When Hilda’s family member doesn’t return from a mission with the Northwind Legion, she seeks permission from the King to travel to Aphes and bring him back. She finds herself in a land where a cruel curse is spreading through the populace, turning everyday people into mysterious beings that crave the rapidly depleting magical ‘starite’ as sustenance. To break their curse, stave off hunger and spare precious resources for others, many people are undertaking a cultist ritual which turns them into monsters. These monsters are then minionized and weaponised in a seemingly somewhat political war of wills.
On the surface, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking Asterigos: CotS has vibes akin to games such as Zelda in its style, and Dark Souls or Monster Hunter in its execution. Fans of both will likely enjoy this, either as an amped-up Zelda or a more laid-back Dark Souls. I’ve taken to calling it “Baby Dark Souls,” and I mean absolutely no disrespect by it.
The tropes we’ve come to expect from Souls-like games are all present; re-spawn points by way of shrines, collecting starite from fallen enemies which act as your currency, enemies that don’t respawn until you rest at a shrine, hard-hitting bosses whose attacks you must learn to read, a rich storytelling environment, labyrinthine maps encouraging deeper exploration…
But it also leans far enough away that doesn’t leave new players to the genre completely out of their depth. There are three difficulty modes, but even the easiest won’t save you from the strongest boss – fall damage. Levelling up is taken care of as and when you gain enough XP, with the player allocating more points to a couple of stats. There is also a skill tree giving you more combat abilities to use with your upgradable weapons.
Storytelling is overtly delivered, in many forms, from dialogue trees, environmental decor, and “Echoes” – an ethereal and temporal recording of space and time where you can witness events of the past as they happened.
They help in a big way, as the storylines are entangled within webs of lies and deceit. With each passing quest, Hilda is drawn more deeply into being told to stay out of things and yet finds herself smack bang in the middle of them. A cast of secretive, sneaky, and sly characters suggest you’re probably being used and can’t be sure if you’re really on the “right side” of things. Sure, having a city of monsters is bad for tourism, but when you consider that they are simply people seeking an escape from a maddening existence, and order amongst the chaos, you can’t help but feel a little bad for whirling in and cutting everything down.
Most enemies can be quickly dispatched in a few well-timed hits, but the bosses and larger enemies require some strategy. Thankfully if your current build choices aren’t working out for you, you can quickly select another weapon or even completely re-spec Hilda to take advantage of perks from other ability branches.
The only downside I can see to this is that you may have spent considerable time looking for weapon upgrades and using them to attune your favourite weapons for your play style, potentially putting you at a damage disadvantage if you were to swap builds from one to another you hadn’t upgraded. There are also consumable items such as bombs and throwing knives which can be used to draw out an enemy from a group or do some bonus damage from a distance. The combat system is simple enough to use to quickly launch devastating attacks, and invincibility frames help miss some otherwise heavy hits.
For me, Asterigos really gets the juices flowing when exploring the locations. Similarly to From Software games, almost the entire map is connected as a whole. It is in places atmospheric, dark, sometimes heavy and close, while wider open areas give a sense of personality to the world and game. People that love the From Software catalogue will find Asterigos has a similar vibe, the environments recall oppressive memories teaching us to beware of dangers lurking around every corner, but to also pay careful attention to your surroundings in a more educational manner.
I can also see that Asterigos would catch the eye of speed runners, challenge runners and streamers as they equipped cursed items, don’t spend any attribute points and set it to the maximum difficulty for bragging rights.
There’s fun in poking around and unlocking shortcuts and pathways, and the boss enemies are thoughtfully tough with their own mechanics which makes each big fight a challenge until you figure out the patterns. The graphics are crisp, too. The only small downsides I experienced were spelling mistakes in words which didn’t make sense, and to be honest, they reminded me I was playing an indie game. The overall quality of the game can’t be argued, though, despite the occasional frame rate drop during certain enemy movements or attacks, and the background music sometimes drowning out the spoken dialogue.
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought it was going to, and I think the people who find the Souls games too intimidating might find a pleasant challenge without the jaw-clenching intensity.
tinyBuild’s Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is out now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, Xbox One, and PC. Developed by Acme gamestudio.