Winter Ember Misses the target Verification
Games

Winter Ember – Misses the target. Verification

played on Xbox series S

As gory as it sounds, doing headshots left and right is one of the funniest things you can do in video games. Basically, this is one of the main reasons why shooters are so popular. Some developers even pay special attention to the sound that follows an aimed headshot, such as the writers of Overwatch. And if you shoot not with a banal pistol, but with a bow, the effect is even cooler: you pull the string, aim from cover, and then see an arrow in someone’s skull. Too bad the writers of Winter Ember don’t treat archery with the same love.

Deceived Expectations

Here the bow is practically useless as a weapon against scurrying guards. This is despite the fact that the protagonist’s arsenal is rather meager, since he is a thief in a hood, able to climb cornices and hide behind low shelters. When you shoot a bow at a target for the first time and it only gets wounded and runs towards you at full speed, you have the uncomfortable feeling that you did something wrong. It can’t work like that! But that’s how it should be.

    Conversations are usually short

Conversations are usually short

It is at this point that Winter Ember begins to fall apart, for after such a villain, the imperfection of all of its elements without exception becomes increasingly apparent. You immediately lose interest in the plot right after the weird anime-style introductory video that seems to be from another game altogether. From this we learn that the main character is a certain aristocrat, to whom a gang of scoundrels broke into his house one night. They killed the butler and his beloved with all cruelty, and for some reason they preferred to burn the protagonist alive – of course, he survived and will take revenge.

The gameplay can best be described with the phrase “Thief with a top view” (sorry for this comparison, Thief): we get into a large area, get tasks, move from point to point and do everything as stealthily as possible. The main feature of Winter Ember is that here you can create arrows from the resources found, of which there are already three dozen types. This seems like a significant advantage, but the range of these arrows is very limited.

    An insurmountable obstacle even for an experienced thief

An insurmountable obstacle even for an experienced thief

For example, you stumble over wooden boards that prevent you from entering anywhere. The first thought is to cut them with a sword that the main character is fluent in. Unfortunately that doesn’t work. When you get close to the boards, the game tells you that you need a blunt-tipped arrow – only it can destroy the barrier. If it’s not in your inventory, decide to experiment – you create a fire arrow and hit one of the planks. It burns for a few seconds but doesn’t fall apart. The game is unyielding – they told you, with a blunt point, then with a blunt point!

No reaction to experiments and logical guesswork, all strictly within the narrow framework of the plan. Even if you bring an ordinary arrow to a fire or candle (of which there are millions), it will not light up. You encounter limitations at every turn, especially when exploring locations and trying to find a way to get somewhere. The hero can climb the boxes, but he does so very selectively, even if the items are of the same height. In general there are very few chances, the game lacks at least some variability.

    None of this can be taken away.

None of this can be taken away.

No tears flow under the hood

Instead of full-blooded and varied camouflage, you get an indistinct riddle “guess what the developers want from you”: which window to climb into and through which board to go. The difficulty is that the camera is unsuccessful (well, at least you can rotate it) and the map is not very useful – it seems dirty due to an overabundance of pixel blobs and even opens with two clicks. The locations are gray and boring, the apartments are almost indistinguishable from each other, everything is jumbled up and creates confusion and headaches at the same time.

Stealth elements are implemented more or less well, although Winter Ember offers nothing new at all. You can crouch, silently approach the target from behind and then kill or knock them out (no difference, it doesn’t affect anything). They also allow you to rob the enemy and not eliminate them, but there is little point in this – neither the plot characters nor the passers-by on the street will appreciate your humanity. Corpses can be dragged into the bushes and hidden, and the character himself can both “stick” and look through keyholes to assess the situation before opening the door.

    The lock icon means it can't be hacked - either look for the key or open it from the other side

The lock icon means it can’t be hacked – either look for the key or open it from the other side

The idea is not bad, but you don’t use it very often and you don’t hide in big boxes and cupboards either. Enemies follow the same routes, always behaving predictably, so there are no difficulties. And if you are still noticed, then fight with swords: set a block that no one can break through, quickly react to attacks and parry – everything is as primitive as possible. The alarm does not go off so that the enemy on the next street does not find out about a comrade killed at an intersection until they see it.

At the same time, there is a risk of getting into a dead end from which the game will no longer lead. For example, if the infamous blunt-tipped arrows cannot be crafted due to a lack of materials, there are two options: either scour every corner for resources, or go to the store and buy them. Both may not lead to the desired result. In the cupboards and dressers there are a variety of forks, bowls and rings that are only for sale, and the merchant’s goods are not endless – if you have already bought all the materials, he will not have new ones. It only remains to load an older save.

    Even the hacking process is the same as everywhere

Even the hacking process is the same as everywhere

Well, Winter Ember’s latest issue is a nightmarish optimization on Xbox. Playing through a similar game on a new-gen console and watching around 15 frames per second, there’s little that’s enjoyable. For this reason, even basic mechanics are difficult: it is almost impossible to parry attacks, let alone break complex locks. The delay in the game responding to the released button means you make mistakes and lose valuable Master Keys – finding new ones is fairly easy, but in a couple of places the framerate was so low that it took more than ten attempts to unlock a lock crack.

***

Winter Ember isn’t hopeless: the locations are pretty, if drab, and you don’t mind hiding behind carts and sneaking behind patrolling targets. However, it is too cheap, too simple – many of its elements have not been properly developed. The arrow idea is good but fenced in with limitations and the level design leaves a lot to be desired. I would like to see the same game with the shortcomings fixed – something more or less valuable would have come out for sure. But that’s unlikely.

Advantages:

  • beautiful places;
  • basic stealth elements are well implemented.

Disadvantages:

  • uninteresting plot;
  • Arrows of many kinds don’t create variety, but a lot of limitations;
  • Locations are straightforward and don’t offer many options for solving problems;
  • uncomfortable interface;
  • bad optimization.

graphic

The filming locations are mostly drab and drab, although sometimes they look good. Terrible optimization spoils everything.

sound

The music will not be remembered, nor will the acting.

single player game

Even the most ardent fans of stealth games will surely get bored – everything the novelty has to offer, we’ve seen a hundred times. Monotony, inconveniences and lots of strange choices – that’s what awaits you in Winter Embe.

Estimated travel time

15 hours.

collective game

Not provided.

overall impression

Unsuccessful attempt to make Thief with a top view. The further you go, the harder it becomes to shake off the feeling that the game is stealing your time and not offering anything in return.

Rating: 4.0/10

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About the author

Alan Foster

Alan Foster covers computers and games and all the news in the gaming industry.

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