Astor: Blade of the Monolith Review – Variations on a Theme

Astor: Blade of the Monolith Review

Astor: Blade of the Monolith is the game equivalent of fast food. There are better, more satisfying, and original options out there, but it gets the job done. It’s an attractive, colorful, and pleasant enough action RPG, just don’t expect much more than surface-level enjoyment. 

Astor might not be a game you’ll obsessively return to, plumbing its depths and variety, but playing it is fun enough. Astor rings many nostalgic bells, especially for somewhat older gamers with fond memories of their PS2s. Its gameplay is a little basic, and its story is a little undercooked but that doesn’t translate into a bad time any more than it did back in the day. And it certainly looks worlds’ better than any PS2 or 3 game ever did. 

Another Day, Another World to Save

OK, enough prologue. Told through a well-voiced narrator but no spoken dialogue, Astor is about a hero trying to save one group of people from the threat of monsters while uncovering the mysteries surrounding why he has been chosen. If that sounds to you like the story setup for literally every action RPG ever, you’re right. The question is whether Astor (the game) spins the tale in a new way. 

Astor begins his journey exploring some archeological ruins on the planet Gliese before falling onto a newly discovered sword, a magical weapon that he uses to fight through the tutorial level, learn the game’s basic moves, and reach the open world. The tutorial teaches Astor some familiar ARPG mechanics like light and heavy attacks, blocks, parries, and roll dodges. Dark Souls it isn’t. There’s a bit of sluggishness to Astor’s movement, but landing a good hit or parry is pretty satisfying, and the Runic Swarm special abilities are fun to use. One thing players will want to change immediately is the weirdly atypical button assignment on controllers to another, more familiar option.

The player learns that the Diokek — the race of magical creatures to which Astor belongs — is under threat from creatures called the Hiltsik. The Diokek live in a cozy hub village and area called Crystal Haven. Overall, Astor’s art design is one of its strengths. The colorful, varied landscapes and masked creatures strike a balance between literal detail and cartoony cuteness. Some of the game is more open-world, allowing Astor to freely explore. Other sections are a bit more linear in design. There’s plenty of variety in the world. 

A Mechanic by Any Other Name

Nearly every action RPG uses narrative quests to guide the player to the next combat encounter or encourage exploration. For many players, the story takes a distant back seat to wailing on enemies. That’s certainly true of Astor, which guides the player on a series of pretty standard kill-and-fetch quests out in the world. Translation: don’t expect a ton of innovation in Astor’s quest design. While nearly all the environments are attractive to look at, some of them are pretty empty of content.

Astor: Blade of the Monolith doesn’t have a lot of original ideas. It borrows and refashions mechanics from other ARPGs, but mostly the grab-bag of systems work together well. Aside from the expected melee weapons, ranged weapons, and magic, Astor can use an ability to see the world through a magic lens. This allows Astor to see hidden paths, doors and solve environmental puzzles. It’s a cool idea, maybe not totally original, but implemented well.

Impatient or experienced ARPG players will balk at Astor’s deliberate pace, especially at the beginning. Following the tutorial, the game takes its sweet time in the narrative-heavy hub area before sending the player back out into the world. On one hand, it makes players attend to the story and lore. On the other hand, antsy players will be incentivized to just click through it.

Target Audience

I’ve focused a lot on the theme of Astor’s reliance on established tropes, but sometimes a comfortingly familiar game with pleasant aesthetics and appealing action totally fits the bill. Although I reviewed it on PC, I can see Astor: Blade of the Monolith being perfectly at home on the Switch.

Astor: Blade of the Monolith is a great introduction to the Soulslike mechanics that dominate ARPGs right now. I can see it appealing to younger or novice gamers. It’s family-friendly, colorful, and pretty satisfying to play. More hardcore action fans will probably find it too familiar and not quite as polished as their favorites. Overall, Astor: Blade of the Monolith brings together a collection of tried-and-true mechanics in a pretty satisfying way.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Colorful, appealing art
  • Familiar action
  • All ages friendly

The Bad

  • Pacing issues
  • Undercooked narrative
  • A bit unoriginal