The first closed beta for MMORPG Astellia just ended, and I am already missing the tunes that slowly charmed me during the five days it lasted. Astellia is a Korean MMO that is making a jump to the Western market, with some significant variations from the Asian release, and we spent quite a lot of time checking it out to fill you in on what you can expect from this game.
Astellia: A Love Letter to Classic MMORPG
When I first saw the teaser artwork and trailer for Astellia, long before Barunson E&A contacted us, I felt pangs of nostalgia. Immediately I saw the game features a built-in wiki, so I decided against creating one on Fextralife, but there’s an inexplicable pull that this kind of fantasy world has for me. It signifies a change of pace from the western style MMOs and RPGs that I play a lot more frequently, and sometimes you just want something a bit different.
What is Astellia
Astellia is a buy-to-play MMO coming to PC in the Summer of 2019, with pre-orders starting at 30 USD and rising to 99.99 USD for a Special Edition, which includes 7 days early access and a plethora of goodies. It has just finished its first closed beta test, with a second one coming soon, before full live release. The Western adaptation breaks into the market through full localization in several languages, including English, French, and German. Barunson E&A boasts that they had their translation team play the game to ensure accurate descriptions and dialogue, and it did indeed feel natural.
But the adaptations don’t stop there. The Western release will do away with the Korean “Free to Play, then Pay to Win micro-transactions” model, and provide a “Buy to Play, Play to Win” model in its place. Further, it promises no gender lock on Classes, as well as quality of life improvements (like the removal of animations during casting).
- Classic MMORPG with a nostalgic but beautiful setting
- Deep and complex progression mechanics, equipment upgrades, optimization
- 35-45 hours to get to level cap, solo dungeons available.
- Unique party System: Astels
- 5 classes that evolve into further 3 subclasses each
- Unique and upgradable skills for all classes
- PVP modes
“Play To Win”
These are the changes the developer envisions to transition from “Free to Play” to “Buy to Play”. The business model will be primarily supported via cosmetic purchases and some convenience items. The second round of closed beta, coming sometime in July, will give players a preview of the in-game shop and its prices, giving further transparency.
- The sale of Cash Shop items for in-game profit has been eliminated.
- Cosmetic items will not have performance improving mechanics.
- AP Boosting Potions are not sold for cash.
- Astel Card Packs are not sold for cash.
- Dungeon Tickets are not sold for cash.
- Beeswax (Item Sealer) is also available for loyalty (Zender).
In-game “Loyalty” Store
- Logging in each day earns a currency called Zender, and this currency can be used to make purchases on the Zender Shop.
- The Zender Shop provides users with a means to access items that are too advantageous to sell for cash.
- Dungeon Tickets allow entry into any dungeon within Astellia, and they now constantly regenerate, regardless of whether you are off or online.
- Unique daily quests have also been implemented to allow users to accrue more Dungeon Tickets.
The classes of Astellia
Astellia has five classes to pick from, they are: Warrior, Assassin, , Mage, Scholar and Archer. These Archetypes follow the traditional tank, melee dps, healer, buff/debuff and ranged DPS categories of MMOs, however the implementation of their skills is interesting and varied. During my gameplay sessions, I focused on a scholar and found the return to more critical skill rotation engaging, and the further expansion of the skills via upgrades, and later on Class Specializations to be further encouraging.
Within the Beta, without any power leveling (or rushing), I made it to a mid-range level naturally before opting to try endgame via a Beta-only level up quest. This gave me many hours of natural progression, skill discovery and rotation optimization that I found straight-forward but deep in customization. The character development aspect of the game focuses on the upgrading of your main character stats, of which there are 8 total, with 4 physical and 4 magic based. From there you’ll also note “Secondary Stats” for Attack and Defense, and if you’re the kind of person that loves tinkering with builds you’ll likely be delighted to find there’s a fantastic granularity and plenty of opportunity for customization via both level upgrades and equipment.
