ASTA: The War of Tears and Winds, is the latest game being brought West by Webzen. Recently closed down in its native Korea, there's nevertheless a lot to be enjoyed in this overall standard but beautiful theme park MMORPG. Today, we're putting a score on the Open Beta since it's not being wiped and is taking player money in the F2P game's cash shop.
ASTA falls along the lines of the other Eastern RPG’s that took a few years to make their way to this part of the world. The only difference is it’s older and taking longer to bring to completion. To those unfamiliar with this game or if you missed our first look, the game puts you on one of two different continents based on which faction you choose from, the Asu or Ora. Both are large islands at war with each other and make up the world called Samsura.
The Asu are the lighter side of the war and have the Humans, Tigerians, and Draconians fighting for them, while the darker Ora have the Doka, Yayo, and Humans as well. All share the same humanoid form except for the Draconians which are more troll like, but still not too far off. The classes you can pick from are the generic Archer, Healer, Rogue, Mage, and Warrior, which are restricted to appropriate races. The human race is the only one that has the option of any class, probably because they know most people tend to choose humans in these sort of games.
ASTA likes to coerce you to keep playing with its beautiful colors and a large landscape, both will surely keep you entertained throughout the leveling process. The musical score that comes with it sounds great and rarely gets to a point where a certain melody is worn out. However, music and combat sounds, are about the only audio this game puts out. There's not much in the way of ambience, that is of course not mentioning the god awful quips and one-liners the NPC’s throw out when you talk to them. Other than the obvious gender differences, all of them pretty much share the same vocalist, so they are seemingly random at times. Not to mention they are very repetitive and automated. Your character does speak sometimes and it’s just as annoying and mechanical sounding. It may have been wiser to just leave the VO out altogether, but at least Webzen tried.
You get a lot of rewards from a lot of angles while playing around in Samsura. A daily reward is issued to one account per day with a lump sum of gold. Then an hourly log-in award is given with the prize being souls stones, the other in-game currency. There’s also a fame system that levels up with your character throughout the game. You get fame for doing quests, killing monsters, or pretty much anything that progresses you in the game. Or things that don’t progress you, like being AFK for example, can award you with a few fame here and there even by doing nothing. When you level up you receive a set reward that contains either a chest or other key item in the game.
There are a ton of ways to make your character stronger in ASTA other than just better weapons and armor. As you would hope, you can enhance the items you already have equipped through Jade stones you find around the world. Along with items, every day you get a chance to enhance your stats. You roll what looks like a slot machine and numbers from -5 to +5 appear which will determine how your stats are affected. If you wanted to do this more than once in quick succession and really give yourself a buff, you can choose to buy more promising roles with either of the in-game currency. This is the one real area where you might consider ASTA as Pay to Win, but since it can be done for free as well and since the rolling of the stats can also decrease your stats, we're willing to give it a bit of a pass. Still, it's hard to overlook any mechanic that says "hey, just buy stats".
With the stat points you get on level up and the passive talents you choose when points are given, there are tokens called Divine Spirits. They are spirits of animals that you can equip, combine and level up to make stronger. You can acquire them in various ways and can even make them yourself, they provide stat bonuses depending on the animal and the caliber of token you get. There are no level requirements so you can get an early start on the higher-tier ones if you’re lucky, which is good because they give off the best stats of the game once they are leveled up all the way.
The PVP section of this game seems really fun and challenging with different modes and difficulties that you can access from anywhere with your character. The game modes you can enter with the group finder consist of Dungeons, Raids, Battlegrounds, and Arenas which all have quite some diversity for multiplayer modes. The Battleground is where the faction war begins, where characters from the Asu and Ora team up against each other in a 10 on 10 battle to the death. Then there are the dungeons where it’s a PVE fight of increasingly difficult proportions with great endgame play for those who like the old school loot hunt in dungeons a la WoW, EQ2, and so forth. Arena has two options: team and class, where you face off with either a team, or solo against characters of your same fighting class. Lastly there are Raids, which aren’t even unlocked until you reach the max level of 50, where most of ASTA’s population resides. Signing up in a queue within the midst of questing is simple enough, just throw yourself in and wait... a really long time. Over the time of my playing I had multiple-hour long wait times religiously and in multiple modes as well. This is more likely a side effect of a smaller player-base, or even my class, so your mileage may vary.
