Astellia Impressions

Astellia isn’t a game that’s really been on my radar, but the Massively OP staff were given a number of keys to the beta, and I’m always up try a new MMO, so I decided to check it out.

At least Astellia is prettyI won’t say it’s as bad, but Astellia reminds me of Trinium Wars in that it feels less like a real game and more like a parody of bad MMO tropes.

To start with, the tutorial is about 90% cutscenes and 10% gameplay, or at least it feels that way. I admire that the developers actually wanted to make story a priority, but they’ve mistaken more story for better story.

There’s not really an effort to explain the setting to you, to develop any characters, or to give you any reason to become invested. There’s very little context for anything. Instead you’re just bombarded by an onslaught of corny dialogue and ridiculous fantasy names — and this is coming from a guy who willingly and happily reads a series where the name “Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor” is a central part of the story.

As far as gameplay goes, the main selling feature of Astellia — and the source of its name — are the Astels, fey spirits you can collect and then summon to aid you in combat. Very much shades of Pokemon here.

Looking over the journal of potential Astels you can get, it seems there are more options later on, but the Astels available to me at the start were all in the form of seven year old girls. It’s exactly as creepy as it sounds.

My archer and her Astels in AstelliaAlso, one of them has a giant cup of tea on her head, and her abilities centered around buffing allies with “soothing tea” mid-combat. I acquired her whilst an army of demons burned my character’s home village, presumably murdering everyone she ever cared about, and the tonal dissonance was so whiplash-inducing my immersion never really recovered.

It’s also probably worth noting that the Astels didn’t really seem to do much. Maybe they feel more impactful when you’re in more challenging content and/or have leveled them up more, but in the time I played it felt like I could have ignored them entirely and nothing really would have changed. Not a good sign considering this feature is the Astellia’s chief claim to fame.

The graphics are pretty, but not so pretty as to make the game really stand out. The bar is pretty high these days, and Astellia isn’t going to compete with the likes of Black Desert, especially since there isn’t a lot of personality to its art style. I will say some of the character and mob design is pretty cool, at least.

Combat in Astellia is your standard tab target affair, complete with mobs that drop dead after a few hits and don’t seem to require any tactics to defeat. There’s an active dodge mechanic, but I didn’t encounter anything that actually needed to be dodged while I was playing.

Female armour is alive and well in Astellia

This is reasonable attire for an adventurer to wear into battle.

What surprises me more than anything, though, is how bad the animations are. None of my abilities had any kind of flair to their visual or audio effects, and it felt like they had no impact at all.

If there’s one thing you can usually count on Eastern games to deliver, it’s great combat animations, but in Astellia — at least as an archer — they were at best on par with those you’d see in a ten year old Western WoW clone.

This, at least, could be attributed to beta jankiness. This was a true beta test, not a soft launch, so there’s still time for combat to improved. A lot of the game’s other problems feel pretty deeply ingrained, though.

The worst thing is that without Astellia’s glaring flaws — its overbearing attempts at story-telling, the vague whiffs of child exploitation, and the like — it wouldn’t be memorable for anything at all. There’s really nothing about it that’s unique or interesting — it plays like it was built using a checklist of generic fantasy MMO tropes.

The classes, for instance, are as generic as they come. Warrior, assassin, archer… There’s not even an attempt at originality.

While it seems a bit arbitrary to me, the trend seems to be to compare Astellia to Bless Online, and for my money, Bless is a much better game. Bless had better graphics, a better story, better classes, and better combat.

My archer in AstelliaI’d still tentatively recommend checking out Astellia if/when it becomes free to play, but only as an exercise in kitschy silliness. This is definitely not a game I see as worth playing seriously. It’s all the ridiculousness and creep factor of TERA minus the good combat, which was about the only thing TERA did right.

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Lucifer Season Four Is a Major Improvement

I was saddened when Lucifer was cancelled, and heartened when Netflix picked it up for a fourth season. Not just because I’m a fan of the show, but because it deserved a better send-off than season three.

The official logo for the TV series LuciferThe last season may have ended on a high note, but boy did it drag in the middle. Petty interpersonal drama and repetitive storylines sucked almost all of the fun out of a show that was always dumb but rarely dull.

So when season four came to Netflix, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hoped it would improve things, but I was concerned to see the tired writing of season three continue.

I am pleased to report, however, that season four is not just a massive improvement over its predecessor but easily the strongest season of Lucifer to date.

I’m not entirely without complaints. There are some stumbles. Maze going full evil last season is basically just ignored (though maybe that’s for the best), and the ending is a bit of an anticlimax in some ways. The season’s antagonist definitely deserved more of a comeuppance.

But there’s so much to love here. You can tell that lacking the oversight of a mainstream network freed the writers up to be much more creative. Like iZombie, they’re now unafraid to de-emphasize the case of the week, or shake up its formula. It’s still a bit repetitive, but things are not quite so painfully predictable this time around, and the meta-plot is given much more attention.

Season four deals with the aftermath of Chloe discovering that Lucifer has been telling the truth all this time, that he truly is the Devil. As he deals with that, he is reunited with a figure from his past: Eve, the first sinner.

The title character unleashes his demonic strength in season four of LuciferThis could have been another tedious love triangle, and there is some element of that, but mostly this serves as a fascinating of exploration of who Lucifer truly is: an angel, or a demon?

The growth and character development that was so lacking last season is in full force here. Both Lucifer and Chloe evolve a lot over the course of the season, and it makes for a very satisfying arc.

Speaking of Chloe, amazingly she has suddenly metamorphisized into an interesting character. Even Lauren German’s acting seems far better. I don’t know what happened, but I kind of feel bad for all the smack I’ve talked about her in the past. Chloe still isn’t my favourite character on Lucifer, but she does now feel like a real, three-dimensional person who is an asset to the cast.

I was also impressed by how much Amenadiel has evolved. He’s finally worked that stick out of his ass, and he’s become a very likable character.

Linda’s about the same as ever, but she was always perfect just the way she is. Dan and Ella’s stories this season both have potential, but neither of them really gets enough attention or delivers a satisfying pay-off. Ella’s still adorable, though.

All in all, it’s a kickass season.

The good news keeps rolling as Lucifer has already been renewed for a fifth season. This will be the final season, but I think this is about the right time to end it. As I was watching the finale of season four, I was thinking to myself, “This feels like there’s room for about one more season before the story starts getting stale.”

I look forward to it.