Stat customization is done by spending points and using special items that have a chance to increase stats by a percentage based on the item quality. Further customization is done by slotting equipment which is sub-divided into 6 slots and 2 “Treasure” slots that provide unique benefits such as auto-loot. A salient point of equipment is that Armor is not divided into pieces and instead is equipped as one unit, preventing your character from looking odd with a different mash up of random pieces. Then, each piece of equipment has 5 Gem slots for individual Attack or Defense effects. And, of course, the gems that you use for those upgrades can be fused to create other gems, adding even further depth.
Skill customization is done by upgrading your unlocked skills with Skill Points obtained by leveling up. Skill upgrades can have many effects, from simple damage increases, to decreasing cooldown, or increasing the frequency of applied effects. This allows the player to enhance the Skills they enjoy using the most.
Given all these freedom and tinkering, at no point during my gameplay did I get bored of experimenting with my setup and rotation, and I even took on a group boss by myself with my Astels by optimizing the party composition. The amount of ways you can customize is staggering, and above and beyond my expectations by a good ways.
NPC followers and party companions are not a common MMO feature, and this is by far the most uniquely interesting aspect of Astellia. You start off with one Astel, and can find more Astels to recruit by doing quests in the world, but there are even more that are only found as rewards for in-game achievements, as special drops and from dungeon loot. The initial Astels look rather cartoonish and silly, but there are plenty of endgame “badasses” to satisfy every aesthetic need. The companion system is actually surprisingly complex and rewarding.
Astels come in three general flavors: Savior Astels, that cost a significant amount of Action Points to summon and then are active for a very short time before going on a long cooldown. Servant Astels, that consume a low to moderate amount of AP while out, meaning you can keep one out permanently, and up to three out for a limited time. And, Guardian Astels, that are high-level and powerful, but consume a high amount of AP, making keeping them summoned a difficult task.
Figuring out what Astels to have on your bar, and at what time to summon and un-summon them is vital to optimizing your performance, but there is a lot of trial and error figuring it all out. Certain Astels affect other companions or even your Party members, and have co-op skills that activate with your own or other class skills. Understanding the interactions between the Astels, their unique elemental effects, buffs, debuffs and the enemy you’re facing adds in to the complex chain-reaction of customization when creating a powerful party to speed-run a legendary dungeon.
If the dozens of Astels to pick from weren’t enough, you can also level them up to increase their performance and power. Non-contract (non-story) companions are permanently added to your deck when you obtain an “Astel Card” for the character, which happens randomly when opening an “Astel Card Pack”, which are acquired as rewards for specific achievements, or dungeon loot. If you obtain the same card twice, the unlocked Astel levels up, increasing its performance. Further adding to this, players will obtain Star Jewels classified into Alpha, Beta, etc that can be slotted into companion cards to make that Astel more powerful with unique effects such as increased HP, Magical Attack, etc.
The game is set in a fantasy world filled with traditional RPG themes and spiced with JRPG style constructs. I found the artstyle of Astellia to be nostalgic and compelling. From the beautiful map and mini-map design, to the actual feel of the forests, landscapes and deserts, there was something magical about exploring the land. This game does not have breathtaking graphics, but the combination of an extremely soothing soundtrack, and magical destinations mixed in with classical RPG villages, made for a cozy home for what felt like a game unashamed to be a game.
I very much appreciate the gorgeous world design of Elder Scrolls Online, but there’s something refreshing and comfortable in visiting a town and knowing that a specific NPC will not have moved, because it will spend its entire time doing the same motion at a known location.
Astellia features several regions to explore, each with several different zones and distinctive landscapes. The first region goes from coastal city, to evergreen trees, to plains, and finally a magical forest with bright bird-like lights and colorful flowers. There are also caves and dungeons to explore, each with designs matching the inhabitants of said structure, or featuring long-lost ruins and castles. Each zone also contains special hidden chests, that make exploration more rewarding by unlocking achievements that give free gold and other items.
