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Astral Ascent

Astral Ascent

Written by Russell Archey on 11/27/2023 for PC  
More On: Astral Ascent

Last year I checked out the early access version of Astral Ascent, a “procedural platformer RPG hybrid with roguelike elements” where you play as Ayla, one of several people who was plucked from their lives and sent to The Garden. The Garden may look nice but it’s actually a prison that’s run by twelve guardians known as the Zodiacs.  \The ultimate goal is to escape by making your way through several worlds while defeating The Zodiacs but that’s not an easy task, at least not at first. 

For centuries the galaxy had been shaken by an endless war led by The Master. The Master’s armies invade various planets before The Master arrives and selects a handful of survivors from among the smartest and the strongest. The rest are given an option: obey or die. The prisoners are then scattered in astral prisons that are guarded by twelve guardians known as The Zodiacs. Ayla’s mission is to infiltrate the central prison known as The Garden, defeat the Zodiacs, and eliminate The Master.

You begin as Ayla but can unlock other characters along the way, each with their own unique abilities and spells. Astral Ascent does have two player co-op, meaning you can attempt to escape with a friend right from the start. Also at your disposal is a basic attack, a signature move, and a dash to help evade enemies. Each world is made up of several areas that you have to complete before fighting one of the Zodiacs. You’ll encounter various enemies and obstacles as you make your way through these areas, and after each you’ll be given a choice of a couple of areas to proceed to next, each with their own challenges, difficulty, and rewards. 

These rewards range from Quartz (a currency used to purchase new spells and perks during the current attempt), Gambits to enhance your spells, keys to unlock temporary upgrades, and more. You’ll occasionally come across new spells you can equip to replace your starting spells, as well as restoration crystals you can use to heal yourself a bit at any time as long as you have one (you can have up to five to restore a good amount of your health). Keep in mind that everything you gain during an attempt is temporary so feel free to spend some resources to keep yourself alive as long as possible.

Spells are a big part of Astral Ascent for a couple of reasons. You have four that you’ll rotate through as you use them (which costs mana) and once all four have been used they’ll all refresh for you to use again. While the four you start out with are all the same spell with an open Gambit slot, you’ll be able to find and purchase different spells throughout your escape attempt. 

You can add Gambits to your spells to customize them further adding effects or extra damage. In addition, enemies will give a warning as to where they’ll attack giving you time to dodge and fire off your spells from a safe distance. The Zodiacs do this as well, and while they’re naturally more difficult than your standard enemies, their attacks are all pattern based meaning once you know how to dodge them you shouldn’t have too much difficulty in defeating them. You can cast spells as long as you have mana which is replaced as you deal damage with your basic attack, so feel free to go all out with your spells.

At some point you are going to die, but death isn’t permanent. Upon dying you’ll gain experience points and some sun pieces depending on how much progress you made. After arriving back at The Garden you can visit with the other residents to learn more about them and The Garden itself as well as purchase some upgrades using the sun pieces. Sun pieces can be used to purchase permanent upgrades to your stats and can open up new spells to find during your escape attempts depending on your character’s current level. Anything purchased with sun pieces is permanent and is how you can improve yourself to progress further and further on each subsequent attempt.

If you happen to defeat a Zodiac during a prior attempt you can have the opportunity to win their favor for use in escape attempt. Gaining their favor isn’t too difficult provided you can complete their challenge which differs between the Zodiacs. Getting the opportunity to have them help you is another story.  If you win their favor you’ll see a gauge under your health bar that will fill up as you use your spells.

Once filled, you can activate it to have that Zodiac assist you in some way. This is useful when dealing with the other Zodiacs (you even get an interesting conversation between the boss Zodiac and the “friendly” Zodiac), but it takes quite a while to fill the gauge. If you’re still in your early escape attempts, it might be a while before you can actually activate it. You’ll also eventually unlock a device known as the Telluric Telescope which let’s you choose one of three bonuses during a certain period of time before they reset, aiding you further in each escape attempt.

I enjoyed Astral Ascent back when I first previewed it in Early Access and I’m still enjoying it now. The controls are nice and tight, and while there are a lot of things to remember, especially while battling enemies and the Zodiacs, after a couple of runs you’ll be able to use spells in combination with your signature move and basic attacks while dashing around dodging enemies with ease. 

The graphics and animation look great and all of the PCs and NPCs are fully voiced. With multiple playable characters unlockable with their own spells and abilities, there’s a lot of replayability with Astral Ascent. This is helped by the fact that any permanent upgrades you purchase with one character carries over to the others. I did a lot of my playing with Ayla but when I wanted to experiment with Kiran a bit, I essentially lost no progress.

I tend to enjoy these kinds of games where you start out weak, make some progress, die, and then get some permanent upgrades to proceed farther. Granted these kinds of games aren’t for everyone, as I can see some players not liking how repetitive the game can get. With Astral Ascent though, the areas in each world are procedurally generated and you’ll always have two or three options for the next area aside from right before the Zodiac boss which will always be a place to rest up and buy a few temporary upgrades. Combine that with multiple playable characters with their own unique spells, attacks, and abilities, and you have a game with plenty of replayability that’s different on each attempt. I enjoyed Astral Ascent in Early Access, I enjoyed it after it’s official release, and I’ll continue to enjoy it for quite a while.

I enjoyed Astral Ascent when it was in Early Access and I still enjoy it after it’s official release.  Multiple characters, spells, and abilities along with procedurally generated areas and some fun and interesting boss fights against the Zodiacs give Astral Ascent plenty of replayability.  If these kinds of games are up your alley, you’ll get plenty of gameplay out of Astral Ascent.

Rating: 9 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I began my lifelong love of gaming at an early age with my parent's Atari 2600.  Living in the small town that I did, arcades were pretty much non-existent so I had to settle for the less than stellar ports on the Atari 2600.  For a young kid my age it was the perfect past time and gave me something to do before Boy Scout meetings, after school, whenever I had the time and my parents weren't watching anything on TV.  I recall seeing Super Mario Bros. played on the NES at that young age and it was something I really wanted.  Come Christmas of 1988 (if I recall) Santa brought the family an NES with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and I've been hooked ever since.

Over 35 years from the first time I picked up an Atari joystick and I'm more hooked on gaming than I ever have been.  If you name a system, classics to moderns, there's a good chance I've not only played it, but own it.  My collection of systems spans multiple decades, from the Odyssey 2, Atari 2600, and Colecovision, to the NES, Sega Genesis, and Panasonic 3DO, to more modern systems such as the Xbox One and PS4, and multiple systems in between as well as multiple handhelds.  As much as I consider myself a gamer I'm also a game collector.  I love collecting the older systems not only to collect but to play (I even own and still play a Virtual Boy from time to time).  I hope to bring those multiple decades of gaming experience to my time here at Gaming Nexus in some fashion.
These days when I'm not working my day job in the fun filled world of retail, I'm typically working on my backlog of games collecting dust on my bookshelf or trying to teach myself C# programming, as well as working on some projects over on YouTube and streaming on Twitch.  I've been playing games from multiple generations for over 35 years and I don't see that slowing down any time soon.
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