Thursday, January 17, 2019

Same Old Song : Astellia

As Mailvatar noted in the comments to the previous post, I do have a lot of MMOs on my desktop right now. Can you ever have enough MMORPGs, though? That's the question. There's always room for one more, isn't there?

A couple of days ago, MassivelyOP reported on a new one to me. I probably should have remembered it - they first featured it back in 2016 - but I didn't. It's yet another Eastern import, coming to us in here the West, this time, from South Korea. It's called Astellia, which is a perfectly functional, -if rather bland - name for what looks to be a standard Eastern take on Western fantasy.

It also just happens to be the name chosen by "a leading provider of network and subscriber intelligence", whose website currently leads the Google search race. If the new MMORPG succeeds in emulating the success of another fairly recent import, Black Desert Online, those rankings could easily change.

On the topic of BDO, while we're talking about it, I patched the game up the other day. I already had a full installation from a few months after the Western launch but to bring it up to date I had to download another 36GB. BDO has had a lot of "expansions" since I've been away. It is, by most reports, thriving.

When I was finally able to log in I found my characters all still where I left them. I'd forgotten I had three. Multiple characters in a particular game is usually a sign that I'm enjoying myself. I did indeed find Black Desert quite compelling for a while.

There's a non-trivial chance I'd find it so again but unfortunately my current installation appears to have a bug that's close to game-breaking: my keyboard doesn't work. When I got into the game I couldn't move or do anything. I stood there by the side of the road and watched horses and carriages pound past me. A giant airship cruised by overhead. I don't remember those being in the game when I last played.

That thing's going to frighten the sheep.

Some fiddling about via the Escape menu eventually got my WASD keys working but that was about it. I can run about and talk to NPCs but not much else. I remembered the way to my cliffside cottage, another indication that I'd been fairly invested in the game at one time. I made my way there and found it exactly as I'd left it.

By this point I was quite keen to carry on playing so I did some research on the bug and tried a number of suggested fixes. None of them worked. If all else fails I can try a full re-install but I can't say I'm looking forward to it so chances are I'll let BDO lie fallow for a while longer.

Anyway, right now I'm patching up Elder Scrolls Online, so I don't have the bandwidth. The ESO patcher doesn't tell me the full size of the download but I'm guessing it's huge because I've been at it for several hours and there's no sign of it stopping. Maybe it'll be ready for the weekend.

I did succeed in getting Dragon Nest installed and patched. It seems to have changed hands yet again. I've lost count of how many different owners and publishers it's had. None of my several previous login IDs worked so I made a new account with the oddly-named Cherry Credits and started over from scratch, yet again. I think that's the fourth time - no, the fifth if I count the mobile version.

Cherry Credits appears to be some kind of Singaporean portal for any number of games. Why I now have to go via Singapore to play a game called Dragon Nest EU beats me but Dragon Nest is worth any amount of hoop-jumping. I think it's probably fair to say it's one of my favorite MMORPGs of all time, now. Maybe one day I'll actually manage to get far enough to find out what's going on in the demented storyline.

Dora Dora Dorah!

With all that re-installing and re-investing going on I probably don't need to be looking to new games to satisfy my craving for "novelty" but I am anyway. What caught my attention about Astellia was the producers' insistence that it's going to be "a Classical MMORPG striving to return the genre to its roots". 

Doubling down on that bold claim, in an interview with MOP, Astellia's Western publisher, Barunson (no, me neither...) goes on to predict that "Astellia is positioned to appeal to players who have enjoyed EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, and other content based MMORPGs". 

The game uses the modern version of the Holy Trinity (Tank, Healer, DPS) and has an old-school PvE/PvP split, with solo and group dungeons, instanced battlegrounds and large-scale, three faction realm versus realm PvPvE. That's quite a list of things I like, if only they're done the way I like them to be done.

What's been somewhat harder to establish is how the controls work. Combat is tab-target but I have yet to ascertain for certain whether it's also hotbar-enabled in what we've learned to call "WoW Style". It doesn't necessarily follow but from this video it certainly looks as though there's a free mouse pointer in play. 

So far, so good, from my perspective, at least. Also, the world looks visually attractive and the characters and animations seem smooth enough. I did a bit more digging and found some comments from people who have played the Korean version. For example: 

"I played a healer (it has defined roles) but found it really mediocre - its not horrible, but its also not anything groundbreaking or amazing. The questing is boring, its hub based - the game just feels like something that belongs in 2005."

"The questing was really bad - kill stuff, pick plants - and always have to run back to the quest guy - no remote turn in - just a bunch of time wasted. The first mount comes in early - I think at level 7 or 8, but even with the mount I felt like I was moving really.... slow... back from one NPC to another to do these mindless quests. The game does have sort of an old-school feel to it but it's nowhere near as good as old school MMORPGs." 

Which is... kind of what I wanted to hear. Not the part about it being not as good as the games it professes to model itself on, obviously, but that it does, in fact, ressemble them to a significant degree.

Something I found significantly more intriguing was this interview. It seems to have been Google-translated, which makes it for a highly, if unintentionally, amusing read but there are also some quite surprising revelations concerning the thoughts and intentions behind the game.
"Q. The composition of the content looks like a game that requires patience, which should last a long time. I wonder how you look at the age group playing this game.
Chung Hyun-tae, CEO: It aims to make sure that a game is convinced, and it is aimed internally and at the 30th and 40th user groups. Of course, it is said that the age group is the same for all ages."

Borrowed from the official website
What this means (it's clarified later in the interview) is that the demographic targeted by the Korean developers is players in their thirties and forties but younger players might enjoy it anyway. The character visuals do play a little younger than the setting suggests but targeting an older audience makes quite a lot of sense when you consider the retro gameplay.

Chung Hyun-tae goes on to say "I want to point out that if you were targeting users of 3:40, you are not focusing heavily on a niche market", by which I interpret him to mean that there are a lot of MMORPG players in that age bracket. And I think that's right. You just don't often hear MMORPG designers admit that their core audience is aging.

Al this and I haven't even mentioned the title's USP, which is the eponymous "Astell Companion System", which consists of  "Dozens of Astels to acquire, level, and build effective support teams that can combo directly with your character based on classes and skills". It's a collectible card game inside an MMORPG, essentially. I remain to be convinced how well that will work but it'll be something different to play around with and learn, which is always fun.

All things considered, I'm not expecting much of Astellia. It's going to be a very odd duck, something of a hybrid throwback, combining WoW-clone era gameplay and design with relatively recent Eastern visuals. It's also likely to have a Buy-to-Play business model. They promise no "Pay to Win" and a relatively inocuous cash shop but we'll see.

I'll probably buy it. I'm not so sure about the "play" part.


  1. The interview snippets were rather interesting, and seemed pretty informed of apparent patterns in MMO gaming - if trends do indeed indicate younger players are more likely to be playing on mobile/console than on PC. Anecdotally, my own younger relatives have played some MMOs with us (mostly GW2 but also some WoW), but they game a lot more on console than on their computers.

    It doesn't sound terrible, a slower pace might be nice if its designed that way from the offset. Playing SWTOR and WoW now I feel you can tell that the games levelling speed is out of whack with the world design, because the devs changed the former after launch. That's a particular problem for anyone who cares the slightest whim about the virtual world you are playing in...

    1. I don't think PC gaming has much of a future. It will carry on as long as the installed base is there, which could be decades, but the center of gaming gravity will move far away. As for Astellia, I don't think it will be anything special but it's one to add to the ever-grwoing list.


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