I wasn’t feeling Astral Ascent for a while. My first few runs with the game left me cold. It felt convoluted, confusing and messy – its systems poorly explained and its combat overly chaotic. But it’s the type of game that wins you over the more you play it. You eventually get more accustomed to its magic system, for example, which allows you to equip up to four spells found on your run and even customise them with Gambits for additional bonuses and effects. The caveat is, you can’t cast each of the spells in your palette at will – they go through a rotation.
Other mechanics in Astral Ascent also come into their own over time. You learn to more effectively use your character’s signature skill, for example, and make use of Auras to bolster your capabilities. Along with a better understanding of the underpinnings of the game, you’ll soon find your efforts of besting the 12 Zodiacs standing before you, protecting the Astral Prison that you wish to assault, becoming more fruitful. It helps that there are a wealth of permanent upgrades to unlock, too.
At the end of each run you’ll return back to a hub where you can use the resources you’ve earned to improve your chances of survival. Some of these unlocks are extremely useful from the moment you acquire them, such as boosts to your health and mana. Others allow you to grow more powerful when out on a run, such as being able to equip more auras and increasing the repertoire of spells available to add to your palette. And so, the more you play Astral Ascent, the more the game opens up, further increasing the unpredictably of each run while also improving your chances of success.
Adding even more fun to the game is the fact that there’s more than one playable character. You start out with just one, sure, but more are unlocked as you play. And once you have at least two characters unlocked, you can play in local co-op with a friend by your side. Not only can it improve your chances of success if they’re skilled at the game, but it also adds another dynamic to the action.
Persist with Astral Ascent, then, and chances are you’ll be won over by it in time. The fast-paced combat that initially seems overly chaotic starts to make more sense as you learn to spot enemy attacks and effectively avoid them. You also get more adept at putting together a complementary palette of spells and making effective use of it. It simply starts to make sense. Add in all the other elements, such as co-op and multiple characters to play as, each with their own stories, and you have a Roguelite that’s up there with the best of them. Its art style might still prove to be a bit hit or miss, though.
Astral Ascent is available on PS4, PS5, Switch and PC