Over the past three weeks, Astellia has been at the forefront of my game playing library. Developed by Barunson E&A Studio, Astellia is a generic Korean MMO which has been “redesigned” for western audiences. This is not the first eastern MMO with haughty ambitions of luring western audiences in, but does Astellia have what it takes to call players to it, or will MMO gamers be left searching the stars for something better?
If you haven’t had the inclination to follow along with my journey through the world of Astellia in my first and second week, don’t feel too left out as the final verdict will be an all encompassing picture of my total experience. In the world of Astellia, the player character is n Astellian, or “Star Caller”, a person with the ability to call upon powerful Astels that will aid you on your quests and in battle. The main story generally revolves around your ability to grow as a Star Caller, save your sister who was taken for nefarious purposes, unite nations, and other deeds that tend to shift as you progress.
The largely forgettable storyline is fairly common place in many MMO’s that follow these classical theme park style questing motifs. Multiple quest hubs are strewn about large swaths of instanced maps, and many times your quest log will be loaded with general, mundane kill quests with story aspects that may or may not play into the main storyline. The monotony of questing in Astellia is exasperated by the facts that, many of the enemies stay the same despite progressing 50 levels, and quest movement is largely automated. For the most part, players don’t have to pay attention to where they are going and what they are killing. The majority of quest mobs are tagged with a large “Q” indicator overhead, so that players don’t need to rely on quest text, and since the enemies are largely rehashed, you could be killing a Rofen at level 20 or at level 40, it would make no difference in how they are defeated.
Auto-movement is one of those quality of life features that is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s helpful to have the game direct you to the exact area you need to be in, and label the exact enemies you need to kill. On the other hand, every single quest turns into, auto-move to destination, kill the “Q” enemy, move to next destination, collect the “Q” material, and this continues on until you’ve hit max level. One major issue with auto-movement is that in order for it to work as a fantastic feature, it needs to be reliable. In Astellia, most of the time the auto-movement takes you where you need to be. On several occasions, it would take me part of the way, stop, and have to be reactivated. At its worst, on a main quest line, I was taken to a completely wrong quest destination, where I fiddled around for a half hour before I realized, auto-movement screwed up and I wasn’t even close to where I needed to be.
Between point A, obtaining the quest, and point B, completing the quest, lies the combat. Barunson E&A made little attempt to break up the average combat formula from the traditional theme park experience. Fortunately, the combat actually works well. Between my two characters, the Assassin and the Mage, each character had abilities that were impactful in combat. Some abilities allowed for a run and gun style of play, while others required the correct positioning, or a cast time, so simply face-rolling your keyboard wouldn’t do the trick in killing much of anything. As a basis for comparison, I was also tasked similarly with reviewing Bless Online and despite Astellia’s combat being largely uninspired, the skills and flow of combat are by far superior in function to the disjointed combat in Bless. I enjoy the flow of combat, by my main issue with it lies in the amount of abilities you have, and the amount of abilities you have to use at any given time. Too often I found myself accessing the majority of my damage abilities in my repertoire to kill some of the lowliest enemies. On my mage, cooldowns were high on my favorite abilities, and cast times were long on the ones that did the most damage, with little you can do with your stats to change that. The combat as a whole feels good, but after 50 levels and 3 full, 10 slot hotbars, full of abilities, it starts to lose its luster.
Where the main deviation from traditional MMOs makes an appearance, is in the Astel system. Astels, as mentioned previously, are powerful beings that you will obtain, and that will help you in your quests. Astels, functionally, work as pets. You have tank, damage, and healing Astels, and some will become invaluable in the later levels if you wish to progress through the content. In the case of my Mage, the use of Astels were essential to take the focus off of me so that I had time to cast my most powerful spells. Likewise, with my Assassin, healing was extremely important, as my high melee damage would often take the attention off of my summoned tanks and redirect it at me. You could also synergize your Astels for a limited time, unless you used Atra tonics, which would allow you to have multiple Astels aiding you without depleting your resources.
