by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
“Embark on a journey full of danger in this Action-RPG, inspired by Greek and Roman mythologies. Explore the breathtaking city of Aphes and forge your way through legions of unique foes and mythical bosses to discover the truth behind the city’s curse.”
Players take on the role of Hilda, a young warrior from the Northwind Legion faction, going off to track down her missing father. Of course, this being an ARPG, you by definition stop along the way to fight every single thing in sight, and likewise, do favours for more or less every single NPC across the map. As a character, Hilda comes across as quite two-dimensional. While her reasons for going on this quest are made clear, what isn’t nearly as transparent is why the player should care. This lack of emotional investment isn’t exactly in of itself a damning component, but it’s certainly one of several missed, or mishandled, opportunities.
Adapting to each new situation...
The visual aesthetic is often highly impressive. Each of the in-game zones and districts clearly stands out from one another, and the enemies that populate them are likewise similarly diverse. Likewise, your approach in dealing with each enemy type should also vary somewhat. As a self-described Souls-like game, making mistakes can, to varying degrees, be punishing. This is especially true with the in-game bosses.
The boss fights here are where Asterigos shines the brightest. Each boss fight is multi-phased, with the boss changing up its attack style and defensive manoeuvres at specific set points throughout the fight, as you chip away at its health. Knowing when to attack, when to walk away, and knowing when to run, are all decisions you'll need to make from moment to moment. Unless, of course, you enjoy looking at game over screens, and resetting at the last save point.
Combat rewards you with XP, which will allow your character to level up, and in doing so, spend points on both passive attributes, (which increase stats such as base attack damage, health, and the effectiveness of your charged abilities,) and on your skill tree, which allows you to unlock a vast number of both new super-powerful combat abilities, and passive increases to existing stats. The degree of customization involved is commendable.
There's a Catch...
That said, a decent majority of the passive skills featured all seem to include some form of Achilles' heel, a weakness equal to, or greater than, the additionally provided strength. While having means to curb players' power growth is not a new phenomenon, Asterigos' approach here feels a bit crude.
The greatest problem with combat, however, lays at its very core. In terms of responsiveness, it is beyond awful. It is irredeemably atrocious. The game features a lock-on-target optional combat approach, with the player also being free to attack without the use of lock-on. However, neither approach will ultimately influence anything save for the camera positioning. The actual attack animations are so floaty and unfocused that, as the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes noted, of a single Greek archer consistently missing the target, the target itself would be the only thing not in danger of being hit. Nothing about the combat system here functions as it ought to, rendering what should have been the game’s greatest strength, into its greatest ultimate weakness.
Bizarrely, the game is marketed as possessing auto-save functionality. However, this feature is incredibly rough around the edges, to the point where you could argue it barely works. Players can beat entire dungeons before the game decides to periodically save their progress. Additionally, autosave ignores the manual save slots. So for those hoping the auto-save will occupy the primary save slot, with the player being able to copy said save, manually override it, or delete it and replace it with a newer manual save, you're out of luck on all counts. There doesn't even seem to be a mechanism in place for disabling auto-save, for those that prefer strictly hands-on control over their in-game experience.
You Don't Control the Game, the Game Controls You...
Taking control out of the players' hands seems to be a bit of a fetish where this game is concerned. It was only during an early boss fight, about half an hour or so into the game, that the true extent of this was fully revealed. The player goes up against a powerful close-range melee boss, and, with some moderate difficulty, chip away at his health. When the boss gets under roughly 20% health, they begin summoning this massive insta-kill energy blast to decimate the player. Dying to said boss will create a fail state that advances the plot, as the player is captured by said boss, who is later revealed to be an ally.
However, when I quickly re-attempted the boss fight, starting over with a new save file, it was discovered that the game actively makes it impossible for the player to kill said boss. Reducing the boss' health to zero will not kill him, and nor can his energy blast be blocked, dodged, or otherwise evaded. For a game that claims to be choice-based, ending the tutorial with an impossible-to-beat boss is frankly bizarre. It comes across as a lazy design choice, one that contradicts the game’s core choice-based structure.
The optimization quality here is somewhat mixed. While the game runs smoothly during cutscenes, boss fights, and other similarly heavily-scripted moments, the more open-world exploration-oriented sections tend to yield slightly less impressive results. Medium and close-range pop-in can often occur, especially with vegetation and other such assets. Notable instances of lag were consistently observed when entering a new area.
Overall, Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is a passable quality experience that excels when it leans into its Monster Hunter/Dauntless-esque multiphase boss fights, interspersed with more solitary bouts of exploration and subsequent discovery. Had the developers leaned further into this hypothetically simplified formula, while offsetting it with the existing rich and dense progression system, Asterigos could have proved its mettle as a more-than-worthy contender in the market. However, its poor control responsiveness, its often-needlessly ham-fisted approach to forcing linearity where it's not needed, and its debatable narrative quality, also collectively hold it back from reaching its full potential.
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Impressive art style, Good progression system, Great boss fights
Unresponsive combat controls, inconsistent optimization, bad level layout design