It's been a busy month for Roguelite, first-person-shooters on the PlayStation 4. No sooner have you put your feet up after besting the firearm filled gauntlets of Tower of Guns, when Ziggurat comes knocking on your door to drag you back to yet another randomly generated labyrinth, packed full of all sorts of monsters and traps.
In this instance, Ziggurat is a fortress where apprentice wizards are sent every ten years to test their mastery of the magical arts against the horrors that it contains. Only those who make their way through each of its five levels in one piece will go on to join the ranks of the elite spell slingers, with those who fail to prove themselves worthy becoming handy human sacrifices to the evil powers within.
Before you start your trek into Ziggurat, you'll need to pick a wizard for the trials ahead. With only Argo – who can best be described as a wizard of all trades, master of none – being available from the start, you'll need to complete certain challenges in order to unlock a number of casters. Fortunately, it won't be too long before you'll have a nice selection to choose from, and whether you value resilience, mobility, or faster character levelling, you'll be able to find one that'll suit your preferred play style.
Every sorcerer starts out with only your common or garden magic wand for defence. Fortunately, there's always a random weapon belonging to one of the three other weapon categories in the starting room, which provides a welcome boost to your offensive repertoire. Whether this early addition turns out to be a staff, spell book, or magic grenade, you'll need to collect the appropriate coloured crystals dropped by enemies to power them, as – unlike your basic wand – these more powerful weapons don't have a recharging mana pool.
When exploring a room for the first time, more often than not, all of the exits will suddenly slam shut, and you'll be forced to eliminate every minion that spawns before you can progress. As the foes vary in speed, size, and attacks, you'll need to adjust your approach accordingly, with each area serving up a different cocktail of antagonists, traps, and layouts. It doesn't take long before you'll start to become familiar with the enemies and arenas, getting a feel for when you can safely engage at close range – or when keeping a distance is a much better option.
It's fun to zig-zag around each room blasting away with your spells, and it feels very reminiscent of first-person shooters from yesteryear such as DOOM or Serious Sam. As enemies make a beeline towards you firing projectiles in your direction, the sense of nostalgia can reach fever pitch, as you'll find yourself applying the age-old technique of dodging incoming projectiles, while circle strafing your assailants and giving them everything that you've got.
With a generous lock-on, there's not much of an incentive to stand still, and given the action can get a little on the hectic side, it's very welcome not to have to be so precise with your own targeting. The only frustration comes when you're shooting at enemies partially obscured by scenery, as the overly generous aim assist will make your bolts of energy hit the wall rather than your intended target, forcing you out from behind cover and into the line of fire so that you can get a clear shot.
Every minion you vanquish drops an experience gem, and once you've collected enough to completely fill the appropriate bar, you'll be able level up. Advancing a level provides a welcome boost to your character, giving you the chance to pick from two random perks pulled from the pool that you've unlocked. Cleverly presented as cards from a collectible card game, it can be hard – due to the randomness – to build up your wizard the way that you'd like, but part of the fun of Ziggurat is playing the hand that you're dealt, which can lead to stumbling across some formidable combinations that can stand up to the trials of the fortress.
While exploring each randomly generated floor, you'll be forced to frequently weigh up risk and reward. Challenge rooms and shrines entice you with goodies that'll aid your quest, but they can just as easily hobble you. In addition, the temptation to quickly progress to the next floor when you stumble across the 'boss' early makes for a tough choice, especially when you have the niggling feeling that you may not be ready to engage such a formidable opponent.
These choices all feel important, as the Ziggurat can chew you up and spit you out in no time at all. Fortunately, being put through the grinder never feels cheap or meaningless, and as you grow in skill – unlocking new characters, perks, and weapons – you'll have more and more options open to you, helping you edge closer to success.
Aiming for a dark fantasy feel, Ziggurat has a somewhat cartoony style, reminiscent of that employed by Blizzard in World of Warcraft. Eschewing more realistic visuals while including a more varied colour palette certainly helps pull your eye away from the odd bland wall texture; however, as tends to be too often the case these days, the game can struggle at times to maintain a smooth framerate. While never as bad as Tower of Guns on this front, there are still points where, despite the relatively modest visuals, there's a disappointing amount of slowdown.
When you do finally manage to conquer Ziggurat, the random nature of its levels makes it highly re-playable, even though you're likely to have seen every room layout and enemy in the game's arsenal. With both 'hard' and 'endless' modes allowing you to ramp up the difficulty should you think that you're tough enough, it's hard to resist the urge to keep playing – especially seeing as there'll be perks, weapons, and characters that you'll still need to unlock.
There's no school like old-school, and Ziggurat serves as a reminder that there's still fun to be had in 2015 with what's essentially an 'arena' shooter. Whether the shooting is good enough to stand on its own without the rest of the package is up for debate, however the smartly implemented Roguelite trappings, as well as the well pitched difficulty, help to cast a spell that'll have you heading back into Ziggurat time and time again.