn’t work with the grimy world that’s been created. It reeked of a lack of direction and watered-down the end product. Second, the RPG elements were poorly implemented. New abilities and character improvements were actioned with skill points. These collectables were found in locked areas and were awarded for success in quests. However, the style of the game ensures that there is little benefit as you improve each of the 70 skills. It was a shame as the potential is plain to see! Somehow, the execution of these ideas wasn’t seen through and it undermines the action significantly.
Though I found these areas to be lacklustre, the crafting and theft elements were great. As you wander the streets, you’ll gather resources and steal valuable items. These can then be used to make an array of arrows and to earn you considerable sums of cash. I loved the selection of ammo on offer as each executes a unique task. Whether it was to take down an opponent, melt ice, extinguish fire, activate switches, and more, they add to the complex and puzzling moments. Cash, on the other hand, is used to bribe people, buy favour, and purchase items from the black market. I found this to be balanced, fair, and an excellent way to ensure you kept searching for goods in every room you entered.
Winter Ember was confusing to navigate.
I expected that Winter Ember would be dark and gloomy as well as atmospheric. However, what I didn’t expect was it to be a pain in the arse to navigate. Consequently, exploring each of the claustrophobic hideouts, houses, and city streets was frustrating as hell. Hindered massively by its isometric viewpoint and grainy imagery, it’s a real turnoff. What’s more, the map is appalling and identifying ways to progress is challenging. I believe the developers had good intentions with their simple UI, but it backfired horribly. Subsequently, a bit more direction would have helped to overcome the many graphical issues.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as the audio is fantastic. There is a real sense of danger and grit within each of the songs. Alongside the atmospheric music were the realistic sound effects. I adored the swish of the sword, the twang of the bow, and the clunk of locks being picked. There is also an array of soundbites that add a human element to each of your foes.
I love when a developer focuses on a simple control setup. However, if it’s too basic, it causes confusion and frustration. Winter Ember falls into this trap as it overlays several commands onto the same button. Accordingly, you’ll make irreversible mistakes. Whether you try to roll, but fall from a great height instead, or fail to stealth kill someone, it has a significant impact on the gameplay. What’s more, the buttons weren’t as responsive as I’d have liked. Sadly, this causes more issues, as your foes will spot you and kill you. I expected much better and sadly, this didn’t deliver.
Thanks to its slow and methodical approach, this oozes longevity. But your patience will be tested to the limit as you’ll die repeatedly. This shouldn’t be a problem, but checkpoints are sparsely located and losing all progress will make you scream. I admit that I played this sporadically as the constant fear of death reduced the enjoyment considerably.
Winter Ember has potential.
There was such potential for this to be phenomenal, but it fell short. Yes, the stealth elements, audio, and longevity are fantastic, but everything else is lacklustre. Consequently, I spent more time groaning than I did having fun, and that’s not good. Winter Ember left a bitter taste in my mouth as I expected so much more. Sadly, I don’t recommend you to buy it at this time. However, more information can be found here! Will you put your new training to the test? You should, as revenge is on the cards if you are patient enough.