Zenith – A mage’s work is never done

It seems like poor Argus never gets a break from being a mage. After helping his kingdom obtain a powerful artifact he begins enjoying a retirement of sorts brewing potions from his little shop but when the next generation of adventurers begin poking their noses into someone else’s business he’s got to get his magical mojo back on again and sort it all out. And he certainly has a few words to say about it too…

The source of all Argus' strife? (4K Screenshot)

The source of all Argus’ strife? (4K Screenshot)

Zenith from developer Infinigon is an action role playing game in the vein of Diablo or Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance where you have a top down view of your character as they hack, slash, and blast their way through maps collecting loot and completing quests. The role playing elements are kept straightforward with a set of abilities that are unlocked as you progress.

The opening of the game not only lays the foundation for the storyline but also acts as a basic tutorial as Argus wisecracks his way out of a bad situation before completing a mission for his kingdom. The meat of the game though takes place a few years later as you learn of the true impact of your previous success and what your true quest in the game is going to be.

You soon find Argus isn’t confined to just his home town as the game opens up early on via an overworld map that you can use to travel between locations. Enemies also populate this map, leading to your usual “random” RPG encounters that tend to break momentum and can provide unwelcome distractions. I’m not too much of a fan of these in any game as they can be unfortunately repetitive and seem to exist more to shave off your characters health and potion stockpile than add any additional story paths for you to follow. Have to admit though it is one of the nicer examples of a map I’ve seen.

The game supports both keyboard/mouse and controller for movement but you may not be aware of that the first time as the game’s UI only offers keyboard hints until you start to use the controller (movement or button press) which then switches the hints to controller mappings. My preference was to use the controller which felt like a more natural fit whereas the keyboard came across as clunky during the more difficult moments (such as boss fights).

Combat makes the game feel like a spin on the old Gauntlet arcade machine where your aiming is tied to your movement direction. It’s very old school and can be tricky to get used to for players but it also makes mouse and keyboard controls way harder than they should be. I wish the game communicated your control options earlier because some players might be put off initially if they stick to the keyboard and mouse.

Encountering young and angsty adventurers is just one of those things you're going to have to get used to it seems. (4K Screenshot)

Encountering young and angsty adventurers is just one of those things you’re going to have to get used to it seems. (4K Screenshot)

You also have the ability to map your attacks and inventory to buttons for both keyboard and controller. You get one of each: a melee attack using weapons, a ranged attack through spell gems and an area effect spell using scrolls. A shield and dodge are also included to add defensive options.

It is highly recommended that you quickly assign your potions to buttons as having access to them during a fight can help swing a battle in your favour. One thing to note about potions though is that there is a cool down period after their use to prevent players from abusing their stockpile during a fight. Players are never short of these potions for restoring health and mana and that restriction alone does force players to be a little more conservative with their fighting styles so that they can get the time they need to use more potions. I could see some players taking issue with it but I didn’t mind.

One thing I miss though is camera rotation (traditional use of the right stick on a controller) as some areas of the game world could be a little easier to navigate if we could tweak the view just a fraction to the left or right. Though I must say the designers have done a pretty good job in keeping things visible and accessible without it.

Loot consists of potions, gems and gear. Wearing different gear (Boots, Belt, Tunic, Bracers, Ring, and Pendant) can boost individual attributes such as health or element resistance which depending on your situation may help you be better prepared for certain battles. Worth noting that your sarcasm level is already maxed out at 999 so it seems you’ll be fine on that front.

This had nothing to do with you... honest. (4K Screenshot)

This had nothing to do with you… honest. (4K Screenshot)

Visually the game is bight and cheerful with an exaggerated art style reminiscent of Fable that isn’t too detailed but scales nicely to higher resolutions. The atmosphere is helped through some good use of animation – a couple of dancers inside an inn might not seem like much of a big deal but seeing how well they moved about really stood out. Character portraits that are used during conversations are a nice touch that really help fill in the details that the character models may miss.

I’ve been playing the game at 4K and it all looks great and runs smoothly. One thing that I appreciate is the UI scaling – a lot of bigger games tend to not make the UI resize with higher resolutions meaning you end up with tiny buttons and tinier text but Zenith appears to have put some effort into and it goes a long way to making an attractive title to see in action.

Audio consists mostly of music that continues with the cheerful theme – the volume is a little too high though and there’s no option to adjust it within the game itself. Hopefully an update will address the soon. The sound effects may come across as a typical of this kind of game but there are still a few surprises in store and you certainly haven’t heard spiders quite like these in any other game. It’s a shame though there’s no voice work as it could really have added spark to the dialogue with the right people pushing it.

Humour is a difficult concept for games to execute successfully which is why you see so few try it. Fable had played on its British style humour and The Bard’s Tale played up the smart mouth hero and the annoying narrator.

Frosty the Snowman might think twice about walking around Zenith... (4K Screenshot)

Frosty the Snowman might think twice about walking around Zenith… (4K Screenshot)

If I were to describe Zenith‘s kind of humour, I’d say it’s more like a naughty pantomime; plenty of swearing and it’s certainly not subtle but they stick to it all the way. The further you delve into the game the more it begins to hit its stride which I appreciated and there’s some great in-jokes and references for fans of the RPG genre and popular culture.

Though the game is a little rough around the edges, none of it gets in the way of what is a fun game. Zenith is an enjoyable adventure that keeps things simple but provides a story that somehow gets away with firing a veritable fusillade of cheap shots at the RPG genre but scores hits more often than you’d expect. If you’ve ever watched Lord of the Rings or played Final Fantasy and wanted to scream insults at characters for every dumb thing they say or do, this might be your kind of game.

Zenith is out now for PC and PlayStation 4 with the Xbox One version arriving at the end of the month. Impressions of the game are from a review copy for PC that was kindly provided to us.

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