Astellia – A Familiar Romp with Cool Battle Pets

With nearly every other studio turning to the more profitable mobile devices, there is a disturbing lack of new full-fledged PC MMORPGs. Therefore, it’s good news when something like Astellia is bound to be released in western territories. A Korean game that sticks to the guidelines of every other fantasy MMORPG, Astellia’s biggest selling point is its advanced pet system.

Astellia is a free-to-play game in native South Korea. Here’s hoping that doesn’t discourage you right from the start, but the translation to North America and Europe is made with an accompanying price tag. It’s the same strategy that other games such as Black Desert Online and Bless Online used in the past, with completely opposite results.

Astellia Preview Prologue War

However, it seems that the intrinsic limitations of the F2P model are being obliterated, at least judging by the amount of cool costumes you earn without spending a dime. A cash shop is evidently planned but not available at the time of this Astellia closed beta, so we’ll reserve our judgment for a later date. Developer Barunson E&A promises that Astellia will be a play-to-win game without any cash shop trickery, which always makes for some nice press, but in the end these claims tend to fall on deaf ears. We’ve heard it all before, right?

Despite the studio’s best efforts with localization and plans to remove gender-lock further down the road, Astellia feels generic. It’s your standard cookie-cutter MMORPG where you go with the flow instead of actually experiencing a memorable journey. It’s shaping up to be a decent game, but it doesn’t bring anything remotely new to the table and is terribly similar to Aion, which was released nearly a decade ago.

But Astellia is no Bless Online, I can tell you as much.

Astellia Preview Archer Battle

Heroes in High Heels

Starting with the class selection, you’ll notice that you are setting foot in familiar territory. You have five classes firmly set within the known boundaries of the genre: Archer, Warrior, Assassin, Mage and Scholar, all of them gender-locked for this beta. The removal of gender-lock is planned for after the official launch, so it should take a while before you can get your male Archer doing the rounds.

By now you probably expect the Archer and Scholar classes to be represented by your traditional female characters of otherworldly beauty standards, purposely wearing high heels into battle and still managing to sprint like Usain Bolt on a good day. The Mage character is, also expectedly, the teenage-looking girl that is probably older than you and I combined, for story purposes, although she doesn’t look like she’s any older than 12.

Costumes seem to come out from the minds of the same fashion designer that worked in Aion or TERA. These are undoubtedly stunning creations that deserve to be admired in every detail, and are clearly designed with that intent, but the female armor is mostly about fanservice with the traditional “less is more” approach to body protection. Video game logic, right?

Luckily, Astellia’s character creation system is exceptional, filled to the brim with every kind of slider that you could dream of. After Black Desert Online, player expectations regarding character customization naturally rocketed, so it’s nice to see that Astellia at least tries its best to keep up with the current benchmark. It’s not on the same level, but you’re able to create whatever you want to, from a pretty character to a devilish abomination, if you feel so inclined. Sadly, there is no slider to remove those heels.

Astellia Preview Level 50 Gear

When the game starts, a vision of a freakish living doll with a huge cog serving as a hula hoop will introduce you to a world on the verge of chaos. Everything is going to hell, there is a really bad woman doing really bad stuff to innocent people. It’s the kind of prelude where the excitement ramps up to eleven, grabbing you by the collar, only to end in an underwhelming and predictable way; you are special and it’s your mission to save the land, going where the wind takes you and completing quests for anyone who has the audacity to ask. Fixing some fences? Sure. Picking up mushrooms? Why not, I know how to do that. Finding some escaped pigs? My life experience has led me to this moment. Will you care for the story? I doubt that many players will hesitate when it comes to skipping dialogue.

Astellia’s quests are bog-standard, with an overly straightforward approach consisting of clearing up the quests in one area before moving on to the adjacent region. The aforementioned quests are good examples of what awaits you and your greatness, with the occasional dungeon to provide a moment of respite once in a while. Granted, there isn’t much that can be done to spice up things for the entire duration of an MMORPG, but hopefully endgame will bring some added excitement to an adventure that feels like so many others.

Occasionally, you may feel tempted to explore the land in search of hidden chests, a little feature that is meant to distract you from the main questing. Finding these chests will unlock some achievements, getting you some little rewards for your trouble, but it’s more likely that you’ll stumble upon them by accident than design.

