I have spent most of my life exploring fantastical worlds through video games, with one of my favorite genres being MMORPGs. These positively massive role-playing games offer unique opportunities to live another life in another world, as the memorable quote from Todd Howard goes, and interact within a living, breathing community that shares stories, adventures, and experiences. But these days, the MMORPG genre is, for lack of a better term, dumbed down to entice casual players to join the fray. Back in the day, when titles such as EverQuest reigned supreme, you genuinely had to learn the game’s world and lore, interact with other players, and work for every piece of gear and reward you received.
Enter Embers Adrift, an MMORPG from a small studio that aims to provide players with a canvas to share adventures and create memorable stories inside a challenging and often unforgiving game world. I managed to convince the developers, specifically Elloa, the Community Manager, to walk me through the new player experience in Embers Adrift from her perspective. I wanted to see what makes the MMORPG unique and special and learn more about the passionate team that is making it a reality. This is how my adventure escalated from slaying a few deer to a full-blown assault on a smuggler camp, under-leveled and under-geared, with a last-ditch rush to the mine entrance to complete our quest.
The Beginning of a Journey
Upon finishing the character creation, I’m immediately placed into an expansive open world with nothing but a small outpost ahead on the path, a glowing firepit billowing magical energy into the sky, and a few NPCs to guide me. I’m utterly and thoroughly lost.
But what most need to realize is that’s the point of Embers Adrift. It’s an old-school MMORPG where exploration and progression stem from your deeds. There is nothing in the world that is just handed to you without some effort.
But I’m cheating a little by playing with Elloa, the game’s Community Manager, and she meets me just up the dirt path in the next hamlet. There, she promptly alerts me that I’m way under-leveled for this part of the zone and will likely have my butt handed to me, but in much nicer wording. We must return to the beginning, where I missed key quests and lore tidbits to help guide me on my journey.
Before we jumped into the game, we formulated a plan. The goal was to level alongside her until we could complete the first dungeon in the game; that way, I could experience high-level gameplay in a party. However, after three hours of play, I’ll let you in on a little secret: we never finished the dungeon. Even with a small party of other players, many of whom came and went with the wind, we found ourselves sidetracked on numerous occasions, stuck in unfortunate situations, and exploring the world around us more often than not. It was precisely what I wanted: a journey.
A Lesson in Core Mechanics
For additional context into the nature of this journey I have embarked upon, let me explain a few of the core mechanics within Embers Adrift. First and foremost, this isn’t a “casual” MMORPG in which you receive repeated dopamine hits after every monster kill. Instead, the loot you receive is meaningful. It’s more than just stats that go up or down, with every piece impacting your performance and appearance. After earning some gear, my character looked and felt patchwork. My armor didn’t match, but I had earned it fighting.
Not only did I fight various mobs, including doe, thieves, and the ever-present and troublesome smugglers, but I fought my own party. When you’re grouped together, loot works in the old-school need or greed manner, in which everyone can score a piece of gear from the same mob or leave it all to chance. You can, of course, pass on any such opportunities if you don’t have a use for the item.
And speaking of grouping up with other adventurers, it’s a core component of the game. While every class is viable, and playing as the Striker, I found myself favoring ranged combat, as I typically do in an MMORPG; all classes work synergistically to complete content. Elloa and I found ourselves stumbling against smugglers without a tank-like Defender to draw some of the aggro, though we found plenty of use for the healing abilities of the Support.
Now, I’m part of the problem regarding the modern MMORPG experience. I often play these multiplayer-centric titles solo. It’s just easier. But Embers Adrift, while it does allow for solo play, is meant for group play. The mobs and dungeons prove dangerous and challenging unless you’re significantly over-leveled; even side quests bring about a level of hardship without someone watching your back.
During our time in Embers Adrift, Elloa and I remained in the same party together, but a small handful of other adventurers joined for pieces of the journey. One stuck with us almost from the beginning but would wander off to tackle her objectives and crafting requirements. Others, however, jumped in for a quest or two and then left. They had challenges to overcome and were just along for the ride as part of our journey.
Memorable Moments in Embers Adrift
When you think of an adventure, do the trials of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins come to mind, as they do for me? I’ve long wanted to recreate such journeys in gaming, and MMORPGs provide some of the best opportunities.
As I said, we started this adventure to complete the game’s first dungeon, a mine overflowing with smugglers. But first, an early-game quest asked us to track down a missing individual from the nearby hamlet. As it turns out, they’re somewhere inside the mine. But the first step in the quest is to discover the mine. We can see the mine in the distance, but this is a video game mechanic; we need to step foot in its entrance to consider it “discovered” for our map.
There’s just one problem. Even with three of us, at a paltry level two or three apiece, we cannot make it past the horde of smugglers guarding the entrance. There are too many, some of them high-level mobs that take us down quickly. It’s too much. Instead of trying and failing repeatedly, we formulate a plan to bum-rush the mine entrance, skirting between the smugglers in a desperate attempt to map the mine’s opening. It’s a frantic race to the opening as the entire camp becomes alerted to our presence, and most of us barely make it through unscathed. One of us doesn’t make it out. It becomes a desperate last stand to heal our fallen comrade and escape the area in time.
It’s moments like these that I live for in gaming. I actively seek out such adventures, the type that makes memories. When someone asks about a game like Embers Adrift, it’s this moment I will regale them with in great detail.
Embers Adrift is Unique and Special
I went in knowing little tidbits about Embers Adrift. It’s a game that’s been on my radar for a few months now, as I want to recreate my experience with old-school titles such as EverQuest 2 from back in the day. But I wasn’t prepared for three hours alongside the developers to pass by so quickly. It felt like 30 minutes. We had a few awkward silences in which we focused on the gameplay and the grind, but the journey together allowed us to flow. We were both enduring the same quests, the same mobs.
Instead of tackling the dungeon, we slayed mobs, skinned deer, tracked down a rare knife that only dropped from the local thief population, and met up with countless players along the way. It was just a tiny glimpse into Embers Adrift’s expansive and enchanting world.
Elloa explained to me that, despite their best efforts, the marketing for the game hasn’t worked out as they intended. They spent money on ad placement but couldn’t reach their target audience. And then there’s the small fact that influencers on Twitch and YouTube prove rather expensive nowadays. Paying for promotion isn’t possible for a small studio with a clear and refined goal, with no intentions of compromising their dreams. After all, Embers Adrift is a niche MMORPG that caters to a particular type of player. I am that type of player.
Oh, and there’s no cash shop! That should be a significant entry in the plus column for fans of the genre.