It has to be said that narrative based adventures are all the rage in the gaming world. What was once confined to simplicity and ease of use has fast become a medium for telling tales, delivering stories and pushing narratives so complex that even the smallest of games are ready to take on the film and TV industry. That is the case here with Lost Ember, and throughout your journey with this delightful exploration title you’ll find backgrounds to lost civilisations coming to the fore. Yet whilst that in itself is all well and good, this is a game that manages to deliver much more, with the ability to morph into different characters and unfurl a wonderful world – that’s just the very start of it.
I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve been intrigued by what Lost Ember was able to provide as a gaming experience since way back when; with the very first early mentions centring around a Kickstarter campaign that went through the roof. But since that time in 2016, it’s taken many more years to ensure that what Mooneye Studios have been able to create is one worthy of the initial plans, with previously promised launch dates pushed back in order to see the finalised product become a reality.
And I’m glad it’s taken a while for Lost Ember to arrive too – for it’s just as immersive and delightful as I originally imagined. However, it’s not without a few bugs and glitches.
Lost Ember sees you playing as a wolf who alongside a soulful companion heads on out to discover secrets and collect memories, all of an ancient fallen civilisation. With tales of loyalty and despair at the forefront, and then things moving into a world of betrayal as the latter stages are reached, it’s a fairly moving affair, one that eventually plays out to ensure that you discover what happened not just to the world around you, but to both you and your companion.
It’s hard to go into too much detail as to exactly what happens in terms of story, for fear of ruining the experience as a whole. But you should be aware that if you’re in the market for a new emotive tale, one that will pull on a few heartstrings, before twisting, turning and flipping what you thought was true, then the one that Mooneye have provided in Lost Ember will cater for it.
Thankfully it also caters for some great gameplay, and comes with a lovely art style too – it is these which make sure that anyone even considering dipping their toe into the action with little background knowledge will be drawn in until the end credits roll.
The vast majority of your time with Lost Ember will revolve around you placed in the mind of a wolf – a lonely wolf whose only real companion is a soulful narrator, helping push and guide him through the journey ahead. This adventure is pretty much fully represented by seeing you travelling across the land, before sitting back and uncovering memories and secrets with a glorious howl in order to open up the world and those within it.
And whilst the wolf glides around with ease, there are many other animals in place which also play a huge part in the experience. This means that at times you’ll have the chance to move your soul from the wolf to a wombat, a bird, a buffalo or even a mountain goat, with each of the different animals playing their own unique part in how things unfold. For instance, should you have great chasms to cross, then soaring into the sky as a parrot is possible, whilst the elephants and buffalo of this world can happily be manipulated in order to charge down walls to allow a different kind of access.
You’ll also be found getting wet, swimming around as a duck before spying a fish and taking to the depths of the biggest lakes, the tidiest of ponds or flipping and flopping your way upstream as a river reaches its source. Each and every single animal you get to control comes with its own unique ability and skill sets, all becoming more important to the overall gains with every switch.
It is here where an initial annoyance with Lost Ember arises though, and utilising the power of the hummingbird for instance is one that I could happily have gone without. It’s also massively disappointing that a mountain goat can clamber all over cliff sides should Mooneye want it to, but then it fast becomes unstuck trying to navigate its way over the smallest of rocks left on the floor.
For the most part though, morphing between animal types rarely gets old, and that is never more true than when you get the chance to wander the world as a wombat or giant tortoise. And even though you won’t need to use all available options should you not wish to – in fact, much of the game could well be completed by just using a few of the animals – switching back and forth between the bigger and smaller animals lets you discover the hidden secrets of Lost Ember, with mushrooms, relics and the deepest of memories hidden away. The ability to possess every single animal you come across is a much appreciated one and certainly allows for you to be able to get much more from Lost Ember than just following a standard story.
However, holding Lost Ember back from utter greatness are a number of issues, with the overall scale of the game disrupted thanks to some graphical oddities. See, even though everything looks and sounds absolutely wonderful, there are numerous invisible walls present in Lost Ember. And whilst you may gaze and wonder at the brilliance of the surrounding world, if truth be known there is too much which is closed off; invisible barriers stopping you from ever really getting deep into the exploration side of things. I guess this is understandable due to the smallish budget allowed for this grand creation, but it occasionally delivers frustration when you find yourself hard up against the limits in place.
Alongside that and the camera mechanic needs a bit of work, dropping into the scenery and landscape on many an occasion, whilst a stop/start lag in the visual quality when you decide to really get up some speed and tear around breaks up the flow.
Thankfully though these issues never really outweigh the massive pros that the game provides, and even if the narrative sometimes feels forced the overall experience behind it all happily wins things over in the long run. And it is because of the greatness of many parts – the animal morphing, the stunning visuals, brilliant audio and availability of many hidden collectables and secrets – that Lost Ember on Xbox One is able to provide a pretty unique experience that many gamers will love. Okay, so the price is perhaps a little too high for what it is, but should you have the spare cash and wish to embark on a different kind of journey, the one in Lost Ember is that.