Press about Astonia

April 24th, 2002

Astonia 3 First Impressions

We venture into German developer Intent Software's new fantasy-based online world of Aston for a hands-on look.

The followers of the great deity Ishtar led by Emperor Seyan XI have been murdered, along with all of the elite Seyan'Du warriors. Usually, the city of Aston would be guarded by Ishtar himself, yet a deed of great importance, the creation of the Labyrinth Quest, called him away from the city for a short time. This task is of great importance, as it will empower those who solve it to fight alongside him and fulfill his works. Astonia is then sacked by Demons who take advantage the divinity's absence, leaving the once great capital in ruins. Upon completion of the Quest, Ishtar returns to Aston to find the city almost completely destroyed. Fearing that his evil Adversary has awakened and is behind the Demonic attacks, he now offers training in the Arts to anyone willing to aid him in vanquishing the One behind them. This sets the stage for Astonia 3, a medieval fantasy online world developed by German-based Intent Software. After experiencing over 20 hours of gameplay with a Warrior character and a few hours with a Mage, we are pleased to give you our first impressions of Astonia 3.

The Astonia 3 client is free with a download with a size of around 25 MB, which makes it very reasonable to acquire for those with 56k connections or even below. Upon opening an account, you receive a one-month free trial of the game. If you decide you would like to keep playing Astonia 3, there is a monthly fee of $9.95 US that is comparable to most current persistent state world titles. The minimum system specs of a 300mhz processor with a 4MB graphics card and a 14.4 kBit modem to play Astonia 3 make this game very accessible for individuals with lower-end computer systems.

Playing the game on an Athlon 850 mhz with 256MB Ram and a 32MB Nvidia Geforce 2 MX with a 56k connection has been excellent overall. There are certain times however, when lag did become a problem, such as when lots of characters are on the screen, or when entering a dungeon area that has many animated graphics. The login screen for the game does offer some relief in the form of various options to increase performance if necessary. In the event that you become disconnected, which has been rare in my case, the client will automatically reconnect you to the server. This is a great feature that makes disconnects much less of a hassle, as it usually takes mere seconds to be reconnected.

After downloading Astonia 3, you can then create an account with up to 25 characters. Players can choose between male and female human characters with two class choices available, Warrior and Mage. Warriors are said to be an easier path compared to Mages, who don't seem to grow powerful until higher levels. Interestingly, the initial character creation process is completely web-based, consisting of simply choosing a name, gender and class. As far as customizing the outward appearance of your character, each gender, class and weapon type all have distinct looks, yet different armors and clothing do not show up on the characters when equipped. Despite the lack of armor options, the color of your character's hair, as well as the color of the torso armor and leggings of each character can be changed at any time with keyboard commands.

All physical statistics and skill levels of your character can be raised individually as you gain experience. Each attribute and skill has its own experience gauge, which is independent of the overall level meter for your character and players may raise them at any time as they gain experience. This skill-based advancement allows for a great deal of customization in developing your characters, as you may choose to raise only those aspects upon which you wish to focus. While characters do advance in levels, their true power seems to be more closely tied to how the players choose to develop them by allocating the experience they gain.

Upon choosing a character and first logging into the game you will find yourself in the town of Cameron, where you will immediately be given instructions for your first quest. These have very plentiful so far through the first 20 levels. Besides having to kill monsters in order to retrieve items for NPCs, the range of tasks also encompasses puzzle elements like mazes, locked doors that need the appropriate keys, lethal traps that must be avoided and other interactive objects. The quests are fun to figure out and worthwhile to pursue since they can give considerable amounts of experience and lead your character toward opponents appropriate to its level. While the creatures along the routes can usually be safely attacked one at a time, there are also occasional areas with multiple opponents and boss encounters that present more of a challenge.

In addition, Astonia 3 offers an even better avenue for gaining experience quickly. Commonly referred to as "Penting" by players, Pentagram Quest areas become available for characters around level nine and up. Inside them, players meet hordes of demons that spawn from pentagrams on the ground and on walls. Touching a pentagram causes it to change colors and to cease spawning while the player who triggered it receives a small amount of experience. The quest is completed when a player touches the pentagram with a lucky number, which is randomly generated and based upon the total number of activated pentagrams. At this point, all the pentagrams are renewed and all players receive experience from each pentagram they touch. The solving player is also awarded a large amount of experience. Pentagram Quests leave little reason for camping single-monster spawns, as penting gives players the ability to amass far greater experience as they vanquish hundreds of demons while at the same time playing a fun and gripping type of experience lottery.

