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Game Review: Lost Ember

Lost Ember was released on November 22, 2019 by Mooneye Studios, an indie game development company located in Hamburg, Germany. This story-rich game is currently available for Windows computers, Xbox One and PS4 and promises approximately 6 hours of capturing gameplay, with the potential for more. Lost Ember earned a 90/100 rating from PC Gamer. In this edition of Thoughts and Review, I will offer my impressions in regards to the quality of the story, gameplay mechanics, and user experience. To say the least, The Lost Ember has reserved a special place in my heart with its stunning graphics, stress-free exploration, and story that is equal parts heartwarming and poignant.

Lost Ember Summary

Lost Ember tells the story of a wolf and spirit that start out on an adventure to find The City of Light, uncover the past, and makes sense of the city ruins, shrouded in mystery. By using Wolf’s unique ability to transfer consciousness to other animals, you will travel with this duo through multiple biomes as they slowly piece together their stories. Lost Ember is an interactive narrative, enriched with backstory, stunning environments, and a unique art style.

Story Quality

The lore and backstory for Lost Ember are told through cinematic cut scenes and shadowy, red figures that are sprinkled throughout each of the maps. These scenes are initiated by “revealing” memories at points of historical significance that are denoted by bonfire-like points. As the player, you and the characters experience these scenes for the first time together. Each cut scene helps tie together past events and helps the story evolve.

If you are a gamer that usually skips cut scenes–I would highly recommend running each of these scenes till the end. These brief snapshots of the past drive the story bring you closer to the characters and reveals motivations. To say the least, Lost Ember truly caught me by surprise. I started this game with no real expectations but by the end of the game, the slow-developing storyline will have you on the edge of your seat, excited to find the next piece of the story. Each cut scene gives just enough information to drive the characters onto the next map.

I am a gamer that truly appreciates a video game that can capture attention and invoke unexpected emotion. This is why Lost Ember would earn an 11/10 from me for the overall quality of the story. The story development is subtle but powerful.

Gameplay

Lost Ember is a casual video game that is more focused on narrative and exploration than confrontation. Since it is an interactive story or walking simulator, there is no real danger other than what is planned. For instance, if you should fall off the cliff by accident, you are essentially teleported back to the entrance of the chapter. This on-rails storytelling with an emphasis on achievements is excellent for anyone who is looking for a low-difficulty or relaxed gaming style.

As mentioned earlier, the plot of Lost Ember is motivated by the revealing of memories of the past, usually as cinematic cut scenes. As you traverse various terrain, the movements of Wolf and companion spirit are smooth and ethereal–an aspect of this game that completes the almost dream-like setting. As Wolf you can howl, sprint, trot, and jump, but to pass obstacles such as underbrush or small tunnels, you have the ability to occupy other animals such as fish, buffalo, and moles. Each animal has unique abilities that help Wolf and the spirit continue onto the next area.

While all the playable animals in Lost Ember have practical abilities, Mooneye Studios also included some “Silly Little Things”. These actions are purely for the enjoyment of the player, such as eating berries as a cute little mole, just cause.

While the main goal of the overall story is to help guide Wolf and the spirit to the City of Light by revealing memories of the past, Lost Ember caters to the completionist gamer with its collectibles and 33 total achievements. The collectibles such as mushrooms and relics can be found throughout the game, on each map. The player can check to see how many collectibles are hidden on each map by way of the main menu. While it is nice that you can track your progress in this way, I wish that this progress could be shown in-game.

User Experience

Lost Ember has a favorable and forgiving user experience that makes it the perfect game to sit back, relax and play. The various facets of user experience worthy of note include controller support, minimal user interface, the multitude of supported languages, subtitle availability, and the choice for a more enigmatic experience.

While I love playing video games on PC, cramping keyboard fingers are a thing. For this reason, I LOVE it when PC games take the extra step to include controller support, and Lost Ember was definitely a game that benefits from this. It was wonderful to plug in my Xbox controller, sit back, kick my feet up and play a relaxing game without needing to worry about hunching over a keyboard. Not to mention, the basic yet tasteful game play in combination with the enrapturing environment overall paired really well with a controller.

Speaking of minimal–user overlay is almost non-existent in Lost Ember, except for the occasional prompt for interaction or menu display. This creates a very enveloping experience that focuses on its artistic qualities and story quality. And, of course, this makes taking the perfect screenshot super easy.

In addition, not only does Lost Ember have the option for subtitles, but you also have the option for a more enigmatic or less obvious gaming experience. The only voice within the narrative is that of the spirit with which Wolf partners up–however, this unique option provides you the choice to omit narration, leaving interpretation of the story up to you. While I chose the verbal narration, I could see this style of gameplay as intriguing. Along with an interesting choice of play style, Lost Ember also has a whopping 11 supported languages for interface and subtitles.

Similar to other narrative-driven video games, the player can’t necessarily die, but you can fall off the map. When this happens, instead of losing progress such as locating collectibles or earning achievements, the player is simply re-located back onto the map, usually near where you fell. Now I know what you’re thinking–this sounds like a recipe for some functional problems. What if the game decides to relocate you at the edge of the map constantly, or what if you get stuck? While the latter situation did happen once in my playthrough, (I was pushing exploration to its limits, which included going places I probably wasn’t supposed to), you can “restart” from the beginning of your current chapter or map. Thankfully, I was pleased to find out that if this should happen, you will not lose any progress in finding collectibles or achievements.

However, there were some situations where I found myself traversing the outskirts of the map and noticed that some areas seemed a bit… unfinished? For example, there was an occasion when I followed what looked like a path that was intended to be followed, but as I continued the textures of the grass, bushes, etc. gradually reduced, creating a barren section of the map (See picture above). Considering that complicated maneuvers were not needed to get to this section of the map, it made the game feel a little incomplete or rushed.

Verdict

At the closing of this review, I must say that The Lost Ember completely caught me by surprise with its whimsical environment, favorable yet simple gameplay mechanics, and heart-warming story. The graphics and animations are bright, hopeful, and engaging. It offers full controller support, subtitles in various different languages, and a boatload of potential achievements. While the course of the story cannot be changed, you can revisit past chapters to re-watch cinematics or find any collectibles that might have been missed.

Currently, The Lost Ember is running for $29.99 on the Steam store and offers a Lost Ember + Soundtrack Bundle for $39.93. While this game is definitely an experience that I would recommend to anyone, due to the short length of this game (approx. 6 hours for a single play-through), I would recommend waiting for a sale before purchasing.

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