• Zombasite review by Rick Moscatello

    Zombies in need of refinement


    Ah, Diablo, the game that spawned a genre. There have been many, many, Diablo clones over the years. The best by far is Titan Quest: Immortal Throne, but bottom line, it’s still the same game as Diablo.

    There’s nothing wrong with trying to clone a game, making minor improvements and additions, but it’s sad how few developers decide to really add to the genre. Soldak is one of those few.

    Zombasite, at first glance, is just another Diablo clone. Yes, you pick from a range of classes (a few more options than Diablo) and go out to bash monsters. And, yes, your character gains skill points as he gains levels, to be spent on various new abilities (again, more options than Diablo).

    Yes, you need loot and you equip your character using the ol’ paper doll system (with a few minor additions), and sure there are set items and unique items and some crafting…but let’s get to what sets Zombasite apart.

    The biggest difference by far is you’re in a sandbox of a world. There are no set quests. Instead, quests are more or less random. You are told to “kill Foozle” at best (there are many different quest types) and you must go into the world, find Foozle, and kill him/it. The world is big, and, of course, random.

    You are, sort of, the leader of a clan, a group of people in the village. Most everyone in your clan is also an adventurer, and you can bring them out with you to adventure—two at a time (hey, one more than Diablo!). These guys are quite effective in combat, and they need to be, as death for your followers is permanent. As the only way your clan grows is for you to find other villagers in the wild and “recruit” them, you have to be a little careful with them, but that’s a fair price to pay for a very different game. Your followers can even fight amongst themselves, go insane and attack everyone, build houses…there’s a village-management mini-game that’s implemented simply but effectively here, and no Diablo clone has anything like it.

    The world, incidentally, is more or less doomed. The zombie plague is taking over, and you’ll fight all the usual monsters, as well as zombified versions (so, there are orcs out there, as well as zombie orcs). You can even get infected yourself, eventually dying, or finding a cure. Without the zombies, this game is pretty close to Din’s Curse (another Soldak title).

    Leave the village. Kill. Repeat.

    There are other clans out there, and diplomacy is probably the best thing about this game, as it is far superior to every other game I’ve played (and, trust me, I’ve played many). Granted, “diplomacy better than any other game” is a low, low bar, because most games’ diplomacy system sucks and sucks hard. The other clans here are generally reasonable (you get warning about a few clans that aren’t, and you can’t expect vampires or whatever to be particularly reasonable). You can bribe them, adventure with them, and even attack them. Another Soldak title, a sci-fi game called Drox Operative, uses a very comparable diplomacy system, and is worth a check-out if you just can’t handle fantasy.

    Winning the game isn’t about beating a big demon at the end. Instead, you have some choices. You can ally yourself with every clan (easy if you kill your non-allies), kill off every clan (fun!), complete a huge number of the random quests (hard!), or simply stockpile enough food to outlast the zombies (haven’t come remotely close to this one, so can’t tell you much about it). Completing a win condition gives a reward, and then you create a whole new world to save (your villagers come with you, too).

    What really sets this game apart for me is the time factor. Most games, especially sandbox style games, do a terrible job of putting time pressure on the player (most recently was in Dying Light, where I was told the city would be nuked in 48 hours….15 day/night cycles later, I’m still doing minor quests with nary a nuke in sight).

    Zombasite puts you on the clock. If you don’t kill Foozle in a timely manner, he’ll get some friends, and you’ll have a new quest to kill them, too. Or maybe he’ll curse a region, making it harder for you to adventure there. If you don’t stop the worst infestations, your village might get attacked by a horde of zombies.

    Because of this time factor, it’s possible to screw up and make an unwinnable world…no problem, you can generate a new random world to adventure in, keeping your followers. Zombasite is no hand-holding game, I found my butt being handed to me quite often until I learned to play smarter.

    The graphics never get past mediocre, and screenshots don't do justice to the depth of the game.

    There is much here to like, but it does take some effort to truly appreciate everything that’s going on…the depth is often lost amongst the frantic urge to try to keep up with the clock. That said, it’s a little too easy to get overwhelmed with everything that’s going on in the game world, because it all happens in real time, as you’re trying to decide which suit of armor to wear (the equipment/loot system here is a bit deeper than Diablo, and it takes time to understand it all and be able to make quick decisions).

    It’s also easy to just get lost in what to do. Trying to finish the quests is good…but new quests are generated in real time, I got down to “1 quest to win” several times before finally completing that last quest before a half dozen more spawned. The world is big (both above ground, and with multi-level dungeons), and there are lots of teleporters, but you’ll still find yourself trudging over the same territory repeatedly, trying to map out everything, solve a quest, or spot a new clan (you have to find a clan before you can ally or war with it, of course).

    Blizzard is notorious for taking a long time to release a game that looks like it’s quite ready. Part of the reason for these delays is Blizzard takes balance and refinement very seriously, and can afford to delay a very playable game half a year, just to make it more perfect.

    Soldak is basically a one-man show, and while he’s obviously talented and experienced, he just can’t take 6 months to refine the game. Thus, there are many skills that are pretty obviously worthless to take, many aspects of the game that could do with some refinement, refinements that gamers take for granted in “A” titles from major companies, but generally just aren’t an option for a small independent developer. Mercifully, the game has enough customization options that these issues don’t come close to breaking the game, but I still shudder to think what would happen if a major developer saws the ideas here and decided to put millions of dollars into giving them the treatment they deserve.

    Any fan of “action RPGs” (the basic genre of the Diablo clone) should really check Zombasite out. There is an incredibly deep game here with many ideas that you just won’t see anywhere else…it’s jaw dropping that all this is coming from a small company. There’s a nice diamond here, even if many of the edges are rough.

    Overall Rating: 89 (ten bonus points for so much from an Indie, and I’m more forgiving of weak graphics than most reviewers…the graphics are good enough)
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Zombasite review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post