Astellia Preview Astel Cards List

Battle Pets

Astellia comes with a distinguishing feature in the form of the Astel system. More than glorified pets, Astels are the companions that you will meet and recruit during your journey. It’s like finding Pokémon and evolving them, with the added bonus of sporadic chitchat to push the story forward.

Before an Astel decides to join you in your adventures, you must convince it by means of a quest chain. These are usually simple and reward you with a brief cutscene showing the endearing design of these creatures. While most of the designs seem veered towards the usual cute small girl with a characteristic theme (fish, tea, music and so on), some are more clever in their approach. Such is the case of Tetrinio, a hyperactive duck with serious Don Quixote ambitions and equal levels of bravery and foolishness. Currently there are over 30 Astels of different classes and with different buffs to discover.

You can always keep one Astel with you, but you are able to summon two more when push comes to shove. Each additional summon speeds up the drain of your stamina bar, meaning that you’ll only be able to have three simultaneous Astels in battle for a few seconds. You can level up your Astels and raise their abilities with various Star Jewel stones. I enjoyed the Astel mechanics as it opens up the potential for more tactical battles, being a slight step up from your traditional pet or companion system.

Astellia Preview Dungeon Boss

However, it is held back by an outdated tab-targeting combat system. Chaining skills isn’t as smooth as it should be, and animation canceling is a feature that is still being worked on. Animation locking can also be a problem, preventing active dodges to be used to their fullest. This esults in combat that theoretically has some depth, but needs further polishing to make it feel smooth and enjoyable. I like that you can enhance skills and create interesting combos, but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before and it is never going to feel like pure action combat.

Astellia comes with the remaining features that you would expect from an MMORPG, including gathering and crafting, or the mandatory arena for PvP. It’s a game with considerable depth that does enough to stand above other unsuccessful experiments, but it lacks that defining component that makes heads turn in awe. The core mechanics are in place and give you a reasonable idea of what it wants to be, but it’s definitely a work in progress.

The graphics aren’t a problem, but it’s not like the Unreal Engine 3 is going to make your game stand out from the competition. Astellia is above average by today’s standards and in some locations it looks truly pretty, but it’s not vastly superior to the likes of TERA, a game from 2011 that runs on the same engine.

Astellia Preview Archer Scholar Classes

It’s difficult to come up with a groundbreaking MMORPG, which is why I don’t want to sound overly harsh. Astellia is a game that tries to tick all the right boxes and is currently being improved in some of its more sensible areas, such as combat and classes. No matter how much it’s fine tuned or its rough edges are smoothed, it’s never going to turn into a shiny diamond. Switching it from free-to-play into a premium game will also place it under heavy scrutiny from players who are familiar with the practices of the Korean version.

Will it be a better game when the official launch time comes? It’s highly likely. However, gamers nowadays are known for their short fuse and unwavering demands, without any consideration for the amount of work that a certain task may require. Gender-lock is a good example of a pressing issue that must be solved as soon as possible, otherwise word of mouth may do some irreparable damage to this game. Astellia may be as familiar as they come, but there is some fun to be had exploring the huge world, if you’re not too demanding or looking for the next big thing.

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Designing an MMORPG: Picking a Subgenre

Last week we started off with the most basic question; which genre should we make an MMORPG in? The results weren’t all that surprising. Out of 273 votes, there were 171 for Fantasy, making it the winner of last week’s poll. This week we’re going to take a deep dive into the different fantasy subgenres to pick one.

Before we get started, let’s look at how the vote broke down last week. There were a total of 273 votes placed between the Strawpoll and Twitter.

Designing an MMORPG: Picking a Subgenre

As I said before, Fantasy got the most votes. On the one hand, this wasn’t a surprise. Fantasy is by far the most popular genre for MMORPGs. However, I do see a lot of people complaining about that very fact as well. I guess in the end those who enjoy the genre outweigh those who don’t.

With 59 votes, Science Fiction was the next most popular genre. This reflects what we see in the industry as well. Fantasy games are incredibly popular but a large portion of the remaining industry falls into science fiction.