As you would expect from the system requirements, the graphics in Astonia 3 are certainly not reflective of leading edge technology. However, the creature and combat animations are fairly good, and some map areas can surprise you with their levels of detail. The above ground area in Astonia, which is comprised of two towns with some forest and swamp areas, is not very big compared to other online world settings, but the amount of underground content, especially for the quest areas is very impressive and quite diverse. Some examples are mines where players can dig for metal bars used to enhance items, earth, fire and ice dungeon themes as well as crypts inhabited by Vampires. There is a night and day cycle with darkness denoted by pitch black areas on the map and torches can be equipped by your character to illuminate the ground.

The interface of Astonia 3 is very straightforward. The inventory, skills, equipment slots, level meter and chat box are fixed in place. While this means the gameplay area occupies quite a bit less than the full screen, it is very easy to use in that all the necessary information about your character is always immediately available. The inventory gives you a generous number of slots for items ranging from loot to useful potions and there is no weight limit imposed on characters, which makes frequent trips to the shopkeeper NPC's to buy or sell items much less of a necessity. The chat box has six different channels, all of which can be joined or turned off; they range from general Gossip to Game Info. This area also offers the ability to speak to characters in your immediate vicinity, to shout and to send individual tells to players from anywhere in the game world.

Combat in Astonia 3 is also quite straightforward. Hostile opponents will usually attack when you come within close range and characters will automatically fight back when provoked. Finding appropriate opponents is very easy, since all characters and creatures have Roman numerals fixed above their heads that show their levels. While most of the creatures encountered so far attack on sight, some of them keep safely away from your character in order to cast spells from a distance. In this case, pressing control on the keyboard and left-clicking on the target will cause your character to pursue it. Mages are able to use ranged magical attacks and have access to eight different spells, which are cast by holding the Alt key and pressing numbers 1 through 8.

Astonia 3 gives players the option of player-killing by way of a keyboard command that allows players to turn on PK status. Choosing this option allows you to add the names of other PKs within three levels of their own to a hate list. Those so named can then be freely attacked, while non-PKs are always safe. Player killers may reverse status by using the PK command again, but only if they haven't yet killed another player since turning on PK status or during the past four weeks. There are also dueling areas available where players of any level may attack each other without losing items or saves.

When your character dies, the outcome is determined by whether you have a save available. One save is awarded whenever your character reaches a new level, and up to 10 may be retained at any one time. These are used up with each character death, allowing your character to respawn with all items and experience intact. Dying without a save leaves a corpse with all your character's items and also causes the loss of some experience. In both instances, the character will re-appear at the last spawn point it walked over, denoted with a blue square. Playerkillers will lose items upon death, but not experience. Healing potions are available to help safeguard against death and there are also expensive recall scrolls that can be used at any time to provide safe transport back to a spawn point.

Since the developers felt it would lead to exploits, there is no ability to group with other players in order to share experience from hunting. However, Astonia 3 does support player guilds called Clans. These require players to pay Jewels once every real-time week in order to keep them together. These Jewels spawn every real-time day on pedestals in dungeons that are usually very well hidden. They also deteriorate quickly unless kept in a Clan Vault inside the Clan Halls, guild buildings accessible by transporters are found in each town, that are also paid for with Jewels. Warring clans may attack each other's hall and attempt to steal the Jewels from the opponent's Vault. NPC guards can also be hired to help defend the halls.

Astonia 3 also has some interesting features that help to prevent unattended macroing and in-game harassment of players. All players start with a zero Karma rating that can never be raised. Those caught breaching any of the regulations found on the game's site can have Karma taken away. A score of minus12 results in the player's account being locked. Such individuals may appeal to game management. In addition, an interesting character, the NPC Macro Daemon will also show up at random times in the game to make sure forestall unattended macroing by asking characters simple math equations. Players have five minutes to respond before they are punished and receive negative Karma.

Overall, the smaller online world of Astonia 3 has impressed me with its large amount of content, especially in the way of quests. It is one of the few online worlds I've played where the major motivation for advancing my character has been to see what the next quest will be. There are 120 levels for characters to attain with higher-level goals such as becoming an Arch Mage or Warrior, as well as a quest to become a hybrid called a Seyan'Du. Professions have also been recently added, enabling higher-level characters to specialize further in certain skills including trade-type ones such as Mining and Alchemy. While the graphics of Astonia 3 do not compare with those of many other titles, the game makes up for its lack of spectacular visuals by furnishing lots to do. Pentagram Quests, while repetitive are rather compelling and offer an excellent alternative to spawn camping. With three cities planned in addition to the two that are currently available, I am certainly anxious to see how Astonia 3 evolves with even more content.

John 'Valandil' Keeler