Asterigos: Curse of the Stars

Asterigos is a soulslike game for beginners, and more or less all aspects of the game follow that formula. While straight forward and with simpler encounter design, it offers a lot for those who want to get into the genre but find it daunting. There are some amateurish design flaws, the flow can be a tad weak at times and it’s not as memorable, so is it worth playing?

Artistically the game pops out in a very different way, being vibrant and colourful rather than token grim and dismal. Most foes are more cartoonish than scary, a bit on the blocky side with some animation stiffness and not quite fluid facial expressions. A touch of sameness hurts level design to a degree, but in regular combat and exploration this is a pretty enough game. Lore items are everywhere, mostly collectable papers that are saved in a log which you can read later, voice acting while nice is mostly for the main storyline. This may seem like a staple part of a Souls game, after all a lot of lore in Dark Souls comes from item descriptions, but there’s a fairly key difference. An item, piece of armour or spell naturally incentivizes you to examine it to find if there’s a place in your arsenal, especially if it belonged to an interesting foe. Collectibles in this game, and in most games that utilize it, are mostly just flavour items scattered through the level, and frankly you’re picking up more of them than you are usable items, so it doesn’t create a natural reason to examine it aside from interest in world building portions of the game the developer deemed not important enough to put front and center.

Level design has a few ups and downs. I think the overall map is pretty solid, each level has lots of nooks and crannies to reward exploration, shortcuts to reward progression, layouts mixing large and small spaces, and environmental hazards, making environment play a part in combat. However, while the layout is different enough, there’s a considerable amount of times where some backtracking is required for quests or finding a key to something locked, while a lot of the clutter and enemies just look the same. This is nowhere near as bad as most open world games, but I found myself nearly having to fully re-explore an area over again trying to find a small box to unlock in some room in some building without any particularly stark enemy or landmark to remind me of where it was and reinforces much of it being not overly memorable.

Of course, taking time to look around and backtrack when needed does have rewards, the main two being materials for upgrades, and items that grant stat or skill tree points. You gain these points from drops and quests but largely from leveling up. Customization is perhaps the clearest example of this being a game for beginners as there are three stats to increase: damage, health, and one which increases two resource pools, stamina for some attacks, blocking and dodging and mana for special attacks. All three are basically useful for any playstyle, I genuinely think no matter what weapons you choose to use, you could spend them any way you want and do well. The skill tree immediately seems more daunting… however, it is just six branches with one for each weapon… so more or less, just put points into the weapon you use most, then the one you use second most, and there is an item that allows respecs.

You have six weapons, each plays very differently and I liked all of them except the hammer which just felt too slow. The sword and shield is a bit weak but you can use stamina to block albeit awkwardly, which is a very strong ability and the ultimate newbie weapon. The daggers are very fast and include a quick dodge. The bracelets are powerful but a bit dangerous to use, basically they drop melee magic attacks that deal damage ticks. I think the spear is the best balanced melee weapon, a mix of power, reach and speed.

Personally, I favour ranged builds, so my main weapon was the staff, and this game absolutely proves range needs drawbacks. The staff uses neither mana or ammunition, making it the undisputed king in all situations, and your enchantments and skill tree breaks it even more. On top of the weapons, you get enchantments such as ice or fire you can switch with a literal snap of your fingers. Unlocking a new one has a Metroid mechanic, such as once you get fire you can go back and burn away vines blocking a hallway. They deal more damage to vulnerable foes as well as altering your attack effects. For example, the staff’s fire creates fireballs that explode on impact, dealing aoe damage. The ice enchant sends slow moving snow crystals which deal tick damage that can get very deadly on slow or still foes. If you have a foe against a wall, or, you hit some sort of elevation with the attack, ice will stop in place yet keep doing tick damage which feels a bit broken. The ultimate ability for the staff is insane, allowing you to repeat summon the staff’s chain finisher for a while, and on normal difficulty this can still take out bosses in just a few uses.

On normal, this is a fairly easy game. Bosses can be tricky but most common foes won’t pose any challenge, and there’s both a higher and lower difficulty you can swap on the fly. I tested the lowest difficulty for a bit and I honestly think you could spend the entire game swapping blows in this mode.

Combat is fun, enemies do have pretty dumb AI and can’t really handle ranged which is partly what makes the staff so strong, they generally lack deadly ranged attacks to punish you if you stay at a distance even against bosses. Some attacks have impact, you can be knocked down by tough foes but there is nothing like poise. Lock on can be spotty at times, particularly for vertical foes. There’s enough enemy variety to keep the game entertaining, while combat is fluid and feels like half Bloodborne, half  Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning.

While I won’t go too in depth into story, I like the setting and main character. She has a mix of attitude and discipline, can be hot headed and childish but also backs it up, cares about family and has a good heart making her a lot more likeable than the average modern protagonist. World building was clearly given some thought, if you don’t mind reading collectables, and the main story quickly hooked me. There’s a mix of murky trust and mystery to make you wonder what is truly happening. Allies provide a decent cast, and you get to learn a bit about major enemies both before and after you fight them, that extra perspective going a long way to flesh out the world.

Asterigos feels like a last gen rough around the edges AAA game, which to be honest these days is better than I can say about the game like substances leaking out of actual AAA companies. While I have many nitpicks, and I don’t feel like it’s near bad enough to be a death by papercuts situation, especially as this is the first game of an indie studio and feels far too good to be. Combat is fun, there’s plenty to explore, the artistic and story aspects are well put together, it is 20-30 hours and it is a very easy game to pick up and understand. If you’re not sure about Souls games, this is a great place to start, if you’ve played many of them this might be a bit on the easy side but still well worth playing. This feels like a studio with a lot of potential.

~~Alex Cumming~~

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