So… here’s the thing about Astellia Online. You remember my first impressions piece? I freely acknowledged that the game was fundamentally a fine title that wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind wildly, that shot at “solidly competent” and seemed to be hitting that mark well enough. And now we’re here at the launch version, and I feel like I can safely say… well, yes, those first impressions actually hold up.
That’s not to say nothing has changed, though. In fact, I also feel like enough has changed that if you were on the fence about the game before, this might push you over the fence. And I also kind of like the game to begin with. It’s a set of conflicting feelings – that’s what we’re getting at here.
Let’s start with the basics. If you haven’t read that piece, this one is basically a sequel and expansion from that, so… start there. The bottom line is that if you think Astellia Online looks like a specific type of imported MMO that’s a rung above “temport” but below titles that clearly have big budgets and pushes behind them, you’re not wrong. That’s always what it looked like and always what it was going to be.
But let’s talk about those changes for the full launch version. It’d be nice to say they’re all good or all bad, but they’re really, a matter of both. Let’s start with the Assassin I kicked off playing immediately.
Assassins and Warriors were two of the game’s five gender-locked classes, but one of the big promises ahead of launch was that the gender locks would be abolished. Lady Assassins and Warriors were promised for launch, with male versions of the previous female-only classes planned for later patches. And the good news is that these classes are indeed in the game, playable, and fun.
Here’s the downside: The removal of gender locking does not unlock wildly different character models. If you were hoping that the change in restrictions would mean the option to play a female character not in high heels or without the same sway-backed posing, well, get used to disappointment. But, at the same time, Assassin outfits seem to be generally less one-note “look sexy and maybe put some leather on there” than the comparative Archer outfits, which is actually a pretty significant change on its own.
I’m happy to see this option here regardless, though. It’s something promised but not available in testing, which could always result in it getting shoved to the wayside ahead of launch. Nope! Here it is, and the interface to switch genders is nice and smooth for a game that didn’t have the option during its initial launch. Good show!
There are also various story beats that are different, and it’s here that my feelings are… well, mixed. On the one hand, it’s nice to see more cinematics and more explanation of what’s going on in the story here. On the other hand, some parts of the changed story wind up either making less sense or just swapping a more interesting story for a more boring one.
For example, after the battle in the tutorial, we now learn that it’s been four months since that attack hit. On the one hand, it does explain why the initial attack isn’t still a going concern and why things have largely been put back together. On the other hand, it seems sort of weird that you wind up gaining four levels in a single evening, then spend four months standing around doing basically nothing and then get on with your quest.
Then there’s the main story you start following right away. In the beta, it was set up that the knights you were working with had a leader who didn’t particularly care about the smaller problems like kidnappings, even if those smaller problems were themselves inherently tied to much bigger problems. I kind of liked that. The implication wasn’t so much that there was a den of corruption so much as, you know, standard obstructive leadership.
Not so now; instead, the knights are completely on-board with everything going on and you are being explicitly supported from the word go. Perhaps this is based on your choice of class, but I think it’s more likely a change for the worse on the level.
Still… it’s not like any of this is really game-breaking, is it? Even the addition of female Assassins and Warriors is more of a change of skin than a change in gameplay. The stuff you were going to be doing for the majority of the game hasn’t changed.
It’s why I find my impressions kind of wandering all over the place. These are some pretty significant changes from a large-scale standpoint. It’s a big deal that the first quest dungeon is now a charming beachside area instead of a dank cave. But the new area has the same actual map as the old one, so while it’s a change in skin, that’s not going to really rewrite your experience of play.
But maybe it will because when you have so much of your emotional reaction based in part around what you’re playing something as little as a new set of visuals can make a big difference… and so we go, circling round and round again without much of a conclusion.
All of this leads me to ask what I actually think about Astellia Online, now that we have its launched version and not just its beta. For a game where my first impressions were “well, this is average and acceptable,” I have devoted an awful lot of time to playing the game and thinking about it. This is not usual behavior for me. So why have I spent this much time on the title when by my own admission it’s kind of middle-of-the-road?
“Because you’re an idiot” isn’t quite the same as an explanation, for the record. It’s not wrong but it doesn’t explain it.
I’ve actually given that a fair amount of thought, and I think that part of the reason is just that Astellia Online scratches a particular itch that doesn’t get scratched all that often in MMORPGs of late. Yes, it definitely has some flaws, and no, it’s not a singular triumph. But at the same time, it’s an MMO that appears to have had actual thought and care put into it. The addition of new gender options, the system changes for the North American release, the little touches here and there… this isn’t a game that was shuffled out the door by a studio that has dozens of other temports to move through this year, even if it also wasn’t another large-budget triple-A release.
That earns the game more than a small bit of affection for me. It’s just nice to play that. There has to be space in the world for that sort of thing, for games that you might not want as a main title but at least make you feel like the time and money spent on them were not wasted. Vacations, or if you’d prefer, day trips out into the world.
So, yes, my original assessment holds up. Astellia Online is a solidly average MMO that aims for the good side of competent and consistently hits it without ever far surpassing that bar, and it’s entering a market where there are a lot of other quality titles competing for your attention. But in many ways, I find it refreshing and pleasant despite its shortcomings. Your mileage may vary, but it used my time in such a way that it did not feel at all wasted.
Also, I really like that soundtrack. The title screen music is spot-on.