Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is a Soulslike game with not enough Soul
- Developer: Acme Gamestudio
- Release date: 11th October 2022
- Genre: Action-adventure, RPG
- Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X|S, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Asterigos: Curse of The Stars Review
Ever since Demon’s Souls (2009), there has been a surge of games that want to be put into the Soulslike box: Sekiro, Bloodborne and Nioh are prime examples that fit this genre of tough-as-nails, hard-to-beat, slow-and-steady hack-and-slash adventures. Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is a new IP from a new developer that hopes to join this impressive list.
It’s important to define what type of game Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is because these types of games generally only really appeal to a certain type of gamer (although Elden Ring has received almost unanimous praise). Soulslike games are not welcoming to all types of players; they are deliberately hard with scant few save points, and with fights where you have to master enemy move sets and timings perfectly. You either enjoy this type of challenge or you don’t.
Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is a solid offering, but most of the reasons it’s harder and less enjoyable than it should be are from self-inflicted design choices, starting with the oh-so-dreary writing of what could have been an excellent story.
You play as Hilda, a Northwind Legion Warrior who, hoping to find her lost Father, enters a cursed city called Aphes. Upon entering the world, Hilda is accosted and bargained with to do the bidding of the Minerva, the former ruler of the Asphesians in exchange for information about the whereabouts of her father. Adding intrigue to this situation are dialogue options that affect the overall story. However, it is only by listening to elongated dialogue, reading reams and reams of texts, asking questions, finding collectable letters, and knocking on in-game doors to ask the inhabitants questions, that you get an overall picture of what is actually going on.
As connected and would-be world-building as this is, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at me, and the writing didn’t engage me at all. It was so bland and, forgive the pun, soulless. I would normally delve in with eagerness, but it bored me so much that I just wanted to get on with the game. Characters are dull and indistinguishable from each other, as are the enemies you meet and the NPCs you can interact with. No one and nothing has any character of note, and the limited voice acting is very average.
If you’re all about the gameplay and the world-building and story is not something you would be interested in any way, then you are in luck, as this is probably the strongest aspect of the game. It’s solid in all the right places, but nothing truly stands out.
With its Greek Mythology background and female-led adventure gameplay, my first impressions were that it felt like a blend of Tomb Raider and God of War, which is not a bad comparison to be able to make. Hilda’s movement is a little stiff, though, and bordering on clunky. Unlike many hack-and-slash games, there are very few instant jumps, thrusts or combos to learn, as it is much slower-paced. Each slash, thrust or parry matters. Swinging a sword too soon or from too far away leaves you open to attack as you are trying to recover. Everything is measured, which could be argued is a little more realistic. Being knocked over had an agonisingly long recovery animation, as Hilda would pause for what felt like an eternity while the enemy was closing in. It’s quite obvious from very early on this is not a button-mashing, Devil May Cry-Esque game.
There are six weapons to choose from, each of which has two moves, and its own strengths and weaknesses. You can only equip two of them but can change them out at any time. The sword and shield can get you through the entire game quite easily, but experimenting with other weapons is actually quite fun: Wielding the hammer your attacks are slow but powerful, the daggers are quick but leave you with no ability to defend other than movement, and the staff allows you to deal with enemies from afar, but roots you to the spot when doing so.
The choice was very welcoming for finding your own particular style. Adding to this is a generous and expansive skill tree. Each weapon has its own unlockables to try out, and if you don’t like what you have unlocked, the points can be remapped somewhere else at no extra cost. Obviously unlocking more abilities for one particular weapon made you more powerful and opened up new gameplay opportunities in combat to help keep things fresh.
The game starts in earnest from a hub world buried beneath the city of Aphes, from where you are then tasked with missions that can be reached from the hub via different exits. The entire game is basically set within a town comprised of different regions, with missions set within each region. The world you explore in each region is never so big that becomes overwhelming, and they are quite linear, but critically, there is neither a map to show you any paths nor a way marker for your mission or any side quests. This makes it very easy to get lost! As you explore the level you can unlock new entrances and routes to make getting back to the hub world easier.
During one level, I struggled to defeat a Boss, so I thought it would be a good idea to go back to the hub world to upgrade my weapons. Not realising I had a consumable that would have instantly transported me back (although there are scant few of these consumables anyway) I tried to navigate my way back from my last save point. Failing abysmally to do so, getting lost, and ironically consuming more items I had wanted to save, I gave up on finding my way back and resigned myself to trying to beat the boss I was stuck on with what I had. All of these issues and frustrations could have been avoided with a map. It’s only when you don’t have one you realise the importance of it.
There are two things that exacerbated the problems caused by the lack of a map. One being there were at times cheap deaths, and the second was the lack of detailed graphics to define each area.