Each area treats players to new monsters, which I found to be in the positive side of design and variation. From wolves to orcs, giant mushrooms and deformed frogs, you’ll find humanoid cultists, giant snakes, golems and constructs, chimeras, ent-like creatures and even butterflies. In addition, each enemy type has an “Ancient” spawn in the area they are present, and can be defeated to obtain achievements. Enemies had individual attacks, resistances and effects, with higher level areas increasing the monster repertoire to match your more powerful character.
Gameplay is a core aspect of any game, and must be the backbone of a successful title. Astellia might prove to be divisive in this regard, as its main appeal is not solo-game questing, but rather in its complex endgame dungeons and PvP. The main story is over-the-top, and thus for many it will not be compelling, and the sub-plot and sub-quests feel rather generic and fetch-questy. It was not until I made it to the fourth zone in the first region, and moved on to the next region that the underlying plot of the game got some interesting tones.
Character Creation & Controls
The game sets off wonderfully with a fully-featured character creation that allows your imagination to run wild. During the beta, the gender unlocks were not available so some classes were limited in this regard, but I was satisfied with how my Scholar turned out.
I found adjusting to the controls to be a bit of a challenge, and this lasted for the first 5+ hours as Astellia does something very different. Your mouse must be clicked to look left and right. And, this change allows for you to interact with the elements on screen without having to change your POV, but it also means that you get some rather sudden angles as you learn how to traverse the world.
Thankfully, the developers have added automatic movement, where you can just click in a point of your map, or on a quest objective, and your character will proceed there on its own. During that movement, you’re free to look at your inventory, fiddle with your stats and customize your gear or check your achievements. This feature made my travels much more enjoyable, and rendered teleporting unnecessary, as I just used the roads to get places while I did my inventory sorting.
Combat is very straight-forward: point your Astel at your enemy, and attack. The Scholar class had several interesting crowd control and debuff mechanics, where I could opt to bind, knock down and slow enemies. My Astel of choice acted as a natural tank, so I summoned an extra DPS Astel, and then proceeded to take on enemies by rooting them in place and applying effects that would stack, until some higher level skill could be used for critical damage.
Since I had a ranged character, I could generally stay at a safe distance without risking much damage, but sometimes enemies would aggro onto me. The game then provides a “quick roll”, executed by double-tapping a directional WASD. You can also increase your evade chances by just simply staying on the move, and the words “escaped” show up in your screen to let you know you got out of some incoming attacks. The only downside to the system is that my lack of familiarity with the camera controls made it difficult to make my character face the enemy again quickly, sometimes resulting in missing seconds in my DPS rotation.
Thankfully, the game also includes a smart “target of target” system, so you can be targeting the boss and applying debuffs and damage, and heal the tank without having to switch to it. This was very useful in endgame dungeons, and could benefit from some further customization on the client side to be perfect.
Overall, leveling up combat was engaging enough to keep me entertained, easy enough as to not to stress me out, and hard enough to force me to learn a rotation and read my skills. This is a good combination in my book, as the road to endgame should be more than just adding stats, it should teach players about their skills and capabilities, and prepare them for monsters’ abilities and mechanics.
Inventory & Skill Management
During my time with the game, I only had an “inventory full” notice twice. This is significant because I am a committed hoarder and I usually have to stop at every town I visit to unload useless junk I have collected. That was not the case with Astellia, as armor and weapon rewards were infrequent enough to be welcome in my inventory, and materials found did not become overwhelming a few hours in.
Another positive note for me was the flexibility of the skillbar, that can be collapsed and expanded as a whole or individually. It even allows you to set an order so that a specific slot is replaced by another skill after you have executed it, and then reverts. So for example I could set Key 1 to “barrier” and after pressing it, the skill would auto-swap to “great barrier” and allow me to go for the further buff next.
