Review: Ziggurat

Ziggurat is a first-person shooter "roguelite"developed and published by Milkstone Games.  It is something of a blend of a rogue-like game with a first-person arena shooter, something that I have found something of a groove on lately.  They definitely are making a return lately, so where does this somewhat earlier entry stand?  Well, I have to say, I had my eye on Ziggurat since it was available in Early Access, but only took a look more recently since it left Early Access, as I've gotten burned by enough Early Access games, and this, this is a game that assuredly benefited from the process, as it is pretty highly-polished and tightly-designed game.

First thing you'll likely notice is some stellar art direction

I'm almost immediately put in mind of that sort of signature art style we're all familiar with from World of Warcraft (and earlier, Warcraft III) with the same sort of over-sized and exaggerated medieval fantasy style.  It's done quite well, with fairly-good texture fidelity, but perhaps just as well, some good modelling.  One of my bigger bugbears with that kind of style is they tend to just rely on that art style pasted over low-poly models; this isn't the case with Ziggurat howver, as the models themselves are pretty nicely-rendered as well, with a lot of environmental detail, including destructible terrain and moving braziers in the like.  There's an obvious great deal of detail that went into the creation of the various art assets, and it shows.  The game looks great.

Some of the games visual effects are used can be problematic

Probably the biggest problem I have with the game's visuals relates to the "damage" effect, which aggressively blurs the screen and tints it red, which combined with the skew and bob to the camera when you move, a mildly low FOV (around 80 ish Id say but I can't be certain since there isn't an adjustment option), and well, even I who am not generally susceptible to simulation sickness was feeling a little unwell after playing for a long time.  Not only does this make the game very difficult for a build that you make around tanking as it is difficult to see anything when that effect is overlaid on the screen.  So it basically lays caltrops on both of the game roadways: I really don't think it looks all that great, simply blurring the screen seems a very lazy sort of way of doing that kind of thing, and it makes the game more difficult than it has to be.

The second big problem I have regards with the spell mana power-ups, which appear pretty much identical, simply in different colours, so this leads me to have some misgivings.  I'm "just" nearly-blind, not colourblind, however it strikes me that this would make the power-ups difficult to distinguish for players who are indeed colourblind.  It would be very easy to give these mana power-ups visually distinct models along with the colour, relatively speaking, so I was a little surprised they did not, especially since all of the other power-ups use highly-unique models.  Hardly a game-breaker for most people, but I know I have some colourblind people amidst my readers, so worth a mention.

There is a great variety of weapons, spells, enemies, and the like

The game divides your weapons into four categories: a wand, a spellbook, a staff, and an alchemical (grenade) weapon.  There are all varieties of these with different effects, like spread shots, different patterns of shots, or homing shots, and the like.  There's a great variety of different monsters as well, different bosses, and different minions, and we're not just talking recolours either.  There were quite a lot of different ones, each with different attacks: running carrot guys (reminiscent of that one episode from Reboot) that bite you, skeleton soldiers that throw swords at you, imps that have a patterned fire attack, and so on.  They each have different firing patterns and attack types, and each of the bosses were fairly unique.

The meta progression to open up new weapons and such is very slow

Leveling up along play happens when you accumulate enough of the diamond orange "knowledge" gems from enemies, and then you get a chance between two randomly drawn advantage cards, taken from a pool of unlocked cards that form the meta progression of the game.  As you play, completing challenges and getting score along the way unlock additional new advantages.  While this keeps the gameplay fresh to some extent and keeps people coming back to the game, the way it is designed means that the first few plays are generally wasting your time.  This is a problem endemic to the genre, and it always frustrates me.  Fair difficulty is when you have an honest chance of completion on the first try.  And many roguelikes find ways to do this, but the roguelites riding their coattails such as this game or Rogue Legacy have yet to figure that out.  I can't entirely blame the game for it, since its a common element in the genre, but it is nonetheless inextricable from the experience.

That said, I didn't find it ruining the fun of the combat or the game itself, but more frustrating me a bit about it.  It felt like the best parts of the game were being drip-fed to me in classic MMORPG fashion, and that is something of a personal bugbear of mine.  So, it's a subjective problem, and likely not a big one if one at all for fans of the genre, but it bothered me enough that I felt compelled to mention it in two paragraphs here, so well, there you have it.

Combat is fast-paced and thrilling

Here's the meat of the game, and the one thing Ziggurat has to do right, honestly, and it delivers in spades honestly.  I've missed arena shooters and that kind of pace, as should probably be obvious with my Wickland review, and Ziggurat has it all down, every little bit of highly positional strafe-running and bunny-hopping madness.  The different attacks and firing patterns of enemies and the mixes the game throws at you keeps things moving, and many of the different enemies are basically designed to punish you for staying still.  

The one thing that also adds variety are the different rooms.  The game is laid out as a maze with different rooms connected by antechambers, and not all of them are full of enemies.  Some have story scrolls, some have random loot boxes, some have shrines where you can sacrifice health or other resources for a boon.  The enemy rooms are not identical either, and also can have special attributes, such as one room I encountered where your damage was reduced but you got double experience.  It keeps the game fresher than it could be without.  The centra thing becomes - once you get the portal key from an according room, the question becomes whether you milk the existing rooms or head for the boss-guarded exit, so like many rogue-lites, it becomes a story of resource-management.  It's got a decent skill ceiling and the combat is mobile and fun.

This review probably came off fairly negative-seeming, so let me just reiterate here: I had a ton of fun with Ziggurat, and it'll easily be one I continue to play after review, which doesn't happen all that often.  The complaints I have are moderately strong one, but they're also ones I realise are either situational or otherwise not going to be a problem for many, but even those didn't stop me from having a great deal of fun with the game.

The Final Word: Recommended - Reminiscent of a more colourful Painkiller, Ziggurat takes the arena shooter genre and fuses it with the “roguelite” genre to make quite an interesting and varied shooter.  It plays well, though the damage effects are overwrought and obscuring and there are some accessibility issues, and those problems did little to mar the fun I had with the title.  It’s a great game, if a little overpriced, and definitely worth a look on a sale.

Steam

About the Author
Maiyannah Bishop

Maiyannah Bishop

Editor-in-Chief

Maiya is a seasoned editor who has previous experience in games journalism, having been reviews editor of a local print games publication. She first came together with Highland Arrow as an independent return to form in the winter of 2013/2014. Chances are if you're reading a review on here, it's been written by her.


Setup: Asus Maximus VI Hero, Intel i5 4460 @ 3.2GHz, nVidia GTX 770, 4x4GB Mushkin 996995 CL9 DDR3 RAM, 1x Intel 730 Series 240GB SSD, 2x Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 7200RPM HDD (RAID 1), Azio GM2000 Gaming Mouse, Steelseries 6Gv2 Mechanical Keyboard, DualShock 3 and XBox 360 controllers


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2013-09-15
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