I can’t remember the last time I was truly “hooked” on a MUD, but it was probably 10+ years ago. I was fairly involved in one of the various IRE games, where I met the person who would become my best friend in both virtual worlds and the real one.
In time, we grew older and moved on to other games. He has since passed, and I heavily associate my loving memory of him with MUDs. Perhaps this is why I’ve never felt quite “at home” again in any of the wonderful lands of text-only adventure that I’ve played since.
That is… until now. I semi-recently discovered Asteria, which I fully believe would have had my friend’s stamp of approval. Today I would like to present to you a review of this world, and while my general conclusion is likely already clear—it’s good, go try it—I will be attempting to temporarily shed my “nostalgia goggles” to give you a fair and honest assessment of this game.
I would also like to note that, other than my in-game character, I have no personal, public, or financial associations with Asteria (the latter of which would be impossible anyway as the game is free). I’m putting this disclaimer here because, quite frankly, this is a very positive review. What can I say? I love the game.
Let’s start by taking a look at the world and the people behind it:
A Two-Man Vision: Introducing the World of Asteria
Asteria has been developed by only two people. If memory serves correctly, I believe they started working together on the project in 2015. You have Greg, the coder, and Arcades, the writer and builder. Considering the size and scope of Asteria, what these two people have managed to pull together in such a short amount of time is very, very impressive.
The IRE influences are obvious but not overbearing; Asteria presents itself not as a clone but as a distillation of ideas from many different MUDs. Despite being just a baby in MUD-years (beta ended in 2018) this results in a game that feels polished far beyond its years. I believe that the staff have managed to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff and in doing so have created a game that just feels genuinely fun to play.
Asteria is a high fantasy/medieval setting and most of the usual tropes thereof are present: newbies begin their lives in a peaceful village of Half-Elves where they can almost immediately begin slaughtering the local wildlife for experience points. There’s a city of Elves who study magic, a “bad” city with a corrupt and arguably totalitarian military, and a band of shamanistic wanderers and forest-dwellers without allegiances to anyone.
That is, of course, a gross oversimplification. Despite the tropes, nothing feels terribly cookie-cutter, thanks to the substantial amount of lore-building that has already been done. For example, one of my favorite in-game books tells the rich origin story of the three original founders of Asteria’s version of the mafia—a family of vampires, liches, thieves, and other ne’er-do-wells. There are many of such books already in the game, and the staff will happily publish any lore-friendly books players wish to submit.
Which brings me to my next topic...
Staff & Playerbase
The levels of staff involvement, professionalism, and perhaps most importantly passion are off the charts. Arcades and Greg clearly care not only a great deal about the world that they’ve created, but the people living in it. Unlike so many other MUDs, I haven’t seen an ounce of favoritism, drama, or infighting. From what I’ve seen thus far, Asteria appears to be a level playing field for everyone.
Since I started, the playerbase has shown signs of growth. Usually I see 5-10 people online at a time, and I believe that if Asteria gets enough exposure, this number will only continue to grow. The playerbase is generally respectful, willing to help new players, and groups are starting to form more and more often, which has been an absolute blast.
Roleplaying: Highly Encouraged, Never Required
Asteria is a roleplaying encouraged MUD. This means that while you don’t have to roleplay, you are encouraged to do so outside of the general OOC chat channel. Nearly all other players I’ve encountered have been willing to roleplay, even if it’s just a simple interaction asking where to find a certain shop or quest-giver—no long speeches and overly-detailed emotes required.
Aside from just being fun, roleplay can gain characters certain cosmetic/fun benefits. For example, does your character have a reason to have a unique sword? The staff are willing to put it in the game for you, including with unique attack messages and other fun things. Note that items of this nature aren’t better statistically than other level-appropriate items that might be found in the game by non-roleplayers. It’s just there to add fun and a little more richness to the world.
