Lost Ember Review – PC
+ Fantasic world design
+ Interesting premise/story
+ Fun selection of animals
+ Best OST of the decade
- Gameplay/Story balance
- Some memories drag on
- Story twists easy to predict
Lost Ember is the ultimate evolution of the “walking simulator” genre; a game that spans a massive living, breathing world packed full of rich and wonderful detail, lush landscapes, and teeming with wildlife. What better place to explore the concepts of death and reincarnation. The game opens with an artistic cutscene that introduces you to the concepts of death, heaven, and reincarnation as well as one of the key characters, a Lost Ember who has somehow not been allowed to pass into the City of Light and is stuck on Earth. Flying around like a magic pixie, the Lost Ember seeks the aid of any who would help him discover his destiny, and that’s when he meets you, the Wolf.
There is a surprisingly good narrative that will unfold over the course of this adventure; one full of twists and revelations that I won’t spoil here, but chances are most people will figure things out just ahead of the major reveals, so rather than surprises you get confirmations. It doesn’t diminish their impact however. Ironically, story is a huge part of Lost Ember almost to its detriment as the balance of cutscenes and actual gameplay are in constant struggle. The entire purpose of the game is to explore and unlock memories to discover your forgotten past for both the Wolf and the Lost Ember, and while these stylish reveals are fun at first, by the end of the game you’ll be squirming in your seat as these prolonged sequences drag on and on, often with no dialogue.
The big hook with Lost Ember is the ability to Soul Wander; something you learn mere minutes into the game when you exit your wolf form and possess a nearby wombat with the face of a koala bear – adorable. Swapping bodies with other animal forms is fundamental to traversing the world and would have been a cool puzzle addition to the game, but there is never any question when to switch or what to switch to. Over the course of the game you will get to play as a wolf, wombat, duck, duckling, hummingbird, parrot, armadillo, maggot, firefly, fish, buffalo, turtle, elephant, mountain goat, and an eagle. Many of these animals have fun little secondary abilities you can play with like eating, sleeping, burrowing and tunneling, and even using the elephant’s trunk to wash up after stomping through a patch of bamboo. Each type of animal also has their own unique and responsive set of controls so swimming as a fish, dashing as a hummingbird, stomping around as an elephant, or struggling to stay in the air as a duck all feeling amazingly different. Even the turtle is realistically slow to the point of absurdity.
You’re free to swap animals as often as you like. There are no limitations on this ability and while there are definitely certain areas where you will need to be a certain animal to progress the journey, changing forms is mostly used to discover and access special areas containing the hundreds of collectibles in this game. There are 77 relics, and 142 mushrooms divided into six categories, as well as six legendary versions of the various animals waiting to be found, and while many of these are out in the open in plain sight, many are impossibly hidden and will require thorough exploration of every inch of the world, above ground, underground, and even underwater. It took me just under eight hours to finish the game, and during that time I collected just over half of all the items and I was pretty observant. I would expect to double that playtime if you want to collect all of the items, plus some mushrooms are gathered during action sequences and if missed will need to be replayed. There is a chapter select option you can use to revisit the game and get those missing items.
So basically Lost Ember is just you, the Wolf and your talkative companion exploring the world learning about your past and scooping up collectibles. There are no puzzles to speak of and the entire game just comes off as more of an experience; an interactive narrative that you slowly unlock and piece together. And there is certainly nothing wrong when that “experience” is as glorious as Lost Ember. What could easily be described as living art, Lost Ember shines with a stunning presentation that scales nicely to most PC’s. My 2080ti card was able to run this at 4K/60fps with all settings maxed. Admittedly, there was some visible LOD and shadow pop-up on the horizon and there were some awkward camera clipping issues when crawling through narrow tunnels or swimming underwater, but overall Lost Ember can best be described as majestic whether you are exploring a rainforest, the desert, a snowy mountaintop, a forgotten temple, an ancient city, or just a grassy hillside where dandelions blow in the breeze and swarms of fireflies light up the night sky.
The art style is fantastic, and rather than going for a fluffy wolf design we get this lean, angular creature that looks as if it was sculpted from clay, yet brilliantly animated. All of the animals are exquisitely detailed, varied in color with charming idle animations. Even the memories have this unique style about them with frame-skip storybook animations and stone-sculpted character models that glow orange as they reveal your past.
Adding to that majestic feeling is what can only be described as one of the best soundtracks of the decade. Outside of the memory sequences and the occasional prattle from your companion, much of this game is played in silence. There are the occasional sounds of nature, but the dynamic soundtrack that rises and falls to fit each and every scripted moment or just plays along in the background while you explore for collectibles is the stuff you could listen to for the rest of your life. This is easily one of the best soundtracks for listening outside of the game, and I encourage everyone to get the bundle which includes the soundtrack. I’m listening to it right now while writing this review. It’s just that good!
Lost Ember is a fantastic concept that could have used a bit more conventional gameplay to achieve perfection, but for those who are satisfied with simply exploring the world around you, unlocking memories, finding relics, and hunting mushrooms then this is easily the best game to do all those things while marveling at the view and getting lost in the music. Whether you come for the adorable critters, the engaging redemption story, the epic item hunt or just want to immerse yourself in a magical world of wonder and amazing music, Lost Ember delivers all that and more. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.