I heard of Astral Terra from another writer. I'm a sucker for any sandbox game that lets you build stuff and run around in a fantasy world, and Astral Terra seemed to fit the bill. However, I didn't quite find what I expected.
Astral Terra is currently an Early Access sandbox game being developed by Tethys Interactive, where you can manipulate the world to your liking all wrapped up in a fantasy theme. Players can choose between a Dark Elf, Dwarf, or Fae character to run around in a rather lovely fantasy world and change it to their liking.
I did something a bit unusual with Astral Terra. I had been given a copy of it by the developers late last year and found the game wanting for content at the time. I elected to wait a few months to see what new developments might come along and if some of the issues that I had at the time would have been resolved. Unfortunately, Astral Terra still lacks in things to do several months later, and it has quite a few annoying issues with the mechanics of the game.
Let's start with the positives. Astral Terra runs pretty well. I don't have a great PC - heck, I'm on a GTX 560TI, which is struggling with some modern games. Even so, it ran pretty decently for the most part. Mind, it wasn't exceptional - I did have the occasional frame drop or stutter, though these issues were infrequent in my experience with the game.
The world of Astral Terra is also quite beautiful. There is, of course, your standard forest biome laden with trees ripe for the chopping. Standard biomes like the forest or desert aside, there were also neat fantasy-themed biomes that had an otherworldly, elf-like feel to them. Even the places that wouldn't seem so far away from the real world had little hints of a fantasy touch to them in an appropriate fashion.
You can manipulate the world in two distinct ways. One option is the ability to place and build blocks. These require no resources in a fashion similar to Minecraft's Creative Mode. I can't say whether this is a placeholder or intentional design. What I can say is that I've found the block-placing mechanics frustrating to work with. It felt like the blocks didn't quite line up where I would have liked them to. Blocks would often flicker in and out of position at the most subtle of mouse movements, and I sometimes found myself overwriting a block I had already placed. There's quite a nice variety of different textures and shapes to choose from, but due to the tricky mechanics of actually putting the blocks in place, it took me about twice as long as it should have to build even the simplest of buildings.
The other option for interacting with the grounds is a sort of terrain deformation mode similar to how you can manipulate the terrain in games like SimCity. You can just outright plow tunnels straight through to the bottom of the map, raise land, whatever. This portion of the game worked rather well, and a dedicated player could reshape entire swathes of land to something more to their liking.
It's not all free-form gameplay when it comes to building, of course. Some workstations and structures require resources to build. You acquire resources in a similar fashion to most games of this style. An ax is used to chop down trees for wood; a pickaxe is used to mine for ore, and so on. I had a bit of an issue finding any coal in my play sessions. I went to multiple words, searched caves high and low, and even burrowed through the earth using terrain deformation for over an hour only to come up short. I managed to find plenty of other resources, but whether through poor luck or a bug I just couldn't find coal for the life of me. The Minecraft analogy would be having ten diamonds and zero coal - it just shouldn't happen.
There's also a combat component to the game. I never actually succeeded in melee - the NPC animals I attacked would typically outrun me before I could properly close the distance. There's a magic spell in the game which works quite well for taking down your target. Although there are supposed to be hostile creatures in the game, I haven't encountered any at all. The developer had stated that they were removed and subsequently restored in a later patch, but several hours worth of running around multiple worlds came up with zero such encounters.
The camera was consistently a pain to use whether I was building, hunting for resources, or trying to find an enemy to fight. There's no true first-person mode - you have to scroll in and get the camera very tight for the closest approximation of it. Building mode operates in a free-floating third person mode which works quite fine if it weren't for the awkward block placement.
The game's sounds were serviceable enough for the most part. One of the consistently good things about Astral Terra was the music. It felt appropriately haunting for such a fantasy setting and I never really tired of it in my time with the game.
The one thing I most consistently enjoyed with Astral Terra was the design of the world. I enjoy aimlessly running around large sandbox worlds looking for interesting sights whether I'm on a resource hunt, or I'm just exploring for the heck of it. The design of the world and the different biomes is one thing that I feel Tethys Interactive got right in this game. I enjoyed the visual aesthetic of the different biomes and felt a bit like I was in a The Lord of the Rings movie at some points. If anything speaks to their ability to craft a nice fantasy world, it's that.
I've got a bit over four hours in Astral Terra, and I've already run out of things to do in the game. I wish that weren't the case - Tethys Interactive has built a beautiful world with an interesting backstory. I just wish there were more to do in it.
I do hope that Tethys Interactive tightens up the controls and starts cranking out content for the title. I think Astral Terra could be a solid sandbox builder kind of a game if they put just a bit more work into it. I'll happily give it a go if and when that day comes.
Astral Terra was previewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
What do you think of Astral Terra? Do you think it has the potential to develop into a good indie sandbox game? Let us know in the comments below!