Ziggurat brings Roguelike procedurally generated content along with the twitch reactions of a first-person shooter, all inside a fantasy comic aesthetic. It’s Tower of Guns but with magic, and it’s brilliant.
Of course calling Ziggurat a Roguelike stretches the subgenre’s definition a little bit. Much like the analogous Tower of Guns, it’s more Rouge-inspired, with the takeaway features being permadeath and procedurally generated levels and enemy layouts. Additionally, Ziggurat’s setting is high fantasy, you’re an apprentice sorcerer looking to join a powerful brotherhood, in order to do so you must enter and survive the five levels of a ziggurat. Each level steadily grows in size and is filled with deadlier foes culminating in a boss. You must search the labyrinthine ziggurat levels for a key to open a portal to the next level which also reveals that level’s boss.
The narrative is superficial and brief but does its job in setting up your driving force for entering the Ziggurat initially. Additional, nuggets of story can be found as scrolls within the levels that flesh out the world a little more but mostly talk of the dangers the ziggurat holds. It mostly fades into the background, but ultimately it’s not missed – after your first attempt the compulsion to replay is inescapable.
The primary hook that drags you in is how consistently fair each attempt at the ziggurat is – a remarkable trait for a game with procedurally generated challenges. Enemies are well-balanced to a predictable difficulty curve that’s easy to anticipate and prepare for, and the perks you obtain through exploration or levelling are a choice between different approaches to combat rather than the random empowering or restraining of your character. As such it encourages you to play differently rather than stacking the odds against you or overpowering you.
When you level up you’re provided a choice between two perk cards. Often it’s a choice between increased health and increased mana, but as you level up further those choices expand to sacrificing health or mana for the other. Mixing and matching these perks essentially allows you to create the classic classes from first-person shooters – sacrificing mana for health builds you a tank, meanwhile, the opposite moves you towards damage per second (DPS), etc. and while your choices won’t always allow you to build towards the play style you necessarily prefer, asking you to adapt to a different style rather than relying on grinding or lucky dice rolls is a far less frustrating process.
You adventure through the ziggurat in first-person, starting out with your trusty wand and gaining more weapons as you search and find them. Each weapon is magically powered – sceptres, guns and more can be found and swapped out to fill your four weapon slots, each using a different pool of mana which acts like ammo to be refilled by picking up crystals dropped by defeated foes. It plays like a first-person shooter, with the nostalgic fast paced strafing action of titles such as Hexen or Doom. It’s terrific, intense fun.
Occasional areas are subject to procedurally generated effects, such as increased or decreased weapon’s damage, character speed or fire rate. Additionally, there are traps to look out for and challenge rooms that pit you against a large horde of enemies or a difficult platforming and trap dodging challenge with a reward at the end. Indeed the ziggurat is a treacherous place, tempting you to conquer its challenges for those extra perks and weapons that might help you survive the bosses and their minions. However, if you die it’s back to the beginning.
However, by achieving specific objectives, such as killing a certain amount of enemies, other characters are unlocked for you to take into the ziggurat, each with different starting stats or wands offering a different experience and challenge. Unlocking the large roster and trying to conquer the ziggurat is a compelling experience for the completionist, but more than that it’s remarkably fun and satisfying thanks to it’s fast paced casting/shooting mechanic and fair procedurally challenges.
Additionally, Ziggurat is a very good looking game. A colourful palette makes the dungeons bright rather than dreary and the particle effects for spells more impressive. There’s also a light-hearted philosophy to the enemy design that brings a smile to your face, with their exaggerated features and odd sounds. Furthermore, secret areas have a picture on the wall representing a game from developer Milkstone Studio’s portfolio, with text appearing giving a brief history. Meanwhile, the subtle shaking of the controller as you approach an edge gives you a terrific indicator that makes first-person platforming that much easier and quicker. Indeed, Ziggurat is full of thoughtful design choices and personality.
Ziggurat is a fun and accessible Roguelike with precisely the kind of refinements you’d expect from a modern action shooter, but one that channels the spirit of older, fast paced titles. There are occasions where the action becomes a bit too intense and the framerate chugs, but otherwise this is a spectacular dungeon crawling FPS that’s different every time you play but never falls into the pit of being unfair.
Thanks to Xbox for supplying TiX with a download code
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