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Zenith (PC) artwork

Zenith (PC) review


"Comedic stumbling "


This is roughly my third fourth attempt at muddling through writing this Zenith review, because thereís something very difficult in trying to talk about a game that gets so many of its base mechanics so hilariously wrong, yet still winds up being okay in the end. It manages that feat mostly because its sporadic highlights are based around something as subjective and intangible as humour.

You probably wonít laugh at every joke, but Zenith spreads them around with such a sense of reckless aplomb that itíll be unlikely youíll find nothing to appreciate inside its ten or so hour lifespan. It pokes fun at itself, at fantasy tropes, at the genre, at pop references, and even at its own reliance on pop references. Early in the game, youíll meet caricatures of famous Final Fantasy protagonists whose overstated personality quirks openly annoy the people around them. Thereís a sense that, even though the game has staples like a big evil trying to destroy the world, itís incapable of taking anything all that seriously. The threat is never diminished; youíre under no doubt that something very powerful wants everything very dead and is very capable of making that happen. Itís just that it sometimes wanders by to casually chat and catch up on old times. Like how he was once thwarted by an elephant that you had to use as a substitute for a machine part, which has since been recognised as a holy symbol referenced throughout the game.

Zenith (PC) image


The problem Zenith has is that it canít all be about stuffing elves into empty wine barrels and having a golem lob them up the side of a mountain. Sometimes, it has to make a sincere stab at being an action-RPG. The biggest issue there is that the only things weaker than Zenithís particularly bland action are its barely-existent RPG elements.

Itís all very threadbare. You have an XP counter that you fill by taking on clunky real-time battles and, once you fill it, you can invest a point in a skill tree that is filled with barely useful skills. Oh, and thereís an awful, awful loot system that gives you the same small collection of armour over and over, just with a roman numeral attached so you can see whatís supposedly superior. It means you often come out of a dungeon with, for example, a handful of Earth Ring III accessories.

Some attempt is made to tie such elements into your fighting. The main character is a mage, after all. At first, the options available to him are impressive. There are a few different weapons, but your weapon options essentially boil down to either a gauntlet with an element or a sword with an element. Spell selection is much more impressive; you can equip projectile spells as mundane as summoning a fireball, or you can unleash ricocheting ice blades from your fingertips. You can also equip various scrolls that produce an area-of-effect attack. Unfortunately, the level of customisation available is lacking. Going into that obligatory fire dungeon? Bring ice spells for damage and flame armour for protection. It never really gets any deeper than that.

Zenith (PC) image


And so itís all very basic, but basic doesnít have to mean bad. Itís a functional if uninvolving system, which could safely be regulated to the back burner if only the combat engine worked. Which is the big issue, because Zenithís combat engine doesnít really work on any level. For a start, the wide and varied enemy cast always seem to be able to hit a lot harder than you can, meaning that your defeat could come at the hands of a swarm of simple cannon fodder at any time. It doesnít feel like you have any form of defence against this; thereís a block button that summons up a magic shield thatís picky about what it blocks and eats up your mana supply. Thereís a dodge button that performs a worthlessly slow roll, which is never going to get you safely out of the way of anything but the most cumbersome of attacks.

With no way to weather a series of attacks and wait for an opening, and with no real way to successfully dodge your enemies and come back in for a counter-attack, battles mostly boil down to a war of attrition where you pummel your foes and hope they croak first, or else you run around the screen like a coward, spamming spells until your meagre mana supply is exhausted. Wherein youíre forced back into Plan A: a headfirst charge into probable death. Thereís another problem with combat, as well: your blows feel like theyíre making no impact on the target. Thereís no knockback, no stun, no visual representation that what youíre doing is making a shred of difference. Enemies just press through your attacks and land attacks of their own. You can carry a healthy stock of both healing and magic potions, but theyíre only boons to a limited degree; quaff one, and thereís a cooldown period before another can be consumed.

Zenith (PC) image


Eventually, youíll have to decide if you want to keep suffering through the tedious battling that makes up the bulk of Zenith, in an unenviable attempt to see more of its humour. It was my job to do so as I prepared this review, and Iím not going to lie: that project became more and more of a grind the further I advanced. Thatís a real shame, because the bits between the combat often genuinely amused me and, even in the instances where the jokes fall flat, the effort and the attention and the sheer love of the genre being lampooned are clear for all to see. You can tell that the people who created this world poured an almost obsessive amount of detail and exertion into it, and theyíve truly created something almost unique to be proud of. But they made the mistake of building it all around a frustratingly clumsly and comically ineffective core, and that's difficult to forgive.

3/5

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 17, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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