Games

Ember – Some final thoughts

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I have now completed Ember and figured I would share a few thoughts about the experience.

To put it simply, Ember is a tremendous amount of fun and is probably the best game I’ve played this year. I found it to have a deep and interesting story that unfolds not just through the events of the game, but through the dozens of books you find along the way. Plus there is a lot to learn through side conversations and tavern interactions. The more citizens you speak with and the more books you stop to read, the more you learn about Domus, the events that brought about the Lightbringer and the tension between different races. And even if the books don’t give enlightenment about the lore of the world, such as the famed tome, The Domus Pub Crawl, they are still amusing and add to the fabric of the game.

Additionally, Ember has great momentum, always moving you forward to the next quest. I never felt at a loss for something to do and there was no need to aimlessly grind. Instead, I was always involved in a quest both from the main story line or one of the several dozen side quests. These ranged from simple delivery runs, to locating lost artifacts, to returning wayward children and husbands, to negotiating trade routes. And even the side quests have side quests, so there is no cause to be idle.

Some have said the combat is simplistic, but I believe they are missing the point. If you recall the original Ultima series, which is an inspiration for Ember, you had 3 stats – Str, Dex, Int, and did damage based on your weapon stats and absorbed damage based on armor stats. While a shift from complex skills trees like we see in SotA, it holds true to the system used in Ultima, A Bard’s Tale, Wizardry and others. Even with that, each character has 3 special abilities they can employ based on weapon and armor combinations. And if the items skills aren’t to your liking, you can socket runes to make a more deadly combination.

Ember is also a lovely game to look at. I thought the game graphics and sound were very nicely done. I especially liked the rain and thunder as I walked through the cemetery and the sound of muffled voices calling for help as I crept through the catacombs. At other times, the birds sang as the forest turned to autumn. And the world felt pretty large to me with multiple locations to visit, plenty of houses to just wander into while the citizens were sitting down to dinner or sleeping. Like all good towns, there was a tavern to visit to pick up gossip, chat with the ladies and come close to getting into a brawl.

I’ve spent 40 hours exploring and being entertained by this world of Domus and I’m taken enough with the experience to start over, play a different style of character and choose an alternate path when presented with a decision. I know for certain this will change the outcome of several situations.

As a game that pays homage to classics like Ultima and The Bard’s Tale, Ember is work of art. As a game that offers 40 hours of entertainment for a mere $10, you are missing out if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity. Although the story is different, in many ways, Ember is a spiritual successor to Ultima. It looks and feels like Ultima 7/8 and with an interesting story and the wry humor that made the Ultimas such enduring games. But Ember stands as a solid adventure game and I truly hope this is the first title in a long running series.

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Ember – An RPG that pays tribute to games like Ultima and Diablo

They say time is relative to the developer. And it was about a year ago when I first read news of new RPG being created that would be heavily influence by Ultima and Diablo. Oddly, it was intended to be a mobile game and available at the end of 2015.

Well, that kinda, sorta, never really happened. Instead, the game was built for the desktop and it now available on Steam. However, it does an impressive job of keeping a price of a mobile game and is $9.99. And this is not some Flash based game, this rascal is a hefty 4GB download.

I hadn’t been tracking the release, so it coming to Steam was a complete surprise. Nevertheless, I immediately bought a copy. And after playing for a few hours, it’s an impressive game that does play like an Ultima from the days of old.

In typical style, I looted crypts and rifled through the pockets on my slain enemies. I amassed a hefty stock of junk weapons and sold them off to the first merchant I came across. With my new coins I bought plenty of rations to use in healing and bought cloth armor to replace my rags.

And in the same familiar sense, the goal is to gain XP and use those points to level up Strength, Dexterity, Intellect and Vitality. Those skill points are then use for the warrior with blades, the archer with ranged weapons, or the mage with wands. I chose blades and worked my way out of the first area called the Barrows and up to the main world. From there I gathered multiple quests, found all sorts of new weapons and explored several of the areas.

For anyone who played the older Ultimas, you will be familiar with the idea of getting out bedroll to camp and restore your strength and vitality. You will so be familiar with the simple combat mechanics. There is ridiculously complicated skill tree or the idea of min/max skills. You apply points to the stat that benefits you the most, Strength for melee, then go find or buy the most badass weapon you can. There are weapons "of Tormet", "of Smiting", "of Quake", "of the Bull", that give different special bonuses, combat moves or healing.

There is also some crafting such as cooking meat, fish and chicken to sustain you on the long journey. These have to be cooked over a campfire before they can be consumed, so have to think ahead just a bit.

There are the usual encounters with bears, wolves and stags so you can gather hides and make clothes, or sell them for money.

Like the old Ultima series, you will have companions to help you out. You start off with one, but as you progress, others will join in the quest.

You interact with plenty of people and decide how you want to handle those encounters. You can take the combative approach or the compassion approach.

