Astor: Blade of the Monolith review: If Link had combo tech (and was a robot)

C2 Game Studio's ambitious new title combines Zelda-like adventure and spicy combat.


Astor: Blade of the Monolith is a vibrant, mysterious action/adventure/RPG journey that asks a simple question: What if a Zelda-style adventure game had elaborate combat? This isn’t the first time this premise has come about (shout outs to Darksiders), but here the scope is more focused, more interested in asking that singular question and not continuing to drop a million other verbs on top. The end result isn’t spit-shined to an impeccable polish, but it has impressive depth and a pleasant visual style to complement its more familiar gaming territory.

Can robots be alive???

A look at the outside environment in Astor
Source: tinyBuild

The premise is pretty unremarkable. You’re Astor, a robot-like being in one of the remaining forms of civilization after a cataclysmic event wiped out humanity. There's other life out there in the world, one particular tribe of creatures being at existential odds with our cuter robo-buddies. Astor gets a super neat sword exploring a ruin with their friend, unlocking their potential as a chosen hero and quickly becoming the keystone of a larger story. The sword can also rewind time a little, which is a nice bonus.

From here, Astor is about as by the numbers as it can get. You run across a grand map, fight bad guys, make discoveries of different sizes and ultimately explore intense dungeons full of puzzles, lore, and conflict. The game has its own flavor of course, especially with its bold use of colors (bright, unearthly grass, glowing tech visually clashing with dusty ruins, magic bursting with particle effects) and distinct character design sensibilities. But from the familiar premise to the comfortable gameplay and structure, you’ll feel like you’ve been here before.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because for what it is, Astor is coherent and well-made. It’s an impressive scale for an indie game, and while “synthetic life left behind by extinct mankind” is easy to dismiss as tropey, there are moments that shine, such as an early dungeon you come to realize is the remnant of a natural history museum. The narrator doesn’t leave much room for subtlety once it chimes in, but at the end of the day Astor cultivates an identity of its own despite its conventional framework.

The Legend of Smokin' Sick Style

A bird's-eye view of a combat scenario in Astor
Source: tinyBuild

Where Astor really starts cooking is in combat. It’s quite simple at first, but it takes a page from the book of Devil May Cry in that each new weapon comes with a laundry list of upgrades. Most of these upgrades add new moves to your repertoire, opening the game up for lots of cool combos, player expression, and what we professional “character action” sickos like to call “sauce.” The combat designers for this game have studied the ancient texts and once again added their own flavor. Combining multiple meters and surprisingly novel magic (Runic in this case) animations, Astor often dips into Musou territory as a reward for investing in certain skills.

There are issues and cracks in the armor, without a doubt. There always are unless you’re literal, by-god Devil May Cry. And I don’t want to do that thing where we sometimes treat indies as lesser in a way that might come off as patronizing. The efforts are certainly impressive, and when you get going in a good flow state and the sick moves come out as intended, Astor looks damn good in action. But some of the connective tissue feels off, especially when it comes to defensive maneuvering. The camera is unreliable, parry and blocking logic feels inconsistent, and enemy tells aren’t consistent either. Luckily this isn’t a Soulslike, so getting smacked around a little won’t ruin your day. But there’s a lot of room for refinement on top of this certifiably nasty (compliment) foundation.

Aren't computers wonderful?

Combat against a different kind of mysterious enemy in Astor (evil robots)
Source: tinyBuild

When it comes to other technical misgivings, Astor did occasionally stutter for me, despite my PC clearing the requirements and then some. The game weirdly defaults to 4K resolution despite what your display is. And at one point during the review period, my save file completely disappeared. I tried several times to reproduce the issue and worked to determine if it was something on my end, but didn’t come away with a satisfactory answer. So take that with a grain of salt; it seemed like a fluke to me, but it’s worth mentioning just in case. Other minor technical issues didn't appear to be more than the occasional visual glitch, nothing that wasn't immediately forgettable beyond the "oh, that's weird" moment.

Astor: Blade of the Monolith reflects one of the coolest aspects of video games as a medium with a deep history of iteration. You can take a familiar set of concepts, add new context, and come up with something that stands on its own rather than feeling like a ripoff. Astor does this with an impressive sense of knowledge and understanding of not only Zelda-style exploration, but character action-style combat. The latter is much more niche and specialized, therefore harder to pull off. It’s not quite a bullseye, but gets respectfully close and has me curious about further updates, as well as what this studio does next.

Astor: Blade of the Monolith is available on May 30, 2024 for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X|S, and PC. A code for the PC version was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

  • Lots of depth in combat; hits a lot of high notes
  • Vibrant and colorful visuals make the world feel distinct
  • Story and structure often feel safe or well-made but unremarkable
  • Occasional technical blips (not giving the save issue much weight due to ambiguity)
  • Defense feels poor at times compared to offense
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