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cover-Astrea: Six-Sided Oracles

Saturday, December 23, 2023 2:17:15 PM

Astrea: Six-Sided Oracles Review (Birbo)

Astrea is an interesting, if clunky, attempt to innovate the Roguelite Deckbuilder genre. I believe that it succeeds at doing so, at the cost of a largely unreadable user interface. While I enjoyed completing the game and will be playing more of it, I can not recommend it due to how overwhelming, confusing and strangely unpolished (in terms of UI) the core mechanic of the game feels -- the dice that you play with.

The good

There are a lot of things I like about the game that keep me playing in spite of the UI issues.
The art style feels fresh, cohesive and fitting of the game's story and mechanics. With the game revolving around 2 damage types represented by those same colors, there are a lot of places where the use of colors feels really appropriate. For example, a lot of the powers you play may have drawbacks or could otherwise interact with corruption. The icons for these abilities often include both red and blue.
There are several fresh ideas, such as the unique health system where you get 3 "lives" to spend during each act, whether by losing them in combat or sacrificing them in events for long-term benefits. While risking health for the chance to get more powerful is nothing new in this type of game, the fact that these "lives" act as second chances rather than a continuous health bar feels very different from other games.
Using dice instead of cards also opens up interesting gameplay mechanics, like rerolling the dice in your hand or the ones your opponents plan to play, having abilities that set dice on a specific face, or simply by having a different spread of abilities on the different faces of the die. Many of the dice in this game are put into 3 categories: "safe," "balanced," and "risky." This is often reflected by the fact that "safe" dice are pretty much guaranteed to give you a result you expect, but they are often unimpressive, and risky dice may have very strong effects, but they are offset by having several very bad possible outcomes.
The idea of having 2 types of damage that can either "purify" or "corrupt" both you and enemies feels very unique and creates interesting situations where sometimes you want to "damage" yourself since being at low health unlocks special powers, resulting in back-and-forth play patterns where you try to get yourself damaged just enough to unlock these abilities without losing lives. It feels very fitting in a game all about rolling dice -- you are gambling your life for a chance to get more out of your character.

The meh

Several things to list that I find kinda annoying about the game before moving onto the reason I don't recommend it:
A lot of the dice choices feel very underwhelming. I find myself skipping dice offers the vast majority of opportunities for several reasons, like the fact that some are very slight improvements to your starter dice, or the fact that you are able to find Epic rarity dice that are often much, much better than anything else you might find.
I personally prefer it when rare cards in this type of game offer more unique effects, rather than simply being more powerful versions of normal cards, which is the case in this game.
Seriously, there are 5 versions of "purify" card, which is your basic attack: starter (horrid), "safe" (a bit better and more reliable than starter), "balanced" (better starter with more bad faces), "risky" (2 amazing outcomes that are 4-5x better than the starter version and 4 negative faces), Epic (roughly 3-4 times better than starter). It's boring. There are dice unique to some rarities, I noticed this the most with risky dice, and I wish that type of design was more of the norm in the game.
Map navigation feels dull. The most common nodes you can go to are dice chests of different types, 1 for each non-epic dice type, and a mixed option. There are 3 types of stores you can go to, one to upgrade your companions, another to modify / duplicate / remove dice, and one to buy Epic dice or passive items. Lastly, there are nodes that simply give you currency and, the most fun and, in my experience so far, powerful -- event nodes, which can give you anything from granting you 2-4 epic dice to making you fight an extra combat, which is usually still better than the usual map rewards.
It's not horrible, but it feels kind of lacking since you always fight the same number of enemies each act, occasionally choosing whether you want an elite or a normal fight.

The bad

The worst part about the game, as mentioned at the start, is actually playing with the dice. Sure, the animations look cool, the icons are nice to look at, but fundamentally it's six times more confusing than your traditional Deckbuilders for two simple reasons.
For one, every single effect in the game is represented by an icon, from simple damage-dealing abilities that just have the damage symbol next to a number, to complex status effects that interact with 3/4/5 other game mechanics.
This is a bad example since I'm going to be talking about the last and the most complex character, but it had an effect that was basically:

When you fill your ability meter A, gain X stacks of this effect
While you have this effect, your ability B does X extra damage
At the end of the turn, lose 1 stack of this effect

Or another one that was:

If you have X amount of resource C, this can activate
If this is active, give yourself a stack of this effect
For each stack of this effect, reduce self-damage of ability A by 1

Having all of this information be accessible to you only when you hover over an icon makes for a very steep learning curve, where you both have to memorize the effect and the icon it's represented by.
In addition to that, both of these effects came on dice that have other effects on different faces. Modifying dice at shops makes this worse as a single die can have up to 6 different effects. So, you could be looking a die that has "deal 3 corruption" on it, meanwhile the other 5 faces are one of the aforementioned good buff effects.
How do you tell? Well, you either memorize the fact that the only die with this shape with this number of damage in your deck has these other faces, or you examine the die by right-clicking each time it shows up.
Now, different dice have different names (which only show up if you hover over the dice), but those names only refer to their original states when you drafted them. If you modify one of your starting Purify dice, the others are going to stay as they were. The only way to tell them apart is by examining them, which becomes mandatory when only one of those copies has the effect you're looking for.
And when it comes to the icons that represent the die effects, they are not intuitive, at all. At first I assumed they would have some universal symbolism, like white arcs meaning "self-target", or yellowish circles meaning "target everyone," and a lot of them do. But then some don't, like recently I found a die that draws you more dice, but it has a unique symbol, even though "draw dice" action already has a symbol repeated in many other places.
The effect complexity, inconsistent iconography and the inability to tell dice sides at a glance can make for a very slow and overwhelming experience where you're trying to figure out just what's going on every single turn. As I said at the start, this doesn't bother me, at least not enough to stop me from enjoying the game, but it is enough to stop me from recommending this.

I think it would be good if there were previews of dice when you hover over them, ways to rename dice, and ways to have them have card-like appearance where they explain the effect without having to hover over them, but until those things are implemented, each turn feels overwhelming while not giving you enough information at a glance.