Ember is a single player adventure game that I’m quite taken with so far. The mechanics are simple and understandable. The main focus of the game is exploration and interaction. The combat is click to attack, but mixes in special abilities you activate to keep things interesting. You activate them for the other party members as well.

I’m amused by the crafting and the ability to craft your own items. You get basic cooking, but there are recipes for making healing and energy potions. You can also make weapons and other items. As you move around the map you will see harvestable items like Sage and Copper Ore. And in dungeons you will find different reagents.

I’m also thrilled that a game of this scope and quality is a mere $10. In this age where games hit the store with a price tag of $60, whether it deserves it or not, it’s nice to see a game that you can take a chance on without emptying your pockets and becoming a pauper.

Finally, Ember is a game you can play for a few minutes or few hours. For those that remember, Ember uses save files, so it’s always best to save the game often, especially before a big encounter so you can go back and do it again if things go sideways. You only get three slots, but I save like a fiend every time I come through a scrape or find something good.

For those that liked game like Ultima 4-7, the original Diablo, and other more casual RPGs, Ember is an impressive game with lots of fun. It has a nice momentum to it, without having to grind relentlessly to build your skills. And there are plenty of quests out there to keep you busy.

It’s a highly recommended title and for $10, you absolutely can’t go wrong with it.

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A copper vein out in the world. Copper can be used for weapons.

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A fishing resource. Good thing I found a fishing pole while rifling through the pockets of my fallen enemies

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A bandit road with some slain bodies. Those were like that when I got here.

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Hmm, dirty rotten bandits trying to block my path

Ember on Steam

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Time for Steam to clean up Early Access

Since there are so many titles up for sale during the Steam Summer Sale, it’s hard not to be exposed to a slew of new titles. However, it also exposes some serious flaws with Early Access. There are a lot of titles still in Early Access that haven’t been updated in a couple of years with hundreds (or more) negative reviews saying the game has been abandoned and not to waste your money. And it’s not just one or two titles, I’ve seen dozens.

I think Kickstarter and Steam Early Access are a fantastic platform to let Indie developers get their games into player hands without having to go through the corporate BS that kills off so many titles. Think of how many studios Microsoft and Electronic Arts have scuttled and you’ll get my point.

However, it’s becoming clear that Early Access is a dumping ground for get rich quick schemes and half-baked games where developers are hoping they’ll get enough money to finish their game. That’s not what Early Access is for.

Early Access should be for people to see a game in it’s early stages of development so they can offer input into the balancing of the game; things such as how hard a racing game should be, combat mechanics and AI difficulty. You can see this in games like Dirt Rally, Hand of Fate and Shroud of the Avatar.

But that’s not how it’s working out in a lot of cases. There are way too many developers showing off a prototype of their game and asking for money to actually make it happen. The line between Kickstarter and Early Access is blurring to an alarming extent. We shouldn’t be putting up with that. Steam needs to scrape these games off and start auditing Early Access. For example, if you don’t provide a significant code update every 3 months, you’re done in Early Access and your game is yanked from the store. Additionally, money should be held in escrow and paid out every 3 months once you provide a code update. That way everyone can easily get a refund if need be. It should also be that once you get a significant number of negative reviews, there is an audit to justify whether you continue in Early Access. You shouldn’t be allowed to continue racking up the hate without consequence.

To be blunt, look at games like Towns, Delver, Next Car Game, Victory Age of Racing, Timber and Stone, Fortune’s Tavern and Blockscape just to name a few. Right now, you can go on Steam and buy a copy. Some have been outright abandoned, like Towns, while others have been in Early Access for 2 years. This kind of crap needs to stop. This is a ripoff for players and a disservice to other Indie developers.

To be even more blunt, Victory Age of Racing was abandoned and the company behind it was able to start another Early Access game, RaceCraft, which has been under development for about a year. You have a track record of 100% failure, but you’re back on Early Access? No good. At the very least, since there is a way to Green Light games on Steam, there should be a way to Black Flag them. Give us the option to request a game be reviewed for it’s standards so we aren’t left with all this crap lingering in the store.

To be honest, I’ve had enough of Early Access and apart from Shroud of the Avatar and Besiege, I no longer support Early Access games. I encourage Steam to start auditing Early Access and cut off these leeches. I also encourage people to be very careful when buying an Early Access game. Make sure to read the reviews and check how often the updates are coming. Sure, there’s a refund policy these days, but that’s no excuse for due diligence.

Early Access is not a fundraising campaign. Go to Kickstarter for that.

By the way, if you take money for a product, yet never deliver it, and don’t give the money back, some might be harsh and call that stealing.