The staff recently brought on a volunteer player to act as RP coordinator. This person is there to help facilitate player-ran roleplaying events, with all the fun stuff like global messages/narration seen by everyone online, animating NPCs, and so on.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that Arcades and Greg have intended Asteria to be shaped just as much by the playerbase as it has by them. At the time of this writing, certain things have only vague or little amounts of information available—such as the inner workings of a guild, or the detailed history of a city. This is on purpose: players are encouraged to craft these histories, cultures, and practices themselves.
Races & Guilds
Asteria has nine playable races, all of which you’re likely familiar with, and all of which are available at the time of character creation. You can read about the Asterian races on the wiki. (Side note: I asked Greg and a “real” website is planned).
There are four guilds in the game, which you can also read about on the wiki. None of the guilds are race-locked and all different styles of play can find viability in each of the guilds (though of course magic-only users will lean toward the University of Arcana and melee-only users will lean toward the Army of Rhojidan).
Each guild is planned to have a player Guildmaster to help craft the lore/culture of the guild and assist in coordinating RP events. At the time of this writing, only one GM slot has been filled at the University of Arcana (by me, actually, so if you like to sling spells come and say hi to Astrum in-game). As I understand it, the ultimate goal is to have the player GMs interact with the RP coordinator to create exciting stories that keep people involved and invested in their character’s personal storyline, city, guild, etc. Again, this isn’t required.
Crafting & Skills
Crafting is possible in Asteria and what you can do is determined by the guild that you join. Players have access to three different kinds: scribing, alchemy, and ritual tattooing. Scribing allows spellcasters to create scrolls that can be read by themselves or others at a later time to temporarily learn how to cast all but the most powerful spells. Alchemy is for potion making, and tattoos offer little stat-boosts or abilities quite similar to what you might have seen in the IRE games (except these tattoos don’t fade).
If you’re looking for a deep crafting system with a ton of things to make and hundreds of different ingredients to mix and match, you won’t (currently) find that in Asteria. I would call the current crafts available “robust but simple.” As to whether this is good or bad is likely a matter of personal preference.
Skills, on the other hand, you will find a lot of. Since Asteria is classless, you’re given complete freedom to mix and match whatever skills you want. While there are far too many skills to discuss in detail, I can say quite confidently that if you want to create, say, a “paladin” style Dwarven warrior who blends healing magic with the might of his axe, you can do that. Or a dual-wielding, backstabbing “rogue” with a penchant for theft. Or an Elven “ranger” who’s great with a bow and has a couple of animal companions. Or a “glass cannon” magic user hurling out fireballs the size of a house (that’s me).
I could go on and on. Needless to say, the classless skill system is, in my opinion, one of the most fun aspects of the game. Furthermore, you’re never truly “locked in” to your decisions. Until level 30, players can reset their skills for free. After level 30, players have to use a special potion and pay for training again—so while it would certainly lighten your character’s coinpurse, you can always redo your build if you’re truly displeased with it. As far as I know, the only permanent decisions in the game are your choice of race and guild.
The Quests (So Many Quests)
I’ll just put it this way: if you like to do quests in MUDs, Asteria will pretty much be heaven for you. I believe at the time of this writing there are somewhere around 1,000 quests in the game. Some of them are pretty much what you would expect: “kill 20 of these monsters here” and “bring me 5 of these widgets”.
However, and this is a big however, at least for me, some of the quest chains are really, really fun and well written. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I will say that around level 30 players can start a quest chain that involves the disappearance of a certain NPC. Personally, I found the storyline riveting and I was glued to my chair well past the point at which I should have gone to bed.
That’s just one of many examples of great quest writing in the game. There are a few other ones that I’ve done that really stand out to me, but as tempting as it is to start talking about how cool this was or wow that surprised me, I genuinely don’t want to spoil anything so that people can have as much fun as I did “going in blind.”
Wrapping Things Up
So, this has been a crazy long review. Here’s the bottom line: if you’ve ever wanted to “get in on the ground floor” of something great, all I can say is that now is your chance to do so with Asteria.
I really hope you come and join us. If you do, say hi to Astrum. I’m usually hiding out somewhere in the University of Arcana, or doing quests, or brewing up potions, or out monster hunting… because I’m finally home again.