Ember Knights Early Access review: A good start

In the most recent Steam Fest – the sale / demo event which allows players to play and buy new titles – we had fun with Ember Knights, a game that will go into Steam Early Access on 20th April.

We’ve had a chance to play Ember Knights further than the Steam Fest demo thanks to a review code and we have some thoughts about this new title as more people will be able to play it soon.

First off, what is Ember Knights? It’s a twin stick hack ‘n’ slash roguelike with a fantastic art style.

Gameplay consists of basic attacks with a sword or bow which power up skills. Up to two skills can be equipped at once and each can only be used after a certain number of attacks are made with the basic weapon.

You also have some stats which can be upgraded as the run progresses and a dodge to keep you alive. Up to four players can go off on adventures together at once too, so you and up to three friends can take on the challenge.

Gameplay feels tight and fun and it’s interesting to see how you balance the various items and skills you unlock as you go. Our favourite was a skill that let us ram into enemies and deal damage. Relatively tame until we got an item allowing for a brief time of invincibility after using the skill, so we could charge right into a fight, deal damage with the skill, let off a lot of basic attacks to recharge, and then dodge away before the invincibility wore off.

This is a great system but, if you have bad RNG, it can be incredibly grindy. If you happen to, for example, get lots of crit damage upgrades but nothing which improves crit chance, your damage output will be non-existent and the rest of the run will be an unfun grind.

It doesn’t help that many enemies, even basic ones, have a lot of health. Once you start encountering enemy variants (similar to “Champions” in The Binding of Isaac) and especially bosses, it can feel a bit miserable to endlessly hack away while they can end your run in only a few hits.

The set dressing around the game is really nicely done and the art style is fun and friendly. Even the enemies exude that Sunday morning cartoon charm.

Enemies also have a lot of great animations and, after fighting them for a while, it’s easy to see when they’re about to attack thanks to these clear animations.

Everything here is nice to look at and interact with and it’s a fun world to be in.

To get better between runs there is meta progression in the form of Ember. This resource is encountered while playing and can be used after dying to permanently upgrade your stats.

As you may expect you can pump Ember into things like health and damage, but there’s also alternate options. Instead of more base health you can, instead, take healing.

While we appreciate these extra options we still found ourselves taking the base stat increases instead of the other alternatives.

It took us around six hours to beat the final boss available in this build of the game, but that doesn’t mean it was six hours of new content as this is a roguelike and you will see much of the same every time you replay.

This Early Access build has a decent amount of game to play but we feel like most people will get their fill after three or so hours.

It remains to be seen how developer Doom Turtle will build on this base but what’s here is decently fun and worth checking in on every few months if you’re not the kind of person to play Early Access titles.

As Ember Knights is going into Early Access and not a full release on 20th April, we don’t have a score to assign it, but we do have some feedback to share with the devs that we think will make a better game as it progresses:

  • When using the bow allow players to move around instead of being rooted in place when it’s drawn. This lack of mobility makes the bow feel much worse to use when compared to the sword.
  • The ice and “chain” attacks from enemies that stop player movement are obnoxious and should be toned down in length or the number of button presses needed to escape. Like the bow, preventing player movement just feels bad.
  • The shop should maybe appear more often. We had too many runs end with a lot of unspent gold.
  • Animations for unlocking new items in the hub world should be skipped with a button press. They go on for way too long, especially as they repeat for each unlock.
  • The base skills which are available should be widened and / or unlocks of them should happen more frequently. If we have to use the chakram one more time we’ll lose it. This, however, may just be a problem with Early Access and relatively little content for it.
  • Overall enemy HP should be addressed and likely lowered. Bosses especially have way too much health and even a strong run can be stuck for an unreasonable amount of time in a big fight.

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