The Astels are a fantastic addition, as an idea. In practice, they are cumbersome to use. When you summon multiple Astels, you’re really focusing them as a sniper rifle, and not as a shotgun. If you have multiple opponents, dictating what you want each Astel to do is nearly impossible. At best, you can get all of your Astels to at least gain the attention of all the enemies in the mob. At worst, one Astel might find it fun to bug out and stand in a corner, while the other two fire away at one target, and you get chased by 2 other enemies as you try to line of sight them around a tree. To exasperate the Astel system further, the majority of Astels, especially the ones you obtain early on through the story, are all childlike women, or anthropomorphic cutesy creatures. One particular Astel significant to the story, Pisces, is especially annoying, with her dejected apologetic tone coming off as abrasive the more you’re forced to interact with her. Truly fearsome and cool looking Astels exist in the roster, but most players won’t encounter them early on, and multiple Astels can truly change how fast players complete content, and it just so happens that Atra tonics are available in the cash shop!
The cash shop in Astellia is actually pretty similar to many Eastern turned Western cash shop conversions. Yes, there are plenty of different costume skins and Astel Character skins, but there are also multiple shops to take note of. There is the Zender shop, which is a currency that can only be obtained in game. This shop has items like the Atra tonic, as well as monthly boosts, and some skins and convenience items. Zender comes slowly through the game, either from just being online, and other ways such as completing achievements. The gem shop, that utilizes real money, has character and mount skins, and it also allows you to buy the same boosts that are in the Zender shop. One such boost, Nordens Favor, increases the amount of Zender you can obtain by 15%. Again, Zender can then be used to buy Atra tonics to keep multiple Astels out at once, and it can also be used to buy dungeon tickets to run multiple dungeons that would otherwise be gated, but that would be the extent of in-game imbalances that players can obtain with real world money. For the most part, as Zender is available in game, the cash shop is very generous at this time.
Astellia does an amazing job of epitomizing the minutiae of micromanaging in MMOs. The Astel system is a great collection system that I feel has merit, both now and as the game grows. Leveling Astels is a different story. There are 3 basic areas where you have to level your Astel. Star power, enhancements, and battle experience are all needed for your Astel to grow stronger. Extrapolate that across every upgrade system. Armor, weapons, your skills, your stats, and even the runes and star jewels themselves all have tiny menus that you will use to upgrade, slot, and re-slot everything repeatedly as you swap out gear along your journey. Much of it isn’t even detailed especially well, leaving large gaping areas for players who may not be as accustomed to this much maintenance through basic leveling. The added depth to every aspect of Astellia is definitely something that may appeal to die-hard MMO gamers, but for many I feel it will detract from what Astellia actually does right.
Astellia is a beautiful game. Aesthetically and audibly, Astellia manages a pleasant ambience that left me wanting to explore the world just so that I could see it all. The detail of the world and the forethought of the different areas and how they are designed truly deserves some appreciation. In the green treed forests, you hear rustling of the bushes and birds chirping. In the mountainous regions you can hear the wind barreling down as you make your way through the barren rocky landscape. Astellia is a tremendous, full-fledged MMO, with large areas to explore, tons of tiny features to fiddle with, auction houses, end-game dungeons, and more than enough to keep any MMO player busy. Despite some of the great features Astellia brings to the table, the Astel collection system, the detailed world, and a fairly balanced combat system, it isn’t enough to break from the sheer monotony, bugs, and lack of character attachment that would bring Astellia from being just another Korean game to being a bright star in a cloudy sky. There is certainly a lot to like here, for the right MMO gamer, but I wouldn’t expect Astellia to take your heart away from your main MMO squeeze for long.
Full Disclosure: Astellia is represented by Team Critical Hit, a Games PR company co-founded by former MMORPG Managing Editor, Bill Murphy.