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Zombasite is an action-RPG (ARPG) with a lot of genuinely interesting gameplay systems stashed under its dated-looking surface. You can just hear the developers excitedly piling on the “what if’s.” What if we had an autonomous game world? What if we had factions and NPCs who could be assigned tasks in the background? What if any character class could use and buy any skill from the beginning? Unfortunately, those creative folks forgot one important question: what if we had an interface and systems in place to thoroughly explain everything?

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Neither Zombasite‘s visuals—which are not terribly sharp and decidedly low budget—nor its core combat mechanics will inspire much enthusiasm. After all, there are a dozen better-looking and more technically impressive ARPGs from which to choose, from Diablo to Path of Exile. And let’s face it, the zombie apocalypse theme isn’t the freshest meal on the menu either, though in this case there is an added layer of fantasy horror to explain the existence of the shambling undead (spoiler: it’s the titular zombasite virus).

Where indie studio Soldak has managed to actually innovate is how they added layers of autonomy to the game’s open world. Things happen in the background that are unpredictable and unexpected. Faction members become infected and must be cured within a set amount of time. The settlement’s residents are starving and must be fed. Monsters grow stronger thanks to their own independent activities. Zombasite is, like most ARPGs, full of moment to moment combat and loot discovery, but it also includes a series of choices that have much more impact on the world than most Diablo clones. You have a faction and a number of NPCs under your control, but there are other factions with their own goals that often conflict with yours. Those other factions may complete a quest or kill a monster that your faction will never see. There is a unique sense that the world is changing independent of the player’s actions.

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While much of Zombasite‘s core gameplay will be pretty familiar to fans of ARPGs—weapons, crafting, loot, consumables, hotbar-based combat—the game does a pretty poor job of explaining its more arcane (and interesting) systems, opting to use flashing tool tips that don’t always seem to appear at the appropriate time and then blink annoyingly until read. It takes some time, patience, and trial and error processes to understand how settlements work, how to care for and maintain NPCs, and how to build the optimal character. Zombasite uses a class-based system, including Warrior, Rogue, Wizard, Priest, Ranger, Conjurer, Demon Hunter, and Hybrid classes each with three skill trees, so it’s hard not to make a pretty unique character.

There’s a pretty wide range of enemies on which to unleash all those skills, from little monstrosities to big bosses and opposing factions. But for all that, the combat isn’t always very interesting or engaging. Compared to the special effects-heavy combat animations of some of the big budget ARPGs, Zombasite‘s encounters are pretty pale. There is a ton of loot to collect but Soldak seems to have forgotten that loot and gear management is always one of the least enjoyable aspects of the genre, and having limited storage space while having to right click items to “identify” them (why?) adds tedium to the process.

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The game’s environments are varied between exterior and interiors but there are a lot of unnatural and very square borders suggesting a geometric tileset under the vegetation; zoomed out, the textures are bland and not very sharp. Zoomed in, the characters and combat are a bit more interesting to look at. There is no voice work—save for some “oof”s and grunts during combat—and the musical score relies on a sampled orchestra.

Given a substantial budget, a bigger team, and a little more focus on user-friendliness, Zombasite could be a real winner, thanks to its unique approach to factions and an overworld that teems with incident. It isn’t a great-looking game and those unwilling to dive a bit deeper below the surface will be tempted to dismiss it as a low-rent ARPG with a hackneyed premise. Soldak could be on the verge of something great if it could abandon some of the more tired conventions of the genre that other games have already left behind.

 

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Tags : Zombasite
Mark Steighner

The author Mark Steighner

Mark Steighner is a composer, playwright, teacher, musician, and videogamer from the Pacific Northwest. He’s also a grandfather and older than the rest of the EB staff combined. Just goes to show that one can put off actual maturity for a really long time.