I love isometric games and I love stealth games. So, when I first looked into Winter Ember, I was intrigued to see how developer Skymachine Studios would combine the two distinct styles of game together. It’s not that the idea is new, we’ve seen isometric games that feature stealth components before, but Winter Ember seeks to offer a “true stealth” experience where every misstep could be your last.
Right from the start, the visuals and environments look immaculate. The snowy boughs that fill the street as you run down it, the way that the shadows cling to corners, it all looks and feels really good to move through. Every new hallway brings uncertainty as the game’s isometric camera forces you to turn the corner before you can see what lies beyond.
Armed with an arrow, a dagger, and a sword, Arthur Artorias, the game’s main protagonist, has every tool he could ever need to take down the various enemies you’ll come across. Many instances allow you to sneak up behind enemies, while others force you to take them on head-to-head.
Movement is slick and fluid, allowing you to quickly sprint or even crouch behind pieces of cover to hide from the enemies. You can then try to take out an enemy using one of several different arrow types like fire, water, electricity, and blunt—which can be used to knock down ladders and even activate environmental hazards you can use against enemies.
The main area that I explored in the demo, Arthur’s family mansion, is well designed, and if this is any indication of the rest of the game’s level design, then count me in. Based on the game’s description, Winter Ember takes place in a Victorian town, and all of the architecture so far seems to paint that picture well.
There are also three trees that players can unlock skills in like stealth, combat, and utility. With over 70 unique passive and active abilities, the game gives players a lot of room to set Arthur up the way that they want to play. You’re also able to sneak up on and pickpocket enemies, though I never happened across an enemy that I was able to use that action on during my time with it.
So far, Winter Ember looks very promising. Sure, there are few rough spots here and there, and a couple of things that feel a little clunky, but that’s to be expected in a non-finalized version of the game. The idea reads good on paper, and Skymachine Studios has managed to execute it well in this demo. I’m intrigued to see what changes the final release bring, as well as invested in learning more about the massacre that led to Arthur’s current state of mind.
Winter Ember is currently available as a limited time demo on the Steam Games Festival 2021. If you enjoy stealth-based games, or isometric exploration titles, then it is worth checking out.
This preview is based on a public demo. The Winter Ember demo is available now as part of the Steam Game Festival 2021 and is expected to release sometime later in 2021.