Over the years I’ve played through hundreds of FPS titles, blasting through campaign offerings and taking on the gauntlet against the multiplayer masses. Very few have ever had me quite as encapsulated within the experience being offered as Milkstone Studios 2015 dungeon-crawling FPS title Ziggurat. With its fast-paced combat reminiscent of DOOM, and a plethora of spells and weaponry such as wands, staffs and more to utilise against the enemy onslaught, this rogue-lite adventure certainly found its way to cult status amongst gamers very quickly, and for good reason. In the years since the PC has been graced by a follow-up title and now Ziggurat II makes its way to consoles as well, but does it match the same lofty heights as its predecessor?
The story for Ziggurat II speaks of a civil war between two groups of wizards that formed The Brotherhood initially assigned to use their powers to maintain the Ziggurat – a prison containing the most dangerous and unkillable monsters ever found. During the civil war of these groups, that very Ziggurat was destroyed, and now all the monsters and unspeakable beasts within have been unleashed on the land, roaming far and wide. Your job this time around is to head out to the different regions in which these monsters are causing issues and put a stop to them by either killing or imprisoning them once more as your rebuild the Ziggurat. Such a mighty task for such a meagre apprentice such as ourselves you’d expect.
There are a few different game modes to choose from, with three Classic modes, Campaign and a Daily Challenge. The Campaign was my chosen starting point and unlike its predecessor, the main gameplay focus for Ziggurat II doesn’t see players run into a scaling pyramid with progressively harder floors before restarting over and over each time they perish. Instead, the gameplay here follows a mission-based structure with a map screen showcasing which quests are available, as well as their length, threat and type – be it the main quest or side quests, as well as the rewards available for beating it.
Whilst the campaign does look to provide a bit more of a story this time around, the one disappointment I found is that the story itself is actually quite dull with little to no narrative between missions and a much less convincing reason to be battling these deadly creatures than the original had. Of course, you have to give praise to the developers for not simply copying and pasting everything that made the last title work wonders, however when it was already working so well, you need to do something really game-changing to make it feel worthwhile and story chapters for a game like this simply don’t feel suited, or make the leap necessary, especially when the story itself isn’t that riveting.
Besides the campaign, players can jump into the Classic Modes options which include the Ziggurat Trial, which acts as the Ziggurat we have come to know long before Ziggurat II in which you must climb floors to reach the top and kill the boss, as well as Infinite Dungeon, which tests just how far you can go until you finally concede defeat, and The Gauntlet, which is a high-intensity challenge, with dozens of enemies around you in a large arena which grow stronger over time. The final option is of course Daily Challenge which provides an all-new option each day for players to get stuck into with specific effects and characters being used.
Whilst the game modes are plentiful, the gameplay is the real focus and it must be said that the gameplay of Ziggurat II lives up to the same brilliance that we’ve seen before. Starting off, players choose from one of two characters to begin their adventure, with more than 10 available later on. Each character comes with its own abilities, strengths and weaknesses and the more you play, the better your character mastery becomes as well as the items and perks you’ll have access to with them.
Progression through each mission is much the same as last time out, as each mission is treated as a run and each run begins with players starting one of the various randomised dungeon areas such as volcanic lairs, floating castles and even abandoned mines making up the run, whilst a varying number of traps such as spikes, arrows and more litter each floor to ensure you take damage at every opportunity.
Within each run players must explore a floor, uncovering each of the branching rooms and defeating all the enemies within them, before eventually entering the boss room once you’ve found the door seal and defeating the floor boss to progress. Each mission comes with multiple floors and as you work your way through each you’ll gain experience to level up for that run. Each XP level up brings with it new perks to utilise with 53 general perks available as well as 66 Hero-specific perks to get stuck into. It’s also necessary to watch out for the treasured Magic Lock room which will require a Master Key to open but stores a host of goodies for your run should you manage to find it.
Ziggurat II is essentially a fast-paced arena shooter, bringing with it a heavy DOOM (2016) vibe which works well here as often you’ll need to backtrack on yourself to explore an uncovered branching area of the map, and with movement proving so fast and fluid, it doesn’t take long to get to each area. Another major benefit can be found when in combat as the room fills with enemies, and with survival only ensured by continuous movement whilst firing back at enemies, the fast-paced arena nature of it not only works, but it feels like a throwback to most old school arena shooter titles that seem to have been lost to time, which is a nice touch, especially when it does it so well.
Another positive that deserves a mention is not only is combat frantic and fast, but enemy variety is also plentiful with players taking on crossbow-wielding goblins, vicious-looking carrots and even a flying enemy that closely resembles one of DOOM’s own Cacodemons amongst numerous others. Bosses are also impressive with each one bringing a neat design, a brilliant challenge as you look to not only take them down but also the mobs they spawn to protect them, making for some real touch and go encounters, not to mention they also drop mana – which is the magic acting as ammunition for your magical weaponry, health and more.
Away from the gameplay and the only other thing to mention would be the artistic efforts, and once again as with Milkstone Studios’ first effort, Ziggurat II is a beautiful game that shows detail, vibrancy in its colours and really brings a sense of care and polish to the way it looks and feels. As for the audio, there have been some interesting choices here with music based on a Celtic soundtrack with notable names such as Antumnos giving a contribution amongst others.
Overall Ziggurat II provides players with yet another fantastic FPS rogue-lite adventure that can be enjoyed for hours. Whilst the campaign may only set you back around 5 or 6 hours, seeing everything this game has to offer is certainly going to push that time up to more than 50 hours, and with fantastic detail, impressive visuals, polished gameplay and some truly enjoyable content, this is going to be one of the surprise hits of 2022, one which certainly deserves a spot in your gaming library.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.