Next week, tactical shooter Valorant kicks off its next Act, introducing a character who I think might just be my new favourite. Astra is a space lady with an absolutely gorgeous character design, who literally astral projects into a strange starry dimension to use her abilities. I had the chance to try her out a little early, and while she's super fun to play, her unique sight and sound-denying ultimate can be trippy as hell. Astra is going to take a lot of getting used to.
Astra is a controller, meaning she has skills that can deny enemy sightlines and help give her team an advantage when attacking or defending. She has a smoke (called Nebula), concussion (Nova Pulse) and pulling-in ability (Gravity Well - think Orisa's Halt from Overwatch, or a very mild version of Horizon's Black Hole ultimate in Apex Legends), all of which are activated by clicking on stars that Astra has placed across the map.
This is where she differs from all of the Valorant agents we've seen so far. So, to use any ability, Astra has to first go into this aforementioned starry dimension (it's almost a bit like the shadow realm Omen goes into to place his smokes), which gives her an overview of the entire map. She can then place up to five stars wherever she'd like, then all she has to do is aim at one and use the ability she'd like it to turn into.
It gives so many options for setting up pushes or defending a site. You can place stars during the buy phase if you know exactly what you want to do, or you can place them on the fly to help your team during a fight. The only downside is that Astra's body remains still and can be killed while she's in this weird realm, so it's not really something you want to pop into while you're out in the open. But if you've already set up some stars before the enemies appear, you can decide from there how you want to deal with them. Say an enemy is attacking from a choke point you've placed a star on, you could choose to envelop them in smoke to block their sight, or concuss them and set up a kill for a teammate. Go careful though, because both Nova Pulse and Gravity Well affect Astra and her teammates too.
The way she works is quite hard to explain in writing, so have a look at this video I put together showing off her abilities and how you can use them in an actual match.
As you can see from a couple of examples there, Astra has great potential to combo well with the other agents. Gravity Well and Nova Pulse work brilliantly with characters who have molotov-like abilities, such as Killjoy's nano bots or Viper's poisonous floor goo, because it can drag enemies in and hold them there for a short while, making them take more damage. The concussion also worked exceptionally well with Breach's Aftershock (which throws a firebomb through a wall). Myself and a teammate found that one accidentally when rounding a corner we knew an enemy Sova was behind. Love a bit of flukey coordination.
Now, a big one I haven't mentioned yet that you can get a glimpse of in that video is Astra's ultimate ability. Cosmic Divide works a lot like Symmetra's Photon Barrier in Overwatch. It allows Astra to place a straight wall that stretches across the entire map. You can't see through it, you can't shoot through it, and most importantly, you can't hear through it. Anything that happens on the opposite side of that wall will be a complete mystery to you. However, abilities can be thrown through it, like grenades or flashes, and you can walk through it if you want.
I suppose like any sight-denying ability in Valorant, if you don't place it quite right, it can be detrimental to your own teammates as well as your enemies. The thing about this one, however, is that because it's sound-denying too, it's incredibly trippy - especially when both teams have an Astra who use it in the same area. When you're so used to relying so heavily on audio in a game, suddenly having it taken away from you feels very unpleasant. Though, that's probably the point. Riot are trying something really different with Astra, and I appreciate that, but I think it's going to take a lot of getting used to.
My only other concern with the introduction of Astra is the sheer amount of abilities that can be popped on a site at any one time now. In some of the games I played, both teams had a Killjoy as well as an Astra. Killjoy also has an ultimate that affects a huge area of the map, as well as grenades and a turret that are very prominent when pushing a site. Pair that with a couple of smokes from Omen, and Astra popping as many abilities as she can, and the game gets very messy very quickly. Some of our shootouts started to look more like Overwatch team fights than they did a coordinated tactical effort. Granted, this experience comes from playing friendly customs matches where we were only taking the game semi-seriously, but I feel like there's a risk here of Valorant's fights just getting too cluttered.
At the very least, it'll be interesting to see how Riot deals with this further down the line. I can't help but wonder if future agents will be a little simpler, or if they're only going to get more complex.
Despite my gripes, I had a lot of fun playing Astra, and I'm looking forward to seeing how players use her abilities to pull off some cool strats. I also can't wait to just see more of her and her abilities full-stop. Her Nebula smokes are so dang pretty, I feel like I'm going to spend half my matches just staring at them.
Astra arrives in Valorant on Tuesday the 2nd of March, alongside Episode 2 Act 2.