The modern world, one of my favorites, only got 30 votes. I had expected this genre to do a lot better than it did considering it’s one of the least represented in MMORPGs but perhaps the interest just isn’t there after all.

Finally, with only 13 votes was historical. Again, a genre that is severely underrepresented in the MMORPG genre but with the tight restrictions, I fear that it may only be history buffs who want to see this one.

 

Now it’s time to move into the subgenres. What is decided here will have an impact on not only the setting but the races that will be available to play and what kind of creatures we see in our world. For this list, I referenced wiki’s entry on Fantasy subgenres.

 

Contemporary Fantasy

Did you watch Bright? That’s contemporary fantasy, as well as urban fantasy. Contemporary fantasy takes place today but with magic added in. This is where you’ll find the Dresden Files, Harry Potter, and many other popular book series. The world will be one that is familiar to us, but off. Maybe it’s Elves, maybe it’s unicorns, maybe the world has both. How would the world change if there was magic all around us?

Pros:
Not many MMORPGs with this setting
Modern technology
Cars

Cons:
Modern World isn’t a very popular setting

 

Dark Fantasy

diablo 3 necromancer closed beta preview

Dark fantasy is fantasy mixed with horror elements. There are monsters and other dark terrors in the night. Interview with the Vampire and Diablo are just two examples of this genre, the most famous of them all being the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Secret World Legends is also considered a dark fantasy. Closely related is Grimdark, most famously seen in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Pros:
Not many MMORPGs in this subgenre
Lots of different terrifying creatures

Cons:
The possibility of jumpscares

 

Gaslamp Fantasy

If the Victorian era and science is Steampunk then the Victorian era and fantasy is Gaslamp. You can find examples of it with movies like Sleepy Hollow, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Stardust. In this world, technology is that of the Victorian era while the fantastical elements allow for flying ships and mythical creatures.

Pros:
No MMORPG presence.

Cons:
Limited by technology level
Long dresses aren’t easy to fight in, ask Wonder Woman

 

High Fantasy

The Elder Scrolls Online

High fantasy is the epic adventures. The Lord of the Rings is held up as one of the best examples of the genre and most MMORPGs fall under this subgenre. It’s where you find the medieval fantasy with swords and spells. Neverwinter, Elder Scrolls, and even Conan all fall in this category.

Pros:
Everyone loves swords and magic
Tons of content to take inspiration from
Mounts

Cons:
Most MMORPGs fall into this subgenre so oversaturation is a concern

 

Wuxia

Age of Wushu Dynasty

Chinese inspired fantastical tales filled with martial arts is the best way to describe Wuxia. The most famous of all the Wuxia MMORPGs is Age of Wushu, which will be getting a sequel in the near future. Jade Empire is another game that fits the Wuxia subgenre. In film, we have Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and even Kung Fu Panda.

Pros:
Not a very well explored genre for MMORPGs, giving a lot of freedom
Offers something different from traditional Western fantasy

Cons:
It’s unfamiliar to Western audiences
MMORPGs in the genre aren’t massively popular, though they do okay

 

This is now where you come in. It’s time for you to pick one of the fantasy subgenres that were listed above. Whichever one gets the most votes by Friday evening will be the winner and we will officially have the genre narrowed down quite specifically so we can move on to other topics. If somehow you missed out on how this experiment all began, take a look at last week where we broadly explored different MMORPG genres. You may be wondering right now why all the different fantasy subgenres aren’t represented on this list. For some subgenres, it’s the fact that they can easily be lumped in with others. Grimdark and Horror Fantasy both fit into Dark Fantasy quite well. For others, it was simply a choice I made to keep the list short and tidy.

 

How does it work?

There’s a straw poll below, just select which genre you’d like to work in. Late on Friday, I’ll add up the results from the two polls. Next week the winner will be announced with an all-new poll that takes a look at the playable factions if there are any factions at all.

Once we know how many factions we’ll have, we will be able to start looking at the playable races. Which will, in turn, have an impact on who our enemy factions are. Be sure to come back every Tuesday when we’ll take another step forward in our adventure.

If you have any ideas you’d like to see featured in the future leave them in the comments below and we’ll discuss them at some point this year.

