Feel free to either watch the review below or read it, the old-fashioned way. I like to cater to all tastes
This will be my first Beta review, although with the state of a lot of the AAA titles on release, recently, it doesn’t feel like a first. Zombasite is a game created by indie developer Soldak and is similar to their previous action RPGs, Din’s Curse and Depths of Peril. The RPG genre is my favourite and I’ve played more games in this genre over the years than any other. However, I have to confess I’ve never played a game quite like this one. It has the gaming mechanics of an action RPG and a political system more reminiscent of turn based strategy games like Civilisation with options for peace, war and alliance and the need to strengthen your faction to discourage invasion. The gaming world is also randomly generated, so no two play throughs are alike, which is great in terms of longevity of the game. I can well understand why there are steam players with over a hundred hours on this game already. It’s really quite addictive.
I have to confess that on playing the game for the first time, the level of near complete freedom in the game was a pleasant surprise. There’s no three-hour long scripted intro, just straight into the game. You can go wherever you like from the outset, take as many quests as you want and, within the constraints of level, can complete them in whichever order you want. There’s some guidance available with the priority level, if all the choice gets too much for you, but I generally just went for the closest first. The depth of the gameplay and the way the world develops around you, as factions make war with each other, raid villages and hunt and explore, makes this game a joy to play.
The creation screen, when starting a new game, is a strange mix of that expected for an RPG with options on class and gender and mob level, and a more Civilisation style world creation with options for area size and number of factions. It sounds like a strange merging of genres, but it works really well, and I think part of that is due to the skill of the development team, in artfully blending the different aspects into one seamless and unique gameplay style.
Despite the fact this game is still in Beta, in technical terms it feels rather polished. To date, I’ve encountered barely any bugs at all, certainly not a single game breaking one which is impressive. Especially, when you consider how unpredictable the game’s world is, and how it can evolve in so many different ways with AI factions reacting to random events plus player interactions, a lot of effort has clearly been put into this game. The remaining room for improvement seems to be more on the design side, for this title now, rather than the technical. The game runs well as it is, but there are some aspects which I feel that could be presented a little better.
Now, it must be remembered that this is a Beta and not a full release, so any comments as to areas of improvement might no longer be relevant upon release. My main concern with this game is the title and the image used to represent the game on Steam. Let’s face it, the name, Zombasite, isn’t great, particularly for an action RPG. Yes, there are zombies in the game, but that inclusion is more artistic in flavour, in my opinion, rather than the sole defining element of the gameplay. Zombasite isn’t a generic Zombie survival horror which, I feel, the title and image makes it appear, on first glance, and I really feel this is selling the game short in marketing terms. Without a doubt this is a game that deserves more in terms of recognition and uptake, and I think that clearer representation of the game to potential players may help in that respect.
Another aspect which I think has room for improvement, is the tutorial or rather the sudden and rampant invasion of my UI with tutorial text icons almost as soon as the game starts. I read the first half a dozen or so, but when each one I read just seemed to spawn three more in its place, I gave up. I think that either a beginner option should be added, which phases in the various crafting, faction, political and questing elements rather than just throwing everything at a new player on the outset, or a tutorial option should be added to the main menu, where the most important information can be delivered outside of the active game and at a slower pace, leaving the smaller, optional elements to be learnt in game.
My third concern is actually not an issue from my point of view but could well be one for many prospective players, which is the graphics. While the game’s graphics are certainly not bad, it does appear quite basic, even when compared with current indie releases. Gamers are becoming increasingly demanding in this area, particularly in PC gaming. I, personally, would always prefer a game with engaging play and longevity as opposed to a two-hour game on rails but with great graphics. However, I feel I’m a dying breed and that many players these days wouldn’t even touch a game if the graphics don’t appeal to them. It’s likely far too late in the development stage for anything to be done about this in terms of Zombasite, but I do feel that any future games will need to keep this in mind, as the player base will likely continue to shrink with each new release still relying on the same engine/ graphics of previous releases. The other option is to develop future games for mobile devices, on which the graphics would appear more in keeping.
Also I think the difficulty balance needs to be addressed on normal setting because far too many times I’ve been off exploring dungeons, miles from a gate, and something attacks the stronghold and by the time I’ve run back to the nearest gate, most of my clan has been annihilated. Certainly this is acceptable on higher difficulty settings but on the lowest setting which should have new players in mind, it feels more than a little unfair and this is coming from a dark souls player used to having the odds stacked against her. The fact is, i don’t think players should be getting punished for exploring.
Overall, I really enjoy this game already, even in its Beta state. It runs well, the gameplay feels very fresh and unique, assuming you’ve not played any of Soldak’s previous releases, and I, personally, find the graphics comfortably nostalgic. There’s a demo available via Steam, so if you’re not sure if it’s your thing then you can give it a try for free. Due to the randomly generated content, the full game has the potential to deliver many, many hours of gameplay without getting repetitive, as each play through is a fresh experience, so the price is extremely generous for the amount of playtime delivered. I really hope that when this game launches in its finished form that it gets the notice it deserves, as it really is a very enjoyable game.