Ember Knights from developer Doom Turtle and publisher Asmodee Digital is the latest contender in the already somewhat crowded arena of roguelike hack’n’slashers that fill the pages of Steam. Does it do enough to stand out from the rest and forge its own identity? Honestly… yeah, actually. It does.
The plot is simple enough. You are an Ember Knight, summoned to apply a righteous beat down onto the evil sorcerer Praxis, who has stolen the life force from the mystical Ember Tree and then promptly fucked off, leaving the universe teetering on the edge of disaster. You must battle your way through rooms filled with a variety of distinct, dangerous and colourful enemies to save reality before it collapses in on itself.
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The gameplay of Ember Knights will be immediately familiar to anyone who played Bastion, Hades or games like it. You have a central hub from where you can upgrade your skills, choose your weapons and upgrade your character before you venture forth to introduce the teeming hordes of bad guys to the pointy end of your sword or bow.
Yes, right now there are only two weapons to choose from, though more are promised down the line. Combat is anything but stale, however, thanks to the introduction of skills. You pick these up during the course of your play and they add all manner of new attacks such as an ice wall, fireballs, poison, etc, and you can carry two skills at a time to mix things up.
So far, so good, but there’s another layer of gameplay beneath the hack/slash/spells loop and that’s where relics come into play. Relics synergise with your skills and with each other for additional damage and effects. For example, you could equip the ‘Decayed Sceptre’, which allows you to poison enemies. You can then also use the ‘Lethargic Brew’, which slows poisoned enemies down, making them easier to avoid and kill. The game is full of all kinds of these little synergies between your skills and your relics, making for dozens of potential combinations to mix things up.
Being a roguelike, Ember Knights is a tough game, but it never feels unfair. You will die…a lot, but it’s never because the enemy has some cheesy attack or insta-win skill (though one of the later bosses is almost bullet hell levels of hard). Its because you weren’t paying attention, or you weren’t quite fast enough with a dodge, and that’s okay because dying is a core part of the game. Every time you die you can upgrade your character, learn new skills and then go back and try it all over again.
You can play the game either solo or with up to three other folks in local and online co-op, though I struggled to find other players online, which is a real shame. I roped a friend of mine into playing and the experience was mostly smooth, though we noticed some definite lag in our sessions, with some attacks appearing on my screen nearly a full second before he saw them, leading to some cheap deaths. Bad netcode or connection problems? Only time will tell.
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Net niggles aside, I had an absolute blast with Ember Knights. It has that ineffable “just one more run, just one more run, just one, oh look it’s 1AM.” gameplay hook that will keep you coming back to it again and again. It’s also great to see that the developers are very active on the Steam forums, engaging with the player base and actively working to patch the game when the community flags bugs up.
Being in Steam Early Access, this is not a finished product. As mentioned above, there are only two weapons as of time of writing, and only three areas to work through right now. You are buying into a work in progress, but it’s a really slick and polished one that’s bundles of fun to play solo and even more fun with a friend. It’s also available for less than 15 bucks on Steam right now and it’s worth every penny.
Ember Knights is out now on Steam.