Being able to sign up for a few game modes at once doesn’t help either, however I did find luck by grouping up with other players and entering as a group. Which I have to say even though players are scarce, the small community that ASTA has is a great one. Players love helping out newcomers and are constantly recruiting for their guild. But unless you can get in a large fairly-active guild, finding other players for content isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. And with a slow-to-trigger queue system it really derails the early PVP portion of this game. At least until you get maxed out. PVP in short? Don’t even think about trying it until your maxed out because it’s basically non-existent until then. In forthcoming updates the developer is coming out with a few more game modes, but with such a small player-base, I'm hesitant to believe adding more modes is going to do anything but exacerbate the issue.
The crafting in this game is limited as you can only choose 2 skills to learn and level up out of the few they have. I can see why they would do this as you can fit the skills that your characters’ class would benefit from. For instance, I would have no need for the blacksmithing skill as an archer or carpentry on a rogue. Even though you can switch between them anytime it would still be nice to be able to play around with say jewelry and alchemy on the side, if you had tailoring and carpentry for your equipment, without abandoning one of your main crafts. The skills in this game actually stay relevant with the stuff you loot off of enemies so you feel as if putting in the work is worth it, which is sometimes hard to incorporate in a game. There are three sub-skills that you can train and level up as well: they are fishing, treasure hunting, and bounty hunter, all three are loosely used in the game and more along the lines of time killers that actual money-makers.
The questing is straightforward and fairly vanilla when it comes to creativity. They usually don’t stray too far away from kill X amount of this, collect X many that or just typical errand running. The public quests follow suit and make you kill a few of everything in the area. Upon completion, you will receive a reward which is split among all participants equally by who did the majority damage, similar to what you've seen since the days of Warhammer Online. You also acquire a tai token for every public quest you complete, which you can exchange for items at dealers across the regions. After a while the quests begin to run together and feel very monotonous, however with a plethora of enemies to face and quick changing scenery it really helps kill the feeling of repetition. If you like quest-driven theme parks, ASTA won't disappoint.
When it comes to battling this is the bread and butter of ASTA. The combat is traditional MMORPG tab-targeting and easy to keep up with, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still exciting. It doesn't take long before you have a full line of abilities so you can jump into the action right off the bat. It's also nice knowing you are done with an area when you leave and not running all around the same parts of the map all game. But the progression through areas is fairly linear on either faction, so the desire to replay the same content more than once on a new character may be low.
I really like when MMORPG’s create a realistic atmosphere (as realistic as magic and goblins can be) in-game and ASTA really does with the cities. The cities are fairly large and are one-stop-shops for all of your necessities straight from the beginning, not having to wait or travel back to a crowded front for all your selling, crafting, etc. is more than helpful and creates less lagging and traffic. Along with the cities scattered around the landscape there is also a fortress for both continents, which is the center hub of the nation and big enough to be split into 5 or so segmented parts.
There are a lot of things that bother me with this game and I can’t tell if they are structural errors or beta issues that are soon be worked out. For not having the most glamorous visuals or high server traffic, ASTA should be a lot smoother all around. I know they're calling this open beta (but that's basically launch in F2P world), but with the amount of errors that I have encountered along the way and knowing I’m not the only one who has experienced it, it makes you wonder if they will all ever be fixed. Now I’m not saying this is the same result you will get, but while having been a game that has been in production since 2010 in the East it's puzzling to have so many technical issues still lingering.
I know it may seem as if I’m dogging on this game a lot (I am) but when it gets down to it this is a pretty good traditional theme park MMORPG. In a world where everyone is trying to create that "new evolution" of the genre, it’s nice to take a step back to the basics for a while in a new world you haven't played in before. I mean, games like WoW, the EQs, and so forth are known now as "classics" for a reason, right? Even though ASTA is not going to amaze you with something you haven’t seen before, it is free and has ample enough content to keep you playing for a good while. From my experiences with other players you will either fall in love with this game or max out in a week or you’ll uninstall it. If you’ve got an itching for something new but familiar and a free afternoon you might want to check out ASTA. It might just be the diamond in the rough you’re looking for.
GAMEPLAY: 7 | Working with components you know will work and provide decent turnout doesn’t hurt. Combat is the only thing to make you stick around. The story line is forgettable and PVP is dead until the cap.
VISUALS AND SOUND: 7 | This is a game from 2010 and it looks like it. The musical score is great but you could go without any of the spoken words.
LONGEVITY: 8 | With the faction system you have to play this game through twice before you even get the full experience. As well as the end game play it should keep you busy longer than expected. However, one could get bored in minutes.
POLISH: 6 | A five year old game should run smoother than this by now. Crashes, network issues, and overall performance is below par.
VALUE: 8 | The game is free, which should really help out the popularity raise. Out of game shops allow you to purchase special currency for a reasonable price, which isn’t necessary since you can obtain it in game as well. The downside is the "pay for stats" dice roll that some might consider Pay to Win, but it too can be done without spending a dime.