If you follow videogame Kickstarter campaigns, you may have seen Lost Ember going around. The campaign raised over 300K (with a 100K) goal and people were eagerly anticipating its release.
The first thing that’ll surely draw your attention, is without a doubt, the gorgeous visual design with stunning and colourful open environments which you get to explore.
Getting to roam such landscapes freely is something I’ll never quite tire of, and at the time of writing, we’re currently in a Corona-virus related lockdown so I’m welcoming this virtual holiday breeze with open arms. There is a crazy amount of detail going into most of these areas, with lush grassy fields full of colourful flowers (cleverly used to mark the way forward) and even puffy dandelions that release their seeds to the wind as you walk through them. Or how about this:
It can be tempting to explore these locations for every single collectible, but I recommend a more straightforward story-focused playthrough on your first run: It’ll be a far more enjoyable experience. The game has a few clever ways to guide you forward, be it rows of coloured flowers, a clear empty patch of grass or smoke in the distance (never underestimate how important signposting is for the player experience!)
Sadly not all of the game’s locales get the same amount of detail. Near the latter half, there are parts of the environment that seemingly got a quick go-around and there is even a much-dreaded “walk slowly against the wind” section which never feels fun in any game ever… It also didn’t help that this particular area was very prone to performance issues; the screenshot below was taken when the entire game came to a freezing halt.
Now, each setpiece location does have a very important story-role to fulfill and the emotional narrative evolves with a new surprise in each chapter, expertly conveyed via the voice over of the spirit that guides you (or are we guiding the spirit? – your perception will shift back and forth)
The game starts with this floating spirit, looking for help, talking to all the animals it encounters but none of them seem to be able to hear it (or are just choosing to ignore him). Until he meets the wolf, the character we’re controlling and which we soon learn was a human in a former life. Together the spirit and the wolf discover their past and they try to understand why neither of them have been allowed into the City of Light, the afterlife of their belief system.
You’ll come across smoking waypoints on your travels, each one unlocking a memory of our furry wolf-friend, Kalani, when you howl at them. We soon learn that she’s the daughter of a guardsman, who’s working for an emperor that doesn’t shy away from taking the little wealth and food the commoners have available to them for himself. At every story-beat, your loyalty to these characters may shift as you discover new plot elements.
What’s clear is that these people haven’t faired too well in the years to come after the memories: the locations we’re visiting are all abandoned and empty, safe for the wildlife still roaming the fields.
These creatures are vital to your progression as there are simply places a wolf can’t reach. Kalani is gifted the ability to possess other animals very early on and you’ll use your skill to crawl through small spaces as a wombat, climb up steep mountainsides as a goat, burrow under rocks as a Pink Fairy Armadillo (yes, that’s its name – I did my research y’all).
Most of them control fairly easily, but the fishes and birds take some getting used to as moving forward requires you to quickly press a button (Tap to Flap!)
Their skills will also be vital to discovering the many collectables. There are only 6 Legendary Animals to find (sadly these are only white glowing versions of the regular animals and nothing truly legendary like a dragon or unicorn – that would have been pretty epic!) but there are a whopping 77 artefacts and 142 mushrooms to be found.
I’ve rarely played a game where these were hidden so well, as after two and a half playthroughs I still only have about half of my collection completed and my motivation to go back for all of them is dwindling, even if most of the achievements are tied to it. It also didn’t help that there are quite a few clipping issues in Lost Ember, especially when you go off the beaten path. Getting Stuck in the terrain and having to restart from the last checkpoint isn’t exactly a fun experience.
It does help that some of these artefacts reference other well-known games and I’m never one to disregard a nifty easter egg. Other favourites included the Companion Cube from Portal or the Triforce from The Legend of Zelda.
Lastly, I’d like to bring up the soothing soundtrack. I rarely find my wife appreciative of the music in the games I’m playing, but she didn’t mind me turning up the volume in Lost Ember. Especially during the opening scenes, there was a certain kind of magic to the combination of the gorgeous vistas and the accompanying soundtrack introducing you to its world.
Lost Ember offers an emotional tale of discovery set in a visually stunning world. The possession mechanic is interesting and allows for some unique setpiece experiences while the huge amount of collectables offer some longevity beyond the four-hour story experience.
If you want to see the game in action, we’ve got you covered! Here’s the first two chapters of the game:
*Disclosure: An Xbox One Review copy was provided by Mooneye Studios