 

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Designing an MMORPG: In the Beginning…

Designing an MMORPG is no easy task, but in 2018 that’s exactly what I want to do with your help. Each week we’ll be taking an in-depth look at a specific feature or aspect of game design, laying all the options out on the table, weighing the pros and cons, before finally putting it all to a vote. At the end of the year, we’ll see exactly what kind of MMORPG we make. Will it resemble any other popular MMORPGs currently on the market? Or maybe one that has shut down? Is there something coming out that matches our idea? So many questions need to be asked, but let’s start with the most important; genre.

Which genre your MMORPG is in can have a huge impact on everything else that will be in your game. After all, you won’t be flying spaceships in a Wuxia game, so it’s important that we get this out of the way first.

 

Fantasy

Wikipedia defines Fantasy as a genre of fiction set in a fictional universe that often, but not always, has no ties to the real world. It also goes on to say that most fantasy uses magic, or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting. Wiki also lists 18 different subgenres for fantasy, easily making it one of the most complex genres. It’s also one of the most popular for MMORPGs. Games that fit in the genre include World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Blade & Soul and well, the list could go on forever. It is by far the most popular genre for MMORPGs, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Pros:
A lot of variety and options available
Popular

Cons:
Oversaturation

 

Science Fiction

Science Fiction. Wikipedia defines it as a genre of fiction dealing with futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. In terms of MMORPGs, we’re looking at things like EVE Online or Wildstar along with Star Wars and Star Trek games. They can take place on a spaceship or you can have your feet firmly planted on a futuristic Earth or some distant planet. Science Fiction also includes all of the punks; cyberpunk, steampunk, biopunk, and dieselpunk. Where fantasy focuses on magic, science fiction focuses on technology. Wiki breaks sci-fi down into 7 sub-genres, though some we’ve not yet seen much in MMORPGs.

Pros:
Less Popular Genre
The only limit is your imagination

Cons:
Only appeals to a certain audience
Lacks magic, something people really enjoy

 

Modern World

Wikipedia defines the modern w- I’m just kidding. If you don’t know what the modern world is, take a look outside! You’re living in it! It is today, right now. While you certainly could have an MMORPG without any fantasy or science fiction added in, like The Sims Online, there are so many other stories to tell! It could be an alternate reality like Grand Theft Auto or something fantastical like Secret World Legends. Or maybe you’ve got superhumans wearing spandex flying through your city, or science has managed to bring back the dinosaurs. While many of these quite rightly belong in either science fiction or fantasy, we think the fact that they take place today makes them stand out in a unique way.

Pros:
Not found in many MMORPGs
Many options available

Cons:
Not great for escapism
Difficult to make it stand out

 

Historical

ever jane

Historical games are those rooted in the past with little deviation from what was available at the time. If you’re looking for examples of these in MMORPGs you should be looking towards the likes of A Tale in the Desert, Wild West Online, or Ever, Jane. They stay within the constraints set by reality and find ways to make it fun. If you’ve ever thought you should have been born in a different time or place, these are the games for you. There are thousands of years of history that could be covered dating back to when man first evolved all the way up to the 1980s. You won’t find any magic or aliens in these games as they stick to the rules.

Pros:
There’s a lot of Human history that is well known
The rules and restrictions for time periods are clearly defined

Cons:
Rules and restrictions may be too limiting to many
No fantastical elements

 

Now, this is where you come in. It’s time to pick one of the genres we went through above. Whichever one gets the most votes by Friday evening will be the winner and we will have officially taken the first steps to designing an MMORPG.

 

How does it work?

There’s a straw poll below, just select which genre you’d like to work in. A second poll, with the exact same options, will also be on the MMOGames Twitter account so you have two opportunities to leave a vote. Late on Friday, I’ll add up the results from the two polls. Next week the winner will be announced with an all-new poll that takes a look at the subgenre options we have available.

After we’ve got an idea of what subgenre we’re in, we’ll start having a lot more fun looking at everything from factions to crafting. Be sure to come back every Tuesday when we’ll take another step forward in our adventure.

If you have any ideas you’d like to see featured in the future leave them in the comments below and we’ll discuss them at some point this year.

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