Ziggurat is the latest FPS dungeon crawler from Milkstone Studios. Released on Steam and XBox One in March 2015, it combines Rogue-like mechanics with the twitch shooter styling of the old classics Hexen and Heretic.
Rating: Buy it. (3.5/5)
Dixon’s Thoughts: Ziggurat is difficult to explain to people who have never played a Rogue simulator and haven’t experienced ID Software and Raven Software’s Heretic series. To save time, you can check out the Rogue concept here. Briefly, these types of games feature things like a single life, procedurally generated (read: randomized) dungeons, and punishing difficulty curves. The Heretic series, on the other hand, are some of the earliest examples of Golden-era 90’s PC shooters, with the added twist that the entire series took place in a dark fantasy setting, using magic, crossbows, and other weird ritual magic devices. Ziggurat lovingly combines the dark, brutal atmosphere of that series with the unique elements of Roguelike games to form a coherent, tight indie title that only has a few minor flaws. It’s a rewarding experience, full of monsters and frustration and eventual triumph.
You begin after choosing your character. Initially you have only one choice, but there are several unlock-able characters, each with their own specific abilities that will change the way you play through the Ziggurat. The first character is the most balanced, with no specific specialties.
To unlock new characters one must complete specific challenges, which are laid out for you in advance when you select a character. This allows you to shoot for specific character unlocks should you want to do so.
The gameplay itself is relatively simple and easy to grasp. As a first person shooter the interface is fairly basic. Your Right and Left triggers fire your weapons’ primary and secondary attack, respectively. I’m not sure how many weapons there are, however, the game itself has 3 resources aside from health, and they correspond to three different weapon “types”. These types are Spells, Staves, and Alchemy. Staves are typically lower damage but very easy to aim (the projectiles for staff weapons seem to have some homing capabilities), while spells are usually slower moving but cover large areas, as well as carrying some status effect utility like freezing or burning. Alchemical weapons usually manifest in the form of grenades or crossbows that launch odd projectiles such as hell arrows or other grenades. Overall, I found the Staff weapons to be the most useful on boss monsters, while Spells seemed to be the trick to managing the large packs of two-legged pink dildo monsters that the game seems so fucking fond of.
The procedural level generation is nice. While they do tend to recycle room “building blocks” frequently, there is enough variation in the monsters and traps in each level that it only feels stale after playing for several hours. The game’s real depth can be fully explored in it’s leveling and item discovery system. When you die, and occasionally while playing the game, you’ll discover new “items”.
This item does not go to your inventory. Instead, it gets put into a “deck” of items and abilities that are randomly selected and presented to you when you level up.
Some choices will be more obvious than others, say, more ammo capacity for a weapon that you don’t have yet versus more maximum health. Others, like the one pictured, are less obvious. Personally, I always chose Bookworm when it comes up. This is a bit of an RNG trick, as this game only really lets you personalize your character through the leveling up system, and this perk gives you 3 options to choose from instead of two. As a whole, the leveling and specialization portion of the game is both simple and engaging, as it encourages you to explore as far as possible but rewards you for both leveling up AND dying a lot. (At the time of this blog, I do not understand the mechanics for item discovery when you die. I’ll update this post should I ever figure it out.)
At the end of every level is a Boss fight. These, too, are randomly selected, though I’ve only ever seen a handful of the same bosses per floor.They are generally giant versions of your least favorite enemies from the floor, and are almost always accompanied by a horde of lesser minions intent on fucking up your day.
HAHA JUST KIDDING! FUCK YOU, DIXON!
Should you manage to make it through the entire floor, collect the portal key (which unlocks the boss room), clear all the rooms of minions, AND beat the boss, you’ll be presented with a portal to the next floor, as well as all of the loot from the boss and his crappy-shitty-no-good minions. If you’re lucky, some of them will have dropped health potions, and you MIGHT be able to get to the next floor with 50% health. At this time there are only five floors, and I’ve only made it through the first three. While five doesn’t seem like a lot (it’s not), the replay value and difficulty curve of the game has kept me playing on and off for weeks.
Ziggurat is a fun, engaging, indie shooter with a lot more depth than you’d expect. It offers an enjoyable, if not overly unique, reward and leveling system, and it’s difficulty curve and quirky, humorous art style and design have all come together perfectly in this game. I only find a few things lacking, like the number of floors and a sparse approach to explaining game mechanics (there is no tutorial and item discovery isn’t explained anywhere), but overall the game’s strengths outweigh it’s few weaknesses. Pick it up!