Title: Asteria
Platform: Windows, Steam

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Survival Sandbox
Players: Single player, Multiplayer


Written by Bad Demoman 26th September 2014
















Asteria is a Sci-fi take on what seems to be a growing genre in recent years – Sandbox Survival (Although many just refer to it as ''Minecraft Clone'' or ''Terraria Clone''). In a genre that seems to attract comparison, and even claims of outright copying, Asteria seems well aware that it bears a striking resemblance to Terraria in particular. Indeed, its website even lists Terraria as ''Friends of Asteria''. But does it bring enough new to the table to remain interesting and fresh?


Games like this are often most fun in multi-player, and so a smooth experience can greatly assist in the enjoyment of the game. Sadly, in my experience, this was not the case. Joined by Whistler, we set out to explore the planet of Asteria. We were brought to a grinding halt immediately by our failure to set up a server. As it turns out, in order to start a server you must launch a file within the games folder itself, with no access to this file through the steam interface. Further aggravating the problem is the complete lack of any mention of this in-game. It really shouldn't be necessary to head over to forums seeking assistance just to find out how to launch a server, even before any technical problems take place. The game does offer a default server, but I've always preferred the idea of a private world for you and your friends to explore, rather than a shared world with people you've never met. The world was exceedingly small in both single player and private server play with no apparent way of changing this, so I'm not even sure how a publicly accessible server would work. This server is seemingly lost to you forever if you ever join another server, as it is password protected. The password is never given to you, instead occupying the ''password'' field the first time you attempt to join a server. I'm sure its available somewhere online (although I could not find it), but surely a server intended to be publicly accessed doesn't need a password?


Finally, we managed to set up a functional server. But before we could begin, we had to create our characters. Well, ''create'' is a slightly optimistic name for it. I'd say its more akin to painting tabletop miniatures, identical to the rest in everything but colour, than creating your an avatar to project yourself into the games environment. It feels almost pointless when all of your identification comes down to what your favourite colour is. It would have been nice to select even slight variations on your armour, maybe even just a different helmet. Instead, you are stuck with one of the most generic sets of armour I've seen. This may have something to do with the fact that this is the first Sandbox Survival game I've ever seen with a set story, following Ryker 241, potentially the last human alive. As the story is introduced entirely through a wall of text when you start up the game, you'll be forgiven for forgetting it exists or simply not caring, as much like the character it forces upon you, the story is bland and generic. Its an interesting attempt at innovation in the genre, but I think that the idea of a storyline clashes slightly with the core aspects that I enjoy from games like this. As I said regarding the public server, I want to go on an adventure with my friends, not with multi coloured clones of a faceless protagonist.


As soon as we entered our server, we were thrust into a tutorial of sorts. It contained no real direction, instruction or anything of the sort, instead relying on the player to put two and two together and work out what the game was trying to introduce you to. It doesn't even give you the controls. What it does do though, is introduce something that will become problematic throughout playing Asteria – Combat and Weaponry. Combat is entirely range based, using arm cannons that can be switched for craftable upgrades as you progress. This conveniently means that every gun, and even every tool has the exact same appearance until fired, where the particle effects may be so kind as to grace you with a new colour of projectile for your hard earned upgrades. The weapons don't feel powerful or satisfying, they completely fit to the description ''Pea Shooter''. This leads to a very stunted sense of progression. In other games, a new weapon would be a very real icon of all the progress you've made. Sure, at the end of the day its just some more numbers added on to your stats. But getting that new weapon you've been striving for is incredibly satisfying, even more so when the result is an awesome looking blade. Its the very thing that keeps so many people playing MMORPGS.

























Later there seems to be variations on the standard pea shooter, but the only one we found was a three shot close range version that was equally unsatisfying, if not more so. Combat on the other hand, is clunky at best. There is no knockback or invincibility frames, so with small enemies and access to only ranged options, you may find yourself brought from full health to zero in a matter of seconds by the simplest mooks the game can offer.


In the ''Tutorial, we received a robot which would lead us to our first dungeon. After the tutorial, we found ourself in an open expanse of land of randomly generated land. Finding little else to do, we dug down to the first dungeon, lead on by our robot. This is where the random content ends. It turns out that the dungeons are pre-set. The same in every world. Terraria manages to do randomly generated dungeons extremely well, with areas like the Jungle seamlessly integrating the digging with exploration of a themed area, while less digging intensive areas like the Temple offering trap-filled tenseness and still utilizing all of your tools other than digging. This, all achieved with random generation. Back to Asteria, you would think that if the dungeons are going to be pre-set, they would at least offer a well designed platforming challenge. This is not the case. The first dungeon almost seemed randomly generated, with how randomly placed a lot of elements seemed, but multiple play throughs on different instances have confirmed this is not the case. The objective is to navigate through, fighting enemies and finding hypercubes containing valuable resources. It seems to be attempting to capture a metroidvania-esque experience, but exploration does not feel particularly rewarded. In single player, the dungeons have a life based system where after a certain amount of deaths, you will be forcibly ejected back to the entry point. This made certain areas extremely frustrating as non-telegraphed and almost unavoidable traps were commonplace. It is, however, removed in multi-player, meaning very little risk is ever presented upon death. Nothing is ever lost. It misses balance completely, where in once case death is to be avoided at all cost, and in another it barely even matters.

