As far as action RPGs go, humour doesn’t regularly factor into the equation. Loot systems, challenging bosses, satisfying combat, lots of fun skills – this is where the attention usually goes before the game is dressed up in its usually dark fantasy or sci-fi clothes. Zenith, however, very much focuses on being funny instead.
To its credit, it is certainly amusing. It plays with gaming conventions that we just accept and interrupts them, or sarcastically comments on them, and then mixes in a lot of silly jokes and parodies. There’s plenty of things that are genuinely funny, from tenor singing spiders who go into a lovely harmony before destroying you to the orc mafia.
Unfortunately, this care and quality does not appear in the rest of the game. The loot system might as well not be there. You occasionally find an item and discover that it’s marginally better than the one in your hand, so you head over to a shop and flog all your old and unused gear, but then find there’s nothing of interest to spend your money on.
Levelling your character – a crucial part of any RPG – is a dull series incremental upgrades that are sorted into different ability trees. There is barely any customisation and you never really feel like you are getting more powerful. The impression it gives is that you are always just trying to catch up to the most recently introduced enemy, which will then be replaced once you are in danger of beating it a little too quickly.
Combat is equally lacklustre. The controls on consol are floaty and inaccurate, leading to multiple occasions where I managed to miss an enemy and combo my way into a crate that exploded, instantly killing my character. Why a one-hit-kill crate was placed next to three enemies is anyone’s guess, as is why it was barely distinguishable from other, less explosive crates that can be broken for loot. Different weapons will give you different move sets, but in reality they are functionally the same; a case of repeatedly hitting attack when there’s a gap in an enemy’s offence then rolling out of the way, or perhaps just throwing a few spells at them.
You can probably guess all of the cookie cutter spells that make up the magic system, with things like a fireball that hits one enemy to a shockwave that damages everyone in an annoyingly small radius around you. You can use a fireball to convince a shield bearing enemy to drop its shield – presumably because it heats up the metal? – but that appears to be the full extent of any innovative use of magic in the game. Even regular use is made tricky by the control scheme, which requires you to move towards your target, as aiming is done with the left analogue stick.
The level design continues the downward trend. One dungeon was literally three rooms separated by a small, circular area and connected by bridges with mildly irritating spinning traps on them. Later on, backtracking through this area naturally spawned additional enemies to fight. This is exacerbated by the very linear nature of the game. The first hour leads you down small, thin corridors that look like dungeons or cities, but are ultimately very shallow backdrops for you to wander through on your way to the next loading screen and area. You will work your way through, talking to everyone you can to extract as much comedy as you can, expressing frustration when combat rears its head. When a world map is introduced it manages to feel wide and open, but it’s not full enough to relieve the linearity of the game.
All of this comedy, as well written as it is, is delivered entirely through text, whilst cutscenes (which are just scripted scenes where people can walk around between dialogues and sometimes a cat explodes) occasionally incorporate comedic sound effects. This is very much at odds with the writing, as comedy is very much centred around timing and it is difficult to hit your cues with text that appears a little at a time. There is a lot of dialogue to go through and whether or not you will stomach it will rely entirely on your sense of humour aligning with the game’s.
To round it off, the game looks outdated by at console generation, most of the time. Occasionally, a scene seems to have had a little more work put into it and looks quite nice, but it’s never really what would be expected from a modern release. There is a little aliasing getting through on finer details and plenty of frame rate drops to contend with as well.
You are never at risk of encountering anything unexpected when playing Zenith, but cutscenes are unpredictable and quite intelligently written (and even well directed at times), so they are genuinely entertaining. But the game is an action RPG by the numbers, and it gives the distinct impression that it is a vehicle for delivering the comedy. This would be fine, but that vehicle would need to be enjoyable and on this one, the wheels have fallen off.
Version tested: PS4