Whilst I have heard from our community that some experienced lag and disconnects, I had zero lag, a total of one disconnect during the beta, and all skills executed instantly (and beautifully because I really like a lot of the animations and effects they have chosen). It is difficult to know from a beta what the actual servers will be like when the game is live and under a launch crunch, so if connectivity is a concern to you, waiting for reviews might be advisable.
Dungeons & Endgame
The Astellia Beta provided a unique NPC that allowed players to level up to max, obtain all Astels, and a set of endgame equipment to try out high level and legendary dungeons. I had done some dungeons as I was leveling up, and I found them adequate for solo play, with mobs that were a bit more challenging than outside, and some interesting mechanics such as barriers, traps and treasure chests guarded by mini-bosses.
Upgrading from level 25 to 50 (endgame gear and stats) upped my damage by 10 times. Skills that were doing 450 damage suddenly did 4500. It was a huge jump and when I went back to the starting zones to help some new players I was not nerfed to the zone, nor was it scaled to me (a common tendency in modern games), so I could satisfyingly one shot everything in my path.
Having managed my unearned abilities as best I could, and with little understanding of how to use them, I tried going into a legendary dungeon and soon found out that having gear and stats does not replace know-how, as we got our behinds summarily handed to us by mobs of rodents. We decided to instead do the normal version of a level 50 dungeon, and found them much more to our capabilities. We still ran into some troubles and had to optimize which Astels to keep out when faced with groups of mobs, but we did complete the dungeon and obtain rewards within the time limit, including unlocking new Astels and cosmetic items.
Endgame Dungeon Experience
The group dungeon looked the same as the solo dungeon in terms of enemy placements, but those enemies had much more powerful hits and larger health pools. The bosses also had more effects and mechanics, and with regards to these mechanics, I was an avid server-first raider for Lord of the Rings Online (before it was casualized) so I greatly appreciated them. With the limited amount of time that I had to explore Astellia’s endgame, I thought it did much better than other current MMOs in that regard, with varying AOE effects, character debuffs, aggro breaks, etc.
It was however noted that the tank’s Astels have a tendency to stay near their master, and as such are quickly killed by boss AOEs that the AI is not smart enough to dodge. This was a frustrating point for our tank, who ultimately died during the last fight due to my healer’s inexperience, and his companions being rendered useless. And then we discovered that to resurrect on the spot you need some special consumable scrolls – otherwise you’re thrown back to the start of the dungeon, and given they are in a timer you might not make it back to the boss room to claim your loot. Fortunately, the Scholar class has a resurrection spell that can be used on a friendly target, so nothing was lost.
My overall impression with Astellia is colored by the extreme nostalgia the title elicits in me, as I have not played traditional MMOs or JRPGs in a long time. This is a plus point in my view, as reinvigorating old concepts has a place in today’s video game market. I very much enjoyed the world design, artistic style and music score of the game, and I was compellingly intrigued by the depth of character development and party management.
That said, the game is not without flaws. There was some stuttering performance issues when entering new areas, particularly in the more populated low level zones – this is something the developers confirmed to us that they are working on improving, however. There are some questionable character design choices, and some silly ones like an Astel who looks like Donald Duck riding a hobby horse. Finally there’s a lack of polish on cutscenes and interactions with NPCs for side-quests, that adds to the feeling of “fetch quest” and linearity, because you simply want to skip the dialogue.
Will you enjoy Astellia?
With all of this in mind, the question becomes whether the pluses out weigh the minuses, and how interesting the whole concept is for you. Are you looking for an endgame-heavy MMO to bite into? This is probably a good choice, pending a review of monetization options. Are you interested in deep story and character choices? This is not the right game. Are you looking for a relaxing hobby to chill after a long day? This is definitely the game for it.
In short, for me: What Astellia lacks in polish, it makes up for in character development and party options, making a compelling case for getting to endgame, or having a leisurely and casual stroll through its many zones and landscapes. Polish can be added over time, but it’s rare that games change their core mechanics, so in this regard Astellia has a solid foundation.
Like how it sounds? Download Astellia here.