Valorant is set in a post-apocalyptic world, with its agents harnessing abilities either through technological advancements, scientific advancements or gaining power through Radianite, which is a source of huge energy and power and has appeared all over the world as a result of the cataclysmic event.
While Valorant is an FPS at its core, the agents and their abilities already push the boundaries of what is possible in this realm, adding a sophisticated dynamism to the entire game, its meta and the scene, in general. So, when Riot developers iterated their determination to push the boundaries even further with new agents and maps, one could wonder as to how far they would be able to stretch it, given its already ballooned state.
However, Valorant’s new agent that is set to arrive has done just that. Named Astra, Agent number 16 (There is no agent 8 as of yet in Valorant Protocol) is a Controller by nature and has the following character description:
“Ghanaian Agent Astra harnesses the energies of the cosmos to reshape battlefields to her whim. With full command of her astral form and a talent for deep strategic foresight, she’s always eons ahead of her enemy’s next move.”
The rumours were right! Astra hails from Ghana and is connected to the cosmos in a way that enables her to rise above the Earthly dimensions and into her astral form with ease. But, Astra is far from your ordinary controller. Before we dive into how Astra can shape the entire meta and give us an insight into just how much further Riot Games will continue to push the envelope of possibility, let us take a deep dive into Astra’s abilities.
X(1): Astral Form
Warning: This is not her ultimate but just her ultimate form. Confused? Fret not. Astra has to get into her Astral Form in order to be able to place Stars on the map, which will then be utilised according to the abilities the players opt to activate through those stars.
The Astral Form enables her to rise above the map and gives her a bird’s eye view of it. Astra may be rising as a result of the Astral Form but the Ghanaian makes sure she pulls the stars down to the ground for her abilities, with her stars requiring a surface to be put on. Astra can have a maximum of 5 stars per round.
C: Gravity Well
This, when applied on a star, sucks the surrounding players into a hole before exploding and making the players sucked in more vulnerable. Its ultimate effect is similar to Killjoy’s Alarmbot but players can evade the ‘gravity well’ easily, making it perhaps, the weakest of her abilities. However, Gravity Well can be utilised to full effect during a post-plant scenario by the Attacking Side and to target common holding positions.
Q: Nova Pulse
Compared to the Gravity Well, Nova Pulse is quicker to activate and only has a brief self-channeling period. Players who remain in the vicinity or target area of the Nova Pulse get concussed in a way similar to Breach’s Fault Line. However, users won’t have to channel the ability in Astra’s case and all that one has to do is to activate the placed star for the Nova Pulse.
Players will find it laboursome to evade Nova Pulse, with the most effective of evasions requiring users to be equipped with agents like Jett, Raze or Yoru – agents that have abilities that allows quick displacement.On the flip side, the effect of the concussion isn’t as severe and fades out quicker than Breach’s Fault Line. Nevertheless, a powerful ability that will make it difficult for players to enter sites and take advantage of choke-points.
An apt name for the ability, Nebula allows players to convert a placed star into a Smoke with a similar fade duration to Omen’s Dark Cover. The look of a Nebula’s Smoke oozes that galactic, interstellar feel that the word ‘Nebula’ is associated with, which is a compliment to the developers and designers, who have hit the nail on the head with this one.
Players can activate two Nebulas at once, with a cooldown of 15 seconds before they can convert another star into a Nebula. The brilliant part about Astra is that players can pick Stars back up from their positions. While doing so, there is a fake Nebula that spawns and fades within a second – a Fake Smoke Pop that adds an extra outplaying dimension to Astra’s abilities.
Basically, one can equate Nebula to being a mix of Omen’s Dark Cover and Cypher’s Cyber Cage. However, Astra users can pick the Star up at any point during the game while a Cypher is only allowed to pick up Cages during the pre-game Phase of each round after the update.
X(2): Cosmic Divide
Every new agent has had a game breaking ability or appeared to have one when released. For Astra, its her Cosmic Divide. Once charged, players can choose two locations with Secondary Fire and Primary Fire before activating a ‘Cosmic Divide’ that segregates the map into two locations.
The Divide is like a wall that is impregnable by bullets while also having full opacity, which means players cannot see the other side of the Divide, with audio heavily affected as the wall absorbs sounds like a sponge. However, players are allowed to traverse through the Divide.
The Cosmic Divide can be a game breaking ability mostly when trying to defend a post-plant, with the opposition able to just create the Divide for the retake. Since players have to go through the Divide in order to stop the retake and the subsequent defuse and cannot see through the Divide before traversing through it themselves, the retaking side can use it to their advantage.
The only con about Astra’s abilities is that the Stars need a surface to be placed upon, which heavily affects the Nebula, since half of it will bloom below the map if the Star is placed on the ground level. This makes Astra less viable on Bind, specially because there aren’t many objects to strategically place the Stars on for the Nebula, which is the main ability for Astra users as a Controller. Astra will be mildly viable on Haven as a result but should rule Ascent and Split due to the very same aspect.
The aforementioned statement doesn’t conclude that Astra users won’t have numerous places to strategically activate the Nebula on Bind or Haven. But, there are only a limited number of options which will cause a lack of variance as well as add a predictability factor. Not to mention, the half-mast Nebulas will defeat the aspect of it acting as a bloomed Smoke and allow oppositions to take more advantage of it compared to other controllers like Brimstone or Omen.
How can Astra change the meta?
While the developers have it marked as a controller, Astra is in turn a lot more diverse. The Ghanaian agent is equipped with abilities that also have a Sentinel-like effect, especially while Defending. The abilities can also be used to initiate with aplomb, with a clear example being the use of Nova Pulse to clear out the U-halls at A on Bind, the extreme corner at the back of B on Split and more!
As far as having a Sentinel-like effect is concerned, there is more diversity with which the Gravity Well can be activated, thus applying the vulnerability effect quite like a Killjoy. Even the Fake Smoke Pop can be used to either Initiate or create simple outplays. Astra is much more than your average controller and the Cosmic Divide just places Astra on an even higher level.
The MatchMaking Competitive meta is likely to see a lot of Astras, as is always the case with new agents. However, the effects ebb out with time. Coming to the Competitive meta, we have seen teams moving towards a three-duelist meta and Astra is likely to propagate the change even more, with Valorant’s newest Controller allowing teams to sacrifice either an Initiator or a Sentinel depending on their preference and the map.
Agent Number 16 is on deck and looks set to bring about a colossal change in the competitive meta. We are likely to witness a shift towards the three-duelist meta from many teams as discussed above. There is no denying that Astra might be better, on paper at the very least, when compared to other Controllers, which means the pick rate for Omen and Brimstone should diminish as a result. This will once again highlight the seemingly absurd Cost of Omen’s Paranoia (400) and the same should now be addressed in the coming patches (One can only hope as an Omen Main).
Astra awaits her ascension. So do we.