Winter Ember, the tried

Winter Ember, the tried
Among the many games that caught our attention during the Steam Games Festival is Winter Ember: an isometric stealth set in a clearly Victorian-inspired world, it's not hard to understand why the eye fell here. We tried the free demo and, net of obvious improvements to work on, the promises for an interesting experience are all there. There is nothing really new in the formula, it is certainly not the first that tries to combine the two genres, however, despite its short duration we were seized by the feeling that with Winter Embers the development studio Skymachine Studios intends to offer an experience pure stealth, where a single misstep is enough to condemn us; of course, often the missteps in question were due to glitches in the system but we are still talking about a demo, everything can be adjusted over time. Thief sensations have been returned to us, it can only be positive.

As Arthur Artorias

Winter Ember takes us through the story of Arthur Artorias, a faceless man in seeking answers and revenge: returning to the city of Anargal after a ten-year exile, Arthur collides with the so-called Greater Heaven - a tyrannical religious faction that during his absence has taken control, depriving him not only of his status but above all of his his dearest affections. To survive he will have to rely only on himself and his own abilities, making the darkness his best weapon as he tries to reconstruct events. After a short but pleasant animated and hand-drawn introduction, the demo opens from what we assume to be the beginning of the game, with Arthur intent on infiltrating the family villa to investigate and have a starting point for his research.

The visual impact is immediately convincing, from the snow that partially covers the streets and crunches under our boots, influencing the very thin line at the bottom center of the screen that works as a noise indicator, up to the light at times irregular of the street lamps and the way in which the shadows envelop the corners obstructing our view; moving in this constant uncertainty, guided by the movements of the camera to try to understand what can await us a little further on, contributes to enhancing the sense of immersion. We are wanted, even if we still don't know the reason, and we are introducing ourselves to the first place where they would probably find us, in search of evidence that is not certain we will be able to recover: there is enough to whet our curiosity.

Promising gameplay but to be blunted

Armed with a bow, dagger and sword, Arthur has every tool needed to eliminate anyone who stands in his way and it is here that perhaps the main feature of Winter Ember emerges: the variety of approaches. When it comes to infiltration, there is never a single solution to achieving the goal. We are free to try the most direct route, albeit with discretion, and run the risk of killing anyone who poses a threat by thus having the main route free, or look around to try to move without a shot being hurt.

If the movement as a whole is fluid and manageable, but equally passable for tweaking, and the stealth phases are equally satisfying, the same cannot be said for the direct combat to the sword: we are not referring to the fact that Arthur is disadvantaged in these situations. , from parrying to deflecting up to light and heavy attacks there are all the means to defend oneself, as for the clumsiness of everything, with very unresponsive and not very intuitive commands that prevent you from drawing your sword unless you are aiming at an enemy - nor is it guaranteed to be able to extract it anyway. This confusion is especially evident when the clash is not intentional, with the result of dying quite frequently. In this sense, the lack of feedback in hitting the enemies does not help either, who stagger vaguely but the feeling of hitting someone or something is not really returned, making it difficult to understand what to do from time to time. The different types of arrows can help us rebalance the clash, for example by paralyzing the closest threat, however there are situations where it is not possible to manage the bow properly and the sword remains the only, poorly managed solution.

If there is one aspect where Winter Ember shows its flank it is undoubtedly this and not because of the old school concept that being caught automatically puts us at a disadvantage, but because of a mismanagement of the combat system at the moment . Sometimes it was the same stealth that betrayed us, making us discover even when we had turned off every light and remained in the full of shadows (so yes, while this aspect works much better than the open fight, there is something to refine here and there). In terms of level design, and the exploration that follows, we can already say we are quite satisfied: Arthur's villa alone proved to be well articulated to be a tutorial phase, able to offer different approaches to reach the goal but also areas dedicated to simple loot, where the danger factor increases considerably. Nobody forbids you to look for riches to resell on the black market but obtaining them, where there are any and of this you are never sure, could cost you more than you imagine.

To conclude our brief examination, Winter Ember also offers three full-bodied skill trees that, however, we have not had the opportunity to experiment, limiting ourselves to giving them a look while waiting to understand how to indulge ourselves in it: for example we know that we will be able to rob enemies, which never happened during the demo, and that in total there are over seventy unique passive and active skills through which to customize Arthur and our style of play. In short, we have only scratched the surface of this game and in spite of some rough edges that will undoubtedly be filed down also thanks to user feedback, Winter Ember promises to be an interesting adventure for fans of stealth isometrics.

Winter Ember is a promising game and that cannot be denied. The atmosphere is there, as are the foundations of the gameplay and a potentially enough story to accompany the exploits of Arthur Artorias. There is no lack of rough edges, especially in open-face combat and in some still imperfect interaction, but we cannot say that we have been taken by surprise: this is a demo, from which the ideas of the developers clearly emerge and even some prove to be already well implemented. We will see how it will evolve in its final version and what are the backstories that pushed Arthur on his journey in search of answers and revenge.


Captivating atmosphere and settings The foundations can be seen of very valid ideas The level design seems to promise a lot of variety DOUBTS Open face combat needs to be reviewed Interactions are sometimes inaccurate and affect stealth

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