I’ve put about as many hours into MMORPGs as I have fingers on both hands, so perhaps I’m not the best person to pass judgement on Zenith: The Last City. Nevertheless, this incredibly ambitious VR exclusive from indie developers Ramen VR has been creating quite a buzz over the last week or so, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about for this week’s VR Corner.
You can watch me bumble my way through the first few hours of this epic online quest-em-up in the video below. In it, you’ll get a taste of some of the early missions, a lot of the melee combat and also maybe a little bit of romance too.
Zenith: The Last City launched into Early Access last week and impressively, it supports crossplay and cross progression across all VR platforms including PSVR and Quest. While the game itself does boast a lot of features and one of the largest open world maps in a VR game, the majority of those features do seem to be very bare bones indeed and to me it made that massive world feel rather bland.
The visuals for instance are nice and colourful with big, chunky enemies and this gives Zenith a lovely, bright, anime-come-to-life vibe. At the same time though, the details in those visuals are also incredibly basic, which is no doubt a sacrifice that has been made in order to make crossplay between PSVR and Quest headsets possible. The world map itself is huge but there are large expanses of emptiness in there – areas devoted to the farming of cut and paste monsters that roam across featureless fields or gather in monotonous mine shafts.
What few quest-giving NPCs there are in the first couple of areas do look nice at first, but after a while you’ll realise they lack all but the most basic animations. They don’t blink, their mouths don’t move when they speak and, unless they’re waving in response to you, they just kind of stand there, swaying gently in the breeze. These living statues do have a couple of lines of dialogue that they repeat over and over again, but other than that all your mission details are delivered via a wall of text on a cold blue slate. Maybe this is the way things are done in the classic MMORPGs that Zenith is trying to emulate (I can’t claim to know for sure), but in VR this kind of thing just sucks the immersion out of the room like a nuclear powered vacuum cleaner.
Character creation is of course a thing, but once again the options at this early stage of release are incredible limited. I was a bit surprised that there were only two classes to choose from as well, the melee focussed Blade Master and the Essence Mage who deals ranged attacks. There is a third class on the way at some point in the future but as of right now, the lack of variety means the majority of the player characters out there look remarkably similar to one another.
I spent my time playing as a Blade Master, using twin swords to slash vertically and horizontally at my prey. The melee combat worked well, my swings felt accurate and blocking enemy attacks was nice and satisfying but I was disappointed by the lack of feedback to the hits. Without any feeling of impact, the continuous chopping soon became rather tedious, even once I’d unlocked a couple of power moves.
Movement around the world is great though, everything feels super smooth and I’m a huge fan of the way you can climb up any surface and then jump off and glide back down by simply spreading your arms out. It definitely made all the backtracking a little more interesting and of course all the classic comfort options are available to cater to both new and veteran VR heads.
While this write-up does focus on the negatives quite a lot, it is worth pointing out once again that MMORPGs really are not my area of expertise. If you take away anything from the video above (other that the fact that I clearly have no idea how to play a game like Zenith properly) it should be that, despite my criticisms, everyone else in its world seemed to be having a whale of a time.
And that’s the main thing isn’t it? As bare bones as I find the experience right now, MMORPG fans are flocking to the game in its Early Access state and they are sticking with it. The developers seem to be successfully scratching an itch that VR enthusiasts have had for a while and, as Ramen VR seems to be on the ball with updates and fixes too, perhaps it won’t be long until everything I’ve mentioned above is worked on and improved