I’ve seen Asterigos: Curse of the Stars referred to as a Soulslike a fair bit, but while it does share a few similarities with the sub-genre made famous by FromSoftware, it’s actually closer in execution to a more traditional action-adventure. Yes, some of it is quite tough and the combat is reliant on stamina management and dodging or parrying, but it’s a much more accessible title than most games that proudly display that moniker. Maybe Souls-lite is more appropriate.
It follows a young woman called Hilda, a largely untried warrior of the Northwind Legion. Its world is one roughly analogous with the time of the Roman conquest, featuring twists on Roman or Greek gods and legends. Something has gone terribly wrong in the once mighty city of Aphes, and it falls to Hilda and her group of, quite frankly, more qualified allies to put it right. It’s a bit of a strange story, in truth, when most of the people on Hilda’s side are powerful warriors or magicians who happily let a teenage girl face down huge boss monsters and the might of an entire corrupted city.
Still, this is where Hilda finds herself and it’s not a bad set-up for an adventure game like this. The world is pretty well-realised, the writing and delivery are surprisingly tight, and there’s an awful lot going on under the hood too. For a smaller developer, Acme Gamestudio have done a pretty impressive job here.
Hilda is armed with six different weapons right off the bat thanks to the scabbard she carries. There’s a sword and shield, twin daggers, a huge hammer, a spear, and a magical staff or bracers. You can equip any combination of two at a given time, and will upgrade them by visiting a vendor in the hub. Being able to switch whenever you like is a nice touch, as each comes with its own set of combos and special abilities. The spear can parry attacks, for example, while the daggers are great for sneak attacks, and the staff acts like a magical ranged weapon.
Special moves are unlocked as you progress and mapped to the face buttons plus Right Bumper (on an Xbox controller). These aren’t tied to one weapon in particular, allowing for some decent diversity once you have a few available. Hilda will also unlock the ability to switch between elemental states, imbuing her attacks with all weapons with a given element. This is easily changed with push of a button (well, two) and can be changed during combat to give you an advantage.
Unlike other Soulslikes you don’t have a flask with a finite number of chugs in it, and can collect Salves to replace your health and energy. There are also bombs and throwing knives, among other things, to equip, and attributes and skill points to spend on an expansive skill tree tied to the weapons you’re using. It all creates an action game with surprising depth, that never feels too punishing. You will return to the last rest point when you fall, but won’t lose currency or XP. Enemies will respawn, but it never, ever feels oppressive.
That said, this isn’t a “baby’s first Soulslike” either. There are over 20 bosses to face through the story, and each one is a challenge. I didn’t struggle much, but nor was it a walk in the park. As you develop Hilda’s abilities, you’ll also travel back and forth to the Shelter, a hub where you can collect new missions, buy items, upgrade your gear, or chat to various NPCs. The story is pretty decent, and Hilda is an easy character to warm to. She isn’t obnoxious, cocky, or overconfident; she’s just very earnest and determined to free Aphes and learn what happened to her father’s missing Legion.
She does this by piecing together past events from Echoes, magical imprints of prior conversations or meetings. Each one gives her further clues, or leads back to characters in the Shelter who can help her. There’s no map to follow, and so it’s not always clear where to go or what to do, and usually the folk in the Shelter will aid Hilda in her quest. A map probably wouldn’t have gone amiss here, though. More than once I had no idea how to even get to the next mission area, and there’s very little to help you find your way.
Asterigos: Curse of the Stars isn’t particular striking, but the environments are well drawn and the cartoony art-style suits the world. It looks something like a cross between Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Immortals: Fenyx Rising, though lacks the grandeur of either. It’s nicely animated, though, with enemy design that constantly reminded me of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It runs very well on my PC though, and I even played a fair bit on Steam Deck with no noticeable issues.
There’s only a few areas where the cracks really show. Combat, for example, is fluid and entertaining, but most standard enemies can be taken out with the same combos and little forethought. Also, the jump mechanic is needlessly awkward, requiring you to hold RB and press B while moving when one button would have been adequate. I can’t work out why they did it this way, nor why the jump itself feels so clumsy and unresponsive. More often than not I failed a jump when I should have just been able to hop across a gap.
Ultimately, what let’s Asterigos: Curse of the Stars down is, ironically, its desire to be seen as a Soulslike. Almost every negative aspect is as a result of forcing mechanics that needn’t even feature. It doesn’t need respawning enemies, for example, or an ungainly jump mechanic. It doesn’t even need stamina management, since the stamina bar is so lenient I rarely noticed it. It would also benefit greatly from just having a map – or at least some navigation pointers. Some of the environments can feel a little samey, and without unique landmarks and the kind of intuitive level design for which From is famous, this can lead to running in circles a little too often.
Despite these complaints, though, Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is an excellent adventure game. It has a likeable protagonist, an interesting world, and satisfying combat with enough depth to keep you tinkering with gear and skills for the duration. If Acme Gamestudio had a little more confidence in their own product, they might have avoided shoe-horning in elements that ultimately hamper the experience – and yet, even as it stands, this is easily one of the better adventure games of 2022. If you fancy a bit of Souls-lite action with a little more accessibility, Asterigos: Curse of the Stars comes highly recommended.
Solid character progression
Could use a navigation aid
Jumping is awkward