Ziggurat 2 (PC) review
"Magically destroyed so many creatures that they call me Da mage"
My first violent death in Ziggurat 2 came from the gnashing jaws of angry sentient carrots. There was a horde of the furious bastards, and it became clear early on that my desperate backpedalling wasnít going to get me clear of them. My offence broke down, and then there was orange, and then there was death. This, of course, couldnít have been my fault, so I quickly settled on a scapegoat. My twitch skills are fine; modern shooters are to blame.
When I first strolled into a room and was told I had to defeat the incoming enemy waves, I hunkered down behind some scenery and got ready to exchange some fire. That didnít happen. Instead, carrots happened. A stampede of the angry veggie bastards. There was no time to slowly chip away at them; they are upon you in seconds. I didnít adjust quickly enough to survive this, and I was dead seconds later.
Ziggurat 2 subscribes to the core fundamentals of classic shooters; never stop moving if you want to stay alive. You donít regain health by sitting quietly in a corner for a while, you have to actively hunt down health-up drops from defeated enemies. Itís a classic mindset thatís been much more commonplace ever since Doom started its comeback tour in 2016, so Ziggurat 2 goes a little bit further to distinguish itself. Rather than deck you out with pump action shotguns, rocket launchers and plasma rifles, you get magical staves, ancient tomes and dwarven blunderbusses.
You get a whole lot of different wizardy weapons spread across the entire game, because Ziggurat 2 is also a Roguelike. This shouldnít be too much of a surprise for those with experience from the first game, but that demographic doesnít include me. Turns out, back then, the Ziggurat was a kind of magical prison that immortal demons were dumped into. Because it was just sitting there, it was decided that the best thing to do was throw aspiring mages in and label the shell-shocked survivors as successful graduates. Thatís not an option anymore; the Ziggurat exploded and the mage sects are scattered. The only people left to try and piece things back together again are a couple of novices.
Thatís your excuse for taking on a bunch of randomly generated dungeons over and over again. Youíre dropped into a stage with nothing but your starting weapon (itís a wand Ė the magical equivalent of a basic pistol) and left to sink or swim. The only way out is either miserable death or glorious victory. To begin with, these are simple enough structures, only containing one floor with a single boss fight housed somewhere in their depths. A hurried mage needs only to locate the key that unlocks the bossí chambers, but a hurried mage is often a dead mage. Youíre encouraged to explore, not only to gain the experience youíll routinely forfeit at the end of each crawl and stack levels so youíre full of well-fed stats, but to fill out your arsenal. Early on, itís not impossible to take out dungeon bosses at low levels with naught by your flimsy starter wand, but itís never advisable.
Further exploration means you might stumble across a treasure chest and add something new to your arsenal. Maybe a lightning staff that fires quad orbs of sizzling thunder, or a fire tome that lets you fling flames from your fingertips. Sometimes, though, this comes at a price, and opening a chest triggers various waves of neíer-do-wells you need to survive before claiming the contents. Some structures have shops where you can buy more weapons, or healing fountains that can top up your flagging health. Thereís shrines where you can pledge oaths to bolster one statistic at the bereft of another (such as gaining excess attack power, but losing 65% of your existing health immediately!) Some of the larger stages have tempting vaults to plunder, but youíll need to find key fragments hidden throughout the floor to access it.
Success brings rewards, like permanent perks and new weapons. Slog through the right amount of missions, and youíll slowly increase your ranks of mages, finding those with specialist skills to offset the balanced pair you start off with. Your first new recruit isnít the most powerful, and is built primarily around stealth, being able to drop in and out of rolling battles to avoid heavy barrages or set up devastating ambushes. It pays to keep switching up your mages and your loadouts, because you can gain shards from levelling weapons and characters which you can spend on a skill tree, with buffs like increased health or an uptick in ice-based magic. I can see why this was implemented; not only as a way to give random crawls a higher sense of purpose, but to provide reason to force you to mix things up, to try new weapons and new tactics. This is required, because even if the levels are randomly generated, and youíre presented a new dungeon every time you set foot into the Ziggurat, exploring these floors never really feels any different.
My hatred of carrots propelled me forward (even when they mixed sentient chilli peppers into their ranks, who explode when you kill them, the spicy nuisances!) but there are other modes, such as daily challenges available to those who might find the grind becoming a little monotonous. More complex rooms are added the further into the game you get, but theyíre mainly variations of closing down minion wave spawns and then killing off the lingering forces. Ziggurat 2 doesnít really hold up to extended playing and is the kind of game best sampled in little slices, in running a few dungeons at a time and then getting out before it all starts to blur together. Sometimes, to get the best out of guerrilla wizarding, you just have to stay out of the fight for a spell.
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