Dark Light

I still miss the days when I used to come back from school and turn on the computer to play Thief: Deadly Shadows, a pioneer in both stealth and immersive sim genre. The feeling of being one with the darkness and sneaking past enemies was a powerful one; you were the shadows! True many more games replicated this formula and succeeded at it – Splinter Cell, Styx etc., and now even indie games are catching up on the trend. But how well does Winter Ember recreate that magic, let’s find out!



Winter Ember starts with the assassination of Arthur Artorias’ family by a shadowy cabal. Narrowly escaping his fate he goes into exile, burning in the flames of vengeance for eight long years. Now he’s back donning a menacing hoodie Ezio style while a powerful new order has taken over the city. The game open with a serviceable animation sequence but… that’s pretty much it. I thought Dishonored as a revenge story has forgettable characters but Winter Ember surpasses the bar set by Dishonored. Characters are just as forgettable as their motives, well, the story isn’t the games strong suit as nothing much happens for a while until later part of the game. All in all, Winter Ember is just the same wine in a new but smaller bottle.


Winter Ember is like Thief but isometric and with a more-than-enough zoomed in camera. Maybe this is because the game wants you to be cautious, peeking through keyholes, checking around corners, but when there’s a fight, you’re done for. All thanks to the pathetic combat system which further encourages you to stick to stealth. It’s sluggish, hit registrations are poor and there’s just one move basically with a timed parry and block. Parrying at the right time will give you enough window to kill the enemy but otherwise it’s a stale battle if who reduces whose health first. Adding multiple enemies to the mix just messes up things – if you do get hit this will cause bleeding, which may alert guards and civilians to your presence. Thankfully, you can prevent bleeding with bandages which you will never likely run short of anyway.

Now apart from that, the cover system is also tad awkward. You can only enter in cover from a fixed distance and that too only in specific spots. Exiting from cover is another hassle. In fact there’s no point in getting into cover as you don’t get any more advantage in visibility than what you already have. However the other aspects of stealth are well done – hiding in tall grass to break line of sight, blowing out light sources, lockpicking etc. But the blowing out of light sources and reigniting them should have been set to two different inputs as there’s high chance that you’ll accidentally light a candle giving away your location to the enemy in front.

Level Design

The snow clad cityways with low poly assets looks awesome and very atmospheric, echoing a brooding ambience with apt lighting and shadows. Same goes for the interiors where there are tons of candles to blow, trunks to hide inside, catwalks to prowl atop etc. You can craft hook arrows to shoot climbable ropes at the catwalks which might be essential if you’re looking for an alternate way to bypass the patrols. All in all, the level design, even though pretty linear, is decent enough. Objective marker exits only one the mini-map as a result you’re forced to explore the wintry dimly lit streets as well as the narrow corridors of building interior. There’s also a black market to sell your loot at as well as to purchase crafting components/lockpicks/potions etc., a number of brief side quests which typically reward you with either skill points or money and the main story quests that most of the time leads in to a separate self contained location where the mission takes place.

However the immersion isn’t as much as expected as there is practically zero interaction with the environment apart from lockpicking, opening doors, blowing out candles and killing enemies. Also it’s extremely stupid that chest-high platforms cannot be climbed on top nor vaulted over but you climb a similar height crate placed adjacent to it. It’s a pure face-palm moment. Furthermore, there’s no alarm system at all that too in a stealth game! You can go on a killing spree (if you can get over with the terrible combat system) and still the civilians won’t do anything and will repeat the same scripted dialogues like “Interesting” or “Fascinating”. Not to mention the number of times I got stuck in the game’s geometry thanks to the extreme camera zoom.

Visual, Sound and Performance

Visually the game is beautiful to look at thanks to the snow covered landscape that gives peak Thief and even Dishonored vibes. In fact the anime style intro totally caught me off-guard. The soundtrack is also serviceable, suitable for a brooding winter environment. Performance wise, the game is smooth

Real Talk

What on first glance I thought that Winter Ember can beat most indie stealth games out there, that thought evaporated soon because pretty quickly the game started to feel repetitive as it never introduces any new mechanics. Also while the levels themselves are cool they also have interesting design choices, where you just loop back to the same point like in metroidvania games. Normally this is okay if its an occurrence here or there, or if its essential to the mission, but after a while it feels off In other words, give it a pass

Final Review : Not Recommended


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