After beating the boss of the first dungeon (whose strategy consisted of spewing projectiles and spawning minions, and was entirely uninteresting),

we were rewarded with a component to make a better mining device.
























This is when I realized the games open ended, sandbox nature is a farce. You see, when you dig too far down, you are greeted with impenetrable materials. The only way to get past this material was with better mining tools, and the only way to get better mining tools is to beat bosses. The next dungeon is seemingly always on the next elevation level, requiring a better mining tool. Any freedom is immediately removed – the top side world is merely an in between point, a hub world to the next dungeon. You can only go where the game wants you to at the time. This would be acceptable, but still not great, if it wasn't so ridiculously difficult to locate the next dungeon. We had to craft more dungeon finding robots, at which point we discovered they zoomed off faster than you could dig over long distances. It took a lot longer to find the second dungeon than the first, and our time outside of the dungeon honestly felt like a waste. We would soon discover that the second dungeon really was not worth finding.


The second dungeon consisted of a castle brimming with traps. Incredibly cheap traps. Drops into lava, spikes that blended into walls and long treks to find switches with difficult to determine functions. Particularly annoying in this dungeon was the platforming. While the platforming was already slidy and fairly unresponsive, it was made worse by the fact that it was incredibly difficult to tell what was a platform, and what was simply part of the background. Infact, Whistler claimed that the background was ''legitimately hurting [his] eyes''. On multiple occasions, I made a leap of faith for what I thought was progress, only to fall face first into a pit. Other times I thought down was the only option, only to discover a nigh-invisible platform that led up. I cant imagine what this would have been like with the lives system of single player.



























The enemies in this area are also very annoying. One type in particular was a small flying type of enemy that was quite difficult to hit. Combined with the lack of knockback or invincibility frames, these enemies were some of the biggest threats. It should be mentioned that up until now, something seemed...off about enemy design. Something just seemed so familiar about so many of them. They were almost reminiscent of enemies from another 2D platforming exploration game with a arm cannon wielding power armored protagonist. Then this happened.

























We were rushing through at this point. We wanted this done as soon as possible. At the end, we had another uninteresting boss to face, with a similar strategy to the previous one. We ended up tanking the boss through liberal use of healing items, as there seemed to be no cooldown on using them. Defeating the boss felt incredibly unsatisfying, as there had been no strategy involved whatsoever.


Its not all bad of course, there’s features in here that I really like. The game really seemed to be trying its absolute hardest to one up Terraria in certain aspects, because the description of the game on its own website seemed focussed on a few points that were seemingly minor upgrades to the system used by Terraria. The mining, performed using a mining gun of sorts rather than a pickaxe, is admittedly faster than Terraria, but is held back by the inaccuracy of the tool. Often long mining shafts were halted by single blocks of dirt that the gun had missed. The inventory system was pretty nice, especially considering the Terraria inventory system has been considered clunky. Asteria allows infinite stacking of items, which means inventory is not clogged with multiple stacks of dirt blocks. Inventory space is really big, I never even came close to reaching a full inventory. Weapons and tools can be assigned to both left click and right click, allowing a quick transition between mining and fighting. Also appreciated was the return to base function in the pause menu. In a recent play through of Terraria, me and my friends didn't find the item required to teleport back to base for a very long time, and our returning mechanism was limited solely to intentional death. Finally, a function that we never had to use, but I can see its usefulness. Terrain can be locked, allowing it to become indestructible, preventing griefing by destruction of your house.


After the second dungeon Whistler and I agreed that we were pretty done with this game. Frustration levels were far too high, and the pay off was far too low. It can be said that games like this can improve considerably towards the end, but I was not willing to go through with the many flaws and annoyances that were put in my way to block me from what was very probably more of the same. If you're interested in playing this game and haven't played Terraria, I strongly recommend Terraria instead. Its pretty cheap. If you loved Terraria and look to this game as more to sate your hunger, you've already played better. This game will instead leave you incredibly unsatisfied.



Pros:   

Inventory system has some nice features, like infinite stacking,

Mining is fast once you get used to it,

Anti-griefing systems in place.


Cons:   

Generic, lackluster story,

Clunky combat,

Forced progression in a world presented as non-linear,

Obnoxious level design in dungeons.



Final verdict,

Whilst it tries to one up on Terraria, Asteria falls short with a 4/10.


Written by,

Bad Demoman


















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