Astor: Blade of the Monolith review — Astor’s Awakening

Action RPGs can be a dime a dozen. For every Breath of the Wild, you find an Oceanhorn that might imitate it well, but isn’t the same. I don’t mean to open this review negatively, but that is the case in a lot of platform storefronts. What you have to do is catch someone’s eye for a good reason, and when I encountered a trailer for Astor: Blade of the Monolith at the ID@Xbox Showcase IGN hosted last month, I was very interested in what C2 Game Studio was putting together. After playing it, this game is no mere copy, although it does borrow plenty of elements you’ve seen before.

The story begins with the titular character Astor finding his way into some ruins with his friend. Upon investigating an odd object, Astor is endued with a blade and special abilities that he uses to fend off enemy creatures known as the Hiltsik, who come after them during this task. Once our hero is into the world, he finds his life isn’t the same, and with an ancient prophecy at his back, learns about his and his people’s history.

Astor: Blade of the Monolith - First 21 minutes of gameplay on PS5

This is a tale that has some very interesting twists and turns, but one that I found a bit shallow. While we learn a lot about the Diokek, the doll-like creatures who have somehow achieved sentience through wooden masks, and the Makers that came before them, we never learn much about the current world and characters. The focus on the past is fine, but I would have loved to have learned more about the Diokek that had supported me throughout the narrative. That said, it is an intriguing and unique idea, something we don’t see enough of in the genre.

Because of the lack of focus, most characters not named Astor feel underdeveloped. You don’t spend a lot of time with them, and even when they pop up it’s just because they’re necessary to further the plot, whether narratively or to help you get to the next area. There’s a specific moment where I believe the writer thought they’d created more of a connection with a certain character, but it rings a bit hollow because we never get to know that character well enough to drive that emotional reaction. I felt it a little more in a second way that they approached the character, but by then it seemed a little too late.

I do have to tip my hat on one of the ways the story is presented, a narrator. A woman with a pleasing voice describes lore and the current predicament as you go along, and if anything I wanted more of it. This game is perfect for that style of storytelling, a bit of a missed opportunity to lean even heavier in a direction that worked well.

While the story does take a backseat, it’s only because there are a plethora of locations to explore. This is a highlight for Astor: Blade of the Monolith, with several unique biomes that are incredibly pretty in this art style. That’s a lot of what appealed to me in the trailer, and it doesn’t disappoint. The cold and snowy mountain, the grassy valleys, the rocky caverns of the Crystal Haven that serve as your hub, all great examples of someone diving into the design and putting in a lot of effort. I could use a little more depth when it comes to asset work, like when there are a few tufts of grass that either need friends or to not even be there, but overall the beauty of the world is a huge plus in Astor: Blade of the Monolith. C2 Game Studio switching up the biomes regularly through the story makes good use of them as well.

Of course, a great world to explore does you no good if the gameplay doesn’t work, and it largely does here. With a subtitle like Blade of the Monolith, you’d assume you get some form of sword or knife, and you’d be right. Astor starts with a sword – with quick hack-and-slash combat – and I like the combinations and abilities available. Fighting with the menagerie of enemies is a lot of fun (with a good amount of variation between grunts, mini-bosses, and bosses), and Astor is fun to control, hopping around, dodging, parrying, and kicking butt all over the place. It can be a bit repetitive, but at its core it’s enjoyable.

What I wasn’t expecting was plenty of runic abilities on the side, as well as a long range blast and three additional weapons you earn as you go through the story. Two of these are linked to accessing certain areas in a Zelda-like fashion, and eventually are good weapons to use. I say it that way because you earn these a bit late in the game, and by that time you’ve put so much into the sword it’s tough to walk away from it, given the extra damage upgrades I’d dropped my tokens into. I finally did, but even then it was for the second weapon (a pair of rock gauntlets), that hit hard. The other two, the hammer and spear, also felt a little slow comparatively; I’d imagine my faster paced, “dodge over parry” style of play factored in a bit.

There are two abilities you get later on that I’m a bit confused as to why: double jumping and sprinting. To a degree I can understand the sprint, especially with the mount giving you something to work with early on, but the double jump is frustrating. The platforming in Astor isn’t very good, and the absence of this ability makes it worse. Even when you get it, I’d call platforming below average, but it does help.

The runic abilities were something I glossed over originally, but had a blast once I figured them out. These amount to “magic” attacks, but are varied in a fun way. You unlock them by doing challenges in the world, and I had everything from dropping a big block on someone’s head to bringing a robot golem in to help me, to stirring up a whirlwind. The recharge on them is pretty generous as well, and they’re decently powerful.

While these side challenges have good rewards, I can’t say the rest of the side missions are that engaging. Astor: Blade of the Monolith is a semi-open world, with certain areas that are pretty large and some strictly linear based missions. In the open world you can search for stamina and health upgrades, tokens for upgrades, or do small tasks for Diokek villagers. Nothing is much more than fetching items or clearing out Hiltsik, so the open world feels somewhat padded. You even get a mount part way through, which I forgot about given it’s a bit pointless unless you’re taking the time to look under every rock.

On the performance side, everything has handled well. I haven’t noticed any stuttering in frame rate, and it’s running at a good 60fps. That said, there’s no doubt this is an indie game. Some of the audio is extremely low quality, and I had one moment while in an underground temple where the sound of the cavern beginning to collapse wouldn’t stop, and it was so loud it made the rest of that level (close to half of it) rough. The UX design is also very basic, with menus and upgrade trees that are not aesthetically pleasing. This doesn’t impact the experience, but it could be better.

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David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.



Astor: Blade of the Monolith

Review Guidelines

While it doesn’t rewrite the history books of gaming, Astor: Blade of the Monolith is a solid first outing for C2 Game Studio. The combination of a great combat loop with fantastic visuals is a winner, and although the story is a bit devoid of substance, is still an entertaining tale. This is certainly a game the devs can build upon, with potential shining through.

David Burdette

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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