In many ways, Ziggurat is very much a throwback to the first person shooters of old. From the combat mechanics to the fantasy pulp-style plot that bookends the opening and ending cutscenes. The game takes a clear inspiration from the Hexen series, referencing Doom series often as well, while introducing many new ideas to the mix.
Ziggurat’s levels make use of the recently re-popularized randomly generated map layouts. Unlike many other “Rogue-lite” games, Ziggurat keeps it to just room placement and choice, giving space for individual rooms to still be nicely designed. The variety of room combinations as well as having a different weapon at the start of every level keeps the game feeling fresh.
Nicely designed rooms are useless without monsters to fight, of which the game delivers in spades. The enemies are all wonderfully imaginative creatures such as the skeletons that hurl swords at you, wingless acid-spitting birds, and evil carrots. Their designs are all strange and varied. Their attacks, while not easy to dodge, aren’t impossible to avoid putting a higher focus on the skill of the player.
Every mistake means a portion of health is lost, and you only get one life. Since health bonuses are often scarce, every hit point matters. A single mistake could be the difference between beating the game or dying and having to start all over. You will, of course, be seeing the game over screen fairly often.
Your only defense against the cold touch of death (besides dodging out of the way) is an arsenal of magical weapons. You start out with a simple wand that works much like the starter weapon in Heretic, if it had a special attack that turned it into a shotgun. As you progress through the Ziggurat fortress, you get a new weapon at the start of each level—spell books and staffs and alchemical devices that make stuff explode.
One of the weapons is a rapid fire staff similar to the chain gun; another is a spellbook that let’s you shoot ghost skulls. The various weapons all feel fantastic to use, with a great power behind each spell cast. A not-small part of this is because of the weight the sound effects give to these weapons.
The actual game itself isn’t the longest at only five levels, so one could potentially beat Ziggurat in under an hour (though good luck with that,) but the game provides plenty of incentive to keep playing. Given the difficulty you most likely won’t beat it on your first playthrough, there are a number of other characters to play as, other weapons to discover, and upgrade cards to unlock. With the slow pace at which the game rewards you with cards, it will certainly take awhile to collect them all.
Of course figurative carrots mean nothing without fun gameplay. Good thing Ziggurat is a blast to play. Even if they handed you everything right at the beginning, it would still be worth playing for the sheer joy from actually playing the game. The unlocks serve as an added bonus instead of being the main reason to continue playing.
On the technical side there are a couple of issues, however. The framerate isn’t entirely consistent throughout the game. The short animation you watch after getting killed is not as smooth as the rest of the game. Large rooms or crowds with too many enemies chasing after you can bog it down. It never becomes unplayable in that regard though.
One problem with the interface is that the graphical commands don’t change with rebinded keys. As an example, if you change the “Upgrade” key to “R” so you don’t have to take your hand off the WASD to level up it will still tell you to press “U” to choose an upgrade card.
These issues pale when compared to the game’s strengths. The game's developers have continued to release content updates even after coming out of early access. In time, these problems will hopefully be patched. There’s a clear love for the classic first person shooters coming from this game. It brings back memories of playing them from years ago. Anyone who likes shooters should consider buying it, and I hope it continues to grow a bigger fanbase as time goes on.
You can buy Ziggurat on Steam here.