I had a pretty rough night. After a whole day of playing video games at PAX South while devs stood over my shoulder making sure everything worked perfectly and that I was enjoying myself, I went to an evening launch event at one of my favorite bars in down town San Antonio. Not only was I forced to imbibe heavily discounted (would have been free if I didn’t tend to drink more expensive stuff) alcohol, but I then had to lug a sweet bag of loot back to my Uber and all the way home.
It’s terrible the things I have to do for this job, and they really don’t pay me enough, but I do it for you all. You readers deserve to hear about these games from an unbiased source.
The fact is, there are some challenges ahead of Astellia Online and it doesn’t really take much effort to overcome that when you’re exploring the potential of the game. Astellia Online is a Korean MMO that’s headed to Western markets. Not long ago, I would have just given it a pass and not payed any attention at all, but things have changed a bit.
Black Desert Online and a handful of other games have released East to West and been pretty successful. Clearly, they’re still not games for everyone, but I can’t say it’s the death sentence it once was. It’s still not an easy launch as games like ArcheAge have been relatively quick to prove.
I had a chance to sit down with Wes Conner, a producer at BE&A Corp and lead on the effort to westernize Astellia for the introduction to its new audience. A number of positive notes came out of the conversation with Wes. For one, he was very forward about the challenges involved in adopting a game with an Asian revenue model to a model that works for the new target audience. I heard the same sentiment echoed from several of other staff at the event, which suggests that Barunson Entertainment & Arts are aware of the challenges and are supportive of efforts to mitigate them.
With that assurance, I took a closer look at the game and two things stood out pretty quickly. Those who’ve been reading my articles for a while know I can be a sucker for a good soundtrack, and Astellia Online has a very good score. I’m listening to the OST while writing this article, actually.
The next thing I noted were the graphics and art style. I actually lived in Korea for a year when I was in the Army, and I’ve always liked their style of animated characters over the Japanese art style because Koreans don’t tend to over-emphasize features like eyes and facial expressions. That style reflects in Astellia, which I think may make the game aesthetic more appreciated by Western gamers, much in the way BDO’s style has been accepted easily.
The colors and world design in the game are wonderfully done. The color palette chosen for various locations has clearly been picked with care and combines with really gorgeous set design for a great visual appearance. There’s still a heavy tendency towards the Silver Ratio in the game’s cityscape, though.
For those that may not know, most Western art and architecture follows something called the Golden Ratio, which is 1 to 1.4, but in many of the Eastern cultures something called the Silver Ratio (1:1.6) is used instead and is considered to be more aesthetically appealing. This is why Japanese architecture tends to be taller and French architecture tends to be slightly more square.
On one hand, it does give the in-game culture a subtly exotic feel for the Western demographics, and that can be a really good thing. It’s possible that it might make some of the architecture feel a bit too alien, as well. You also run into a few other subtle differences in cultural aesthetics like Asian tendencies to not draw rooves in straight lines. In the new market, that could give the game a slightly cartoony feel that wasn’t intended, and it also happens to be a problem that BDO escaped.
The main mechanic of the game is the collection of Astells, which are NPCs that can be summoned and fight on the player’s behalf. It’s a very interesting idea that I don’t know has been done, before. I’m very interested to see how well it plays out. I did get to play the game for a short while at the launch event, but… that’s not really how I enjoy games.
They started us off at max level and with a full stable of Astells. It was fun to walk in and smash stuff. It did a lot to show off the visuals of Astellia Online (which again were really good), but I’m more interested in the progression and standard player experience of the game, so it didn’t do much for me.
I did get to learn a bit about how the progression system works, though. The game will be composed of a few specific parts. There’ll be the normal PvE portion of the game, which is where the player will explore the world and walk through the storyline, unlocking Astells along the way. There will also be a PvP-centric portion of the game called Avalon where three teams of players will compete for weekly dominance, though players are also supposed to be able to contribute to victory in non-PvP ways.
Besides that, there’ll also be a number of dungeons to crawl with friends. Dungeon completeness is tracked and scored, which will give those completionist gamers an interesting nod. Dungeons are one of the ways to collect and unlock new Astells, so there will be a reason for everyone to run them.
There are aspects of Astellia Online that I’m excited about and interested to try for myself. When the chance comes to play in an early access or beta, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be signing up to try it out. There are a few challenges as the game comes to the new market that’ll need to be sorted, though. Developers can talk about how they won’t be pay-to-win, but it’ll be hard to know for sure until we see what the game’s revenue model looks like closer to launch.
Asian games are very often pay-to-win and it’s a system that works great in that market. There’s no doubt that a fair amount of Astellia’s current design is based around that model. It should all be stuff that’s easily modified, and the fact that Wes Conner made a number of specific statements around how the team is currently doing that to prepare for the Western release of the game gives me some confidence.
It’d be way too early for me to recommend the game to anyone yet, but I do recommend you check out the OST. Those of you who enjoy music will appreciate the score, I think. I’m throwing my hat into the ring to keep an eye on Astellia Online, so keep checking back here for updates. As soon as there’s enough adapted to the game to have any ideas about what to expect, I’ll let you all know!