Zenith is one of the most entertaining games I have played this year simply based on its writing and nods to numerous video game cliches, but it’s also a game full of so many bugs and barebone gameplay that it holds itself back from greatness.
Zenith tells the story of young Argus as he searches for a magical scepter to help his emperor win the war against an elven army. After discovering the Scepter, all hell breaks loose and Argus triggers an apocalyptic event. The game’s story then fast forwards to the future where Argus is enjoying his life as a simply potionist in a small town. That is until a mysterious girl named Alana shows up searching for the same scepter. The story jumps around from this current time with the past showing what happened during the apocalyptic event that took place.
The story itself is as simple as it gets, but its presentation is what makes it so great. The humorous writing carries through the entirety of the quest and the nods to other games and media are as clear as day. Throughout your adventure you will run into characters who are clear nods to various other titles. Characters like Cloude and Iris who are mentions to Cloud and Aerith from Final Fantasy VII are adventurers looking for the scepter with Alana, and it gets even better when you run into a Nordic warrior complaining about how his land has become overrun with magical unicorns and how everything starts to look better and better everyday and stacks of cheese are found all over his home, all of which are clearly a nod to Skyrims mods. These instances can be found everywhere as you explore the world of Zenith.
The writing for the main game is just as great. Argus is the sarcastic ass you would expect him to be. But it’s not just him: Every character is perfectly written to their strengths. It’s as if Mel Brooks wrote the story himself because the writing is completely out there and so are the instances our heroes find themselves in. Giant spiders sing when they attack you and giant rats worship Argus as their god, because they were able to evolve from his failed potions that he just dumped in the sewer–a nod toward Ninja Turtles. Zenith even goes as far as giving you a sarcasm stat which is set at 999, and yes it does change depending on the situation Argus finds himself in.
The music in the game is just as strong and sounds a lot like folk music you would have heard in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The sound effects are also well done when they aren’t failing. A lot of the sound effects come and go during many situations. I would also like to point out that the game doesn’t have any voice work which is a shame considering it would have been great to listen to these characters deliver their fantastic lines. The graphics don’t push the PS4 by any means but have a nice little charm to them. Not every location looks good but some like the floating city of Thelos look gorgeous. I just wish more locations were as wondrous to look at.
Zenith plays like an action-rpg much like the Diablo series. You explore locations and combat hordes of enemies. Like most of these games the combat can be difficult at first, but as you find better loot the game actually gets a lot easier. The combat itself is competent but as barebones as it gets. The loot system isn’t so great, with almost everything enemies drop weaker than what you find in chests or buy in shops. As with other games in this genre you can also unlock new abilities, but they don’t really do much for you.
The gear you find is color coded to three different elements, Fire, Water, and Earth. You don’t get attack, agility, or dexterity stats in Zenith, but instead you’re stats are linked to elements. Depending on which gear you equip it will either increase your damage with a certain element and decrease it with another. For example if I were to equip a chest piece that was red, it would increase my fire attack damage and my affinity to fire damage while decreasing my water attack and water defense. It’s a rock, paper, scissors effect that’s important at first but becomes less so as you reach the end, because you become so powerful that every attack does a great deal of damage and any affinity can kill any enemy.
The abilities on the other hand are even less impressive. Outside of increasing your mana and health regeneration, the only thing the ability skills unlock is elemental damage increase, and elemental affinity, and a new move for each of the three weapons you can use. The only real ability you unlock is a fast dodge that creates fire on the ground burning enemies as they walk through it. It’s just another lost opportunity.
The game is littered with bugs, glitches, and other issues that hurt the experience quite a bit. I ran into frame rate drops almost every time I went into combat when there were a mere four or five enemies on screen. The other issues saw me getting stuck on nothing in the environment which led to a lot of deaths throughout my adventure. I also ran into issues where Argus would get stuck in an animation leaving me helpless to defend myself or even move out of the way of attacks. This became a massive problem in the final boss battle, because a cutscene would trigger during combat, leaving me stuck in the animation.
I would also run into an issue where the boss wouldn’t move on to his next phase forcing me to restart the battle dozens of times before it would work again. I honestly didn’t think I would be able to finish the game because of these issues. I also couldn’t finish a few of the side quests because the game would go into a loading screen and freeze every time I would go into the area to finish the quests. This also happened through the entirety of the game as I tried multiple times throughout the adventure to finish these side quests and everytime the game would just freeze.
There is a world map in Zenith, and as much as I appreciate the effort that went into including a world map, running around in it isn’t very fun. The frame rate drops drastically, and it suffers from plentiful pop-up. Enemies roam the world map but you almost always want to avoid combat. When running into enemies you have to wait through a twenty to thirty second loading screen to enter a battle that will take no longer than fifteen seconds. After a while I avoided almost every enemy on the world map just to avoid the long load times with almost no reward.
Zenith had a lot going for it but its technical issues kept it from greatness. The fantastic writing can’t save a game from its bare bones combat and various bugs and technical glitches. I was able to look past most of it and personally enjoyed it, but it’s hard to recommend to the casual gamer. A patch would do wonders for the game, but for some reason I doubt one would be coming anytime soon.