I have a love/hate relationship with the concept of Early Access. What’s my ideal Early Access title? It’s a game that, in its current state, feels like it can stand alone as a release. Maybe it’s rough around the edges, maybe it isn’t fully fleshed out, but it’s a more or less finished product that can stand to be improved.
Early Access should be like… like when you order something at a restaurant – let’s say a club sandwich – and they bring it out and say, “Sir/madam, we’re sorry but your homestyle sea salt french fries will be out in a few minutes.” And you’re like, “Oh, that’s cool. This sandwich looks pretty good.” And you wait a few minutes, take a few bites out of your excellent club sandwich, and then they present you with your fries. Ziggurat is a delicious club sandwich – not too heavy on the mayonnaise and the bacon is crispy. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it is one of the most polished, fun titles I’ve seen ever from Early Access. And hopefully the fries are incoming.
Ziggurat is a dungeon crawling FPS roguelike game (go on, say that ten times fast) that has color and style reminiscent of DOTA 2; enemies straight out of the Zeno Clash series and Fable; and the fast, strafing combat found in Serious Sam. You select a character – you’ll unlock others as you accomplish feats like 200 wand kills – each with their strengths and weaknesses, and start on the first floor. In the top right corner you have your dungeon map layout for reference. As you explore you’ll fight minions, consisting of carrot men, floating stone dragons, suits of armor, goblin dudes, leaping bird lizards; dodge traps; and find a portal key that unlocks the boss and exit. This alll takes place in a labyrith carved from stone, its ceilings held up by bone columns and looking otherwise as metal as hell.
Once you find the end room you’ll engage in a boss battle with a unique big baddie. Once you beat it, you’re shown your score, which is determined by kills, floors cleared and time, and you’re on to the next floor. You start off with a basic replenishable wand but you’ll find new weapons as you progress, such as an ice orb that fires like a shotgun and the ability to fire grenades. You’ll also discover numerous perks and journals that delve into the story of this magical place full of beautiful freaking nightmare monsters.
So what else can I say about Ziggurat? It just feels cool, y’know? You unlock stylish tarot cards that describe your perks. When you die you’ll be frustrated and immediately laugh at the resulting death screen. Floors range from uncomfortably claustrophobic (like when your parents leave you alone in the living room with your handsier relatives) to wide and expansive. The enemies have a variety of tactics, some rushing at you with reckless abandon, some content to fire at a distance like total dicks. As you change your tactics – say closing the distance between yourself and some far-away foe – they’ll change their tactics in turn, ground bashing until you beat a hasty retreat or shotgun their face with ice shards. It’s highly polished, highly fun, and super pretty like that girl you didn’t ask to prom (and no, it isn’t too late: just go to her, she’s waiting!).
Indeed, it might be the prettiest Early Access title yet. The color palette is rich and varied without looking like rainbow vomit: a happy medium between drab dungeon and colorful fantasy. It’s challenging without being too big a ball-kicker or ball-coddler (pick a side, we’re at war). Most importantly, it feels done. Ziggurat can only be improved and expanded on; even if it never saw completion, it would still feel like a worthwhile buy. This might be the most excited I’ve been about an Early Access game in a good while – at least since I’ve had a decent club sandwich.