The most frustrating cheap deaths occurred when exploring. You can find a chest, and nine times out of ten there will be items within, but occasionally a monster will appear and attack you before you can do anything, leaving you with a fraction of health. While you are in the throws of another agonisingly long recovery animation, it launches another attack that if you weren’t aware was coming, finishes you off, and back to the last save point you go!
Other times, you would be focusing on an enemy only to not see another enemy from above lob bombs at you that, although not enough to kill you outright, sets off explosions on objects near you that instantly kill you. Back to the last save point again. I don’t mind learning enemy attack patterns or how to deal with boss fights, as you can use skill to overcome them, but being instantly killed or stuck in the scenery due to bad camera angles, or attacked from enemies you can’t see, felt cheap, and to be honest, discouraged me to do the one thing the game wants you to do, which is explore.
Upon death, you don’t lose any experience you gained, but you do lose any items you consumed, and the enemies respawn, so you will have to repeat the same battles over again to get back to the same point in the game.
The graphics were a mixed bag, too. The art style is actually really good and I enjoyed the settings, the character models, the environments and the performance of the game. This is all let down somewhat by a lack of defining features and a very short draw distance, meaning the majority of the screen was a little blurry due to the game not wanting you to see that far ahead. This made many environments look the same from a distance, and combined with a lack of waymarkers, maps or even a compass, it made navigation difficult. To compound this even further, there were times when, due to the lack of visual graphical detail, you could think a wall in front of you was flat, when in fact there was an entrance to the side and part of the wall was actually set back.
Effects during combat were minimal, bordering on particle effects from about three generations of consoles ago, but the game did have some excellent water effects and interesting environments to explore, despite the game being set within one big city area.
The audio of the game, average voice acting aside, was actually very good. The heft of weapons through the air or hitting enemies was convincing, as were the water effect sounds, and reverberations within tunnels. Oddly, my favourite sound effect was the opening of chests; Heavily wooded with a weighty gravitas, they sounded excellent. The in-game soundtrack also added to the experience, despite the game being quiet for the most part. The crescendo of music when building up to a boss fight and the gripping background menu music gave the feeling that Asterigos was made with a bigger budget than it probably had.
The RPG elements of the game were some of the game’s most accessible and easy-to-use aspects. The aforementioned skill tree was easy to navigate, simple and clear to use. Hilda herself had talent points to spend, each of which improved not only her capabilities but expanded on gameplay. Although there are no defined classes to choose from, you can assign Hilda’s points to fit typical roles like tank or DPS. The choice is yours, and it’s a very flexible system.
Finding items around the world and earning exp allows you to not only upgrade weapons but craft trinkets, buffs, and clothing, which meant there was a variety of options to suit how you wanted to play the game and the style you were most comfortable with. Nothing in the systems re-writes what an RPG can do, but it was a welcome relief to be able to retain points you had earned to spend elsewhere when you realised you didn’t like the skill tree you had put them in before.
So when you put all this together, the game comes down to the end of level boss fights. I really enjoyed these moments. It was a little frustrating at times due to forced camera angles, as I was getting pummelled and couldn’t see what was going on to escape, but that aside, for me the boss fights were the game’s highlights.
Learning the boss fights, move sets, what they do and how they do it, mixed with you as a player learning your own skill sets for the weapons of choice you liked using meant each encounter was a great tactical affair. I knew that at times my weapons of choice weren’t the best for some encounters, but because I’d built my character the way I like to play these games, I could still make them work. The level of difficulty also felt correct. On normal difficulty for example, yes there was a large amount of health to chop away at to defeat the boss, but doing so in a patient, methodical manner, meant that I eventually became victorious. It felt like a fair fight that if played properly, would mean the player would prevail.
Some of the sub-level bosses also brought some excellent and exciting gameplay, it’s just a shame the rest of the minions you had to defeat along the way weren’t as interesting or as challenging.
As a Soulslike wannabe, Asterigos isn’t as brutal as others in the genre and is much more welcoming with a variety of difficulty levels to enjoy. It’s just a shame some of the reasons you die are not because of lack of skill.
Asterigos: Curse of the Stars doesn’t do anything particularly badly, but there are no areas where it excels, either. Factor in the competitive price point, however, and the thirty-hour experience doesn’t appear to be too galling. Fans of the genre will likely enjoy Asterigos, but it lacks the universal appeal of something like Elden Ring.
What holds the game back is not the production, but the game design choices. The lack of an in-game map and waymarkers is a huge gameplay issue for me, as is the bland writing and overwhelmingly sterile narrative. This is balanced by solid gameplay, varied locations, excellent RPG mechanics, user-defined gameplay styles to choose from and some memorable boss fights, but it’s not enough to make this a must-play title. All in all, it’s a solid foundation for what could easily be improved upon for a later sequel.