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A closer look at SpinTires

When SpinTires came out as a Tech Demo, I was really excited about it. I missed out on the Kickstarter (thankfully), but picked up the game right at the end of it’s Early Access cycle. It had all the potential in the world to be something really unique. However, the final version removed all the features that made the Tech Demo so much fun. All the trucks were gone, modding had been cut out and you were basically left with driving around in the dark.

So the game wasn’t off to a good start and things seemed to get worse. All you had now were useless trucks that bogged down in the mud every few seconds so that you spent all your time using the winch between trees. That was exciting for an hour and then you were ready to throw things.

Then the dev cycle seemed to stop. No updates, no communication and the game pretty much languished, at least that’s how I saw it. I tried it a couple more times, but the camera threw my perspective into weird angles, the trucks still sucked and the mud was so damn thick that driving was impossible. Again, I threw it aside.

And just recently, another point of contention boiled over where it looked like the dev and publisher were at odds and the game was yanked from Steam. Then it popped right back without anyone saying a word. So what the hell is the deal with this game?

As I was going through the Steam Summer Sale, SpinTires came up and the reviews had tilted to being Very Positive. Something must be different, because when I threw in the controller, the reviews were scathing.

So, I decided to try it again. After all, it was already installed and updated. Turns out, things are much better. Modding support is back and the number of trucks you can download is pretty decent. But, even the included trucks are much better.

I took to the first map and actually had a really good time tearing along the mud tracks and crossing through the water. They’ve made it much easier to change trucks before you start a map so you’re not stuck in that damn Jeep looking thing.

I used a 6×6 semi and bounded through the mud, slinging crap everywhere. I was actually able to make progress and find different locations on the map. Of course, it’s still slogging through mud and still slow going, but at least it was entertaining again. I didn’t spend every minute trying to winch to a tree just to go 5 feet then repeat the process.

The "cloaking" or hiding of the map still feels silly to me, but with the right truck, it’s at least a reasonable task and doable. Before, I wasn’t able to cross the river and couldn’t reveal any of the map to see where I was. This time around, I not only revealed the map but actually completed the Objective. That still consists of finding the lumber yard and hauling the logs to the most remote part of the map, but at least you can auto-load the logs instead of picking them up one at time.

The return voyage can still be dangerous as hell with plenty of opportunities to capsize and dump the entire contents, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.

Overall, it’s vastly improved and not only did I complete the first level, I played around with several other trucks on offer from the Steam Workshop and ended up spending a few hours exploring the map, crossing rivers and removing the cloaking funnels. It was actually more like a fun four-wheel experience than a nightmarish chore.

Is the game perfect? No, the camera still behaves in an odd manner and there are other oddities like the truck whirling out of control when I used the winch on a trailer I had to ditch to cross a river. The trailer bumped into a tree then leapt off the ground, sending itself and the connected truck hundreds of feet in the air. Uh, WTF? Oddly, I got the 360 Achievement for rolling the truck. And to be honest, the relationship between the dev and publisher still seems strained.

With the current Steam Sale, is it worth buying? At the current price, no, not unless you have friends who love 4-wheeling. Then you have an arena for all sorts of shenanigans. But even still, the near $30 price tag is too high for what you get. The only objective is to gather and move logs and high-end titles like Project Cars, The Crew and Dirt are currently $15. However, the off-roading experience can be a lot of fun, but it’s clearly not Dirt 2, Dirt Rally or anything like that. This is a 5-10mph trek through sloppy mud, over damaging rocks and through hazardous rivers. That can be fun, but if there were more challenges like completing courses in a certain time, obstacle courses or the like, SpinTires would be quite enjoyable.

As it stands, SpinTires is a niche game, that has a decent community and a good amount of potential, but you have to be lenient and patient with the game. If you want to sling some mud and see just how far you can push an off-road vehicle, you could be entertained for days.

SpinTires on Steam
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This 6×6 rascal can plow over some terrain. Trucks like this are fun to drive through the muck. The other “starter” trucks wouldn’t last 5 feet.

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Since I can make progress, why not pick up some logs and see if I can make it up the hill without dumping it all over the road.

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Gadzooks! I got an achievement!

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Steam Summer Sale in Full Swing

The Steam Summer Sale is in full swing, so much so that the servers were actually choking from time to time as people descended on new deals. And there are thousands of deals to be had. Almost everything in my Wishlist is on sale, although I don’t think 10-15% is really enough of a discount for this sort of sale. Come on now, if you want me to be interested you need to at least give me 40%.

That being said, I snagged some great deals! Lots of new games to mess around with and several indie titles that show promise.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some games I highly recommend with steep discounts.

Banished

Besiege

Age of Empires

Rise of Nations

Tropico 5

Lego Worlds

Windward

Project Cars

The Crew

Hand of Fate

Desktop Dungeons

Forsaken Isle

And by the way, what in the hell is going on with all these enormously breasted Japanese anime titles that keep jumping out at me? I have no problem with these games, but egad, can I get a bit of warning before those come tumbling out?

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