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Zombasite (Mac) artwork

Zombasite (Mac) review

"A world where everything, including your allies, will try to kill you."

Zombasite isn't the easiest game to review. For the first few minutes of play, you think you're playing a rogue-like take on Diablo III. Then, as you are in the midst of slaughtering monsters, a ton of other elements start slapping you in the face and make you feel like a first-term college freshman who has been forced to tackle a doctorate program instead of those basic "101" classes.

Part of the blame lies with the game's development team at Soldak Entertainment. To find anything resembling legitimate instructions, you have to set aside the game itself and consult the company website. If not for a desperate Google search when I was particularly lost, I wouldn't know even that much. I would have had to rely instead on the constant stream of "Help" messages that pop up during play. As it turns out, there's a lot more going on here than just monster slaying and loot gathering.

The game takes place in one of those medieval worlds that has recently fallen victim to a zombie plague. You are the leader of a clan of survivors who are looking to stay alive in a new, unfriendly world. You start out by picking the parameters of your world, adjusting things like its total size and the number of opposing clans that will vie for supremacy. The computer then procedurally generates the world that surrounds your village. As a man looking to right the wrongs of "Game of Thrones", I named my group after the true kings of the North and, just like that, Clan Bolton was unleashed amid the zombie apocalypse!

In your village, you find a mystic gate that teleports you to other such devices located throughout the world. There also is a crafting station where you can fix and improve weaponry, pedestals where your defense measures can be managed and a bulletin board loaded with all sorts of quests. Most important of all, though, is your lifestone. This device instantly restores all of your health. If enemies destroy it, you automatically lose. After taking a moment or two to check things out, I warped outside my town's perimeter and started exploring. There were monsters all over the place, and people to rescue. I would occasionally receive messages from another clan or two, as well as from a particular monster designated as my nemesis for the game. While the nemesis was obviously hostile, relations with other clans varied. When it comes to your goals for victory, you can either choose to befriend everyone, or simply wipe them all out.

As a card-carrying man of Bolton, the diplomatic direction I took should be obvious. Sadly, I never really got a chance to start flaying my potential foes because after I had explored a bit, slaughtered a few monsters and collected some equipment, I received word that my town was being attacked by a rival clan. I returned home to bravely confront my foes and soon discovered a horde of enemies, every one of them considerably more powerful than my own character. After getting killed, I chose to simply start over with another world, rather than repeatedly resurrect until I could finally overcome the invasion 500 lives later.

This time around, I went to the options screen and disabled town invasions and other tougher quest varieties. That approach worked out swimmingly, if that word can be said to fairly describe my demise by 1000 cuts, rather than by a single head-cleaving whack. I soon learned that the townspeople are morons who are inclined to flip out at the drop of a hat. Throughout your explorations, you run into people aimlessly wandering through the monster-infested wilderness. You can then invite them to become part of your community. While you need at least one member of your clan besides yourself and these potential migrants do have their uses, both in battle and out, oftentimes it seems the purpose of gathering them is to give you a reason to pull out your hair at regular intervals. They gradually grow dissatisfied with their living arrangements, and become more insane and occasionally even pick fights with each other.

The process feels random most of the time, but there actually are specific factors that cause your people to become unhappy. A lack of food is one such factor. Whenever you start a game, you have a certain supply of food on-hand, which slowly depletes as time passes. As long as you can manage to find food while adventuring, there's nothing to worry about. However, if fortune doesn't favor you, then you'll have to start rationing the grub. This makes people unhappy. Not as unhappy as if you run out and they start starving to death, but unhappy nonetheless. This chain of events unhappily led me to a scenario where I ran low on food, my three people were all unhappy, one killed another and the third got really unhappy. Time for take three!

Hmmm, more food-gathering problems... Take four!

That fourth attempt started out pretty nicely, at least. I quickly discovered a multi-floor dungeon located very close to town and loaded with food barrels. This allowed me to gain enough supplies that I didn't have to worry about rationing anything for quite some time. Of course, there are certain problems with underground exploration -- in particular the weak infrastructure of the caves and catacombs. You'll be engaged in battle, there will be an explosion and rocks will start falling on your head, forcing you to quickly quaff a health potion. There also are problems with getting frustrated because you've restarted your game a few times, which may lead you to forget to disable town invasions before spawning your world. That's a mistake I discovered only once my promising town got ganged up on by two different clans at once. I might have been able to handle the situation, except then my strongest NPC got killed and turned into a giant grim reaper-like figure. His mere presence immediately tipped the scales in favor of my foes.

Uh, I wasn't exactly expecting that. It's bad enough that your guys can lose their temper or sanity and randomly start attacking their neighbors, but for their dead bodies to turn into ghosts that apparently blame you for their demise? That's just cruel! So I took the only option possible if I wanted to get this game reviewed before 2017: I started over, set monster levels as low as possible, made sure town invasions couldn't occur AND eliminated other clans, so the world was nothing but Boltons and mindless monsters.

And guess what? After stripping this game down to its most basic elements, I was finally able to make some headway and figure out how to do things. I learned that food gathering is actually quite simple, provided you're lucky enough to grab an NPC or two who has some sort of food-related skill (such as farming). Not being invaded and having full bellies does wonders for everyone's morale. I now have a village full of people so happy that they've erected not one, but two statues in my honor! And while constantly fighting took its toll on my equipment's durability, loot drops can be salvaged at crafting stations to keep supplies flowing and to prevent items from breaking.

Hell, I even found a certain sort of beauty in my current procedurally-generated world! I left town and explored the area immediately outside, which led to a string of three straight ruined towns, each inhabited by more powerful foes than the last. This created quite the depressive scene, where it felt as though my clan was the only foothold civilization had in the world -- a tiny island of humanity on the verge of being swallowed by the darkness. The only thing that didn't make sense was the scarcity of new quests as I meandered from one zone to the next. Then I left the third town and entered the wilderness area that adjoins it. There, I found a gate leading back to town and noticed that my bulletin board was now covered with dozens of missions. So, I've been exploring the world, killing powerful unique monsters, collecting special drops and rescuing stranded people. I feel like I can finally survive in a world where I gave myself nearly every possible advantage.

There's just the one minor issue: my townspeople are becoming increasingly insane, which could eventually become problematic. If they go completely insane, after all, they'll turn into murderous psychopaths…

As I said, Zombasite isn't an easy game to review. If you simplify things the way I did, you're left with a lower-budget version of Diablo III's Adventure Mode, where your time is dominated by simple side quests that task you with killing everything in sight and seeking out better equipment. If you don't go that route, on the other hand, you'll possibly get lost within a deep town maintenance project. You'll have a more robust experience that's also infinitely more confusing, until you've finally spent the time it takes to figure out how to do everything.

I did enjoy the time I spent with Zombasite, but it's the sort of experience that will probably only really appeal to a niche crowd that is willing to juggle all sorts of challenges, instead of simply slaying monsters. Give me another dozen or two hours working with this one and I'll probably learn how to survive those devilish challenges that induced me to gradually simplify things in the first place. I just don't know if my interest would hold for that long...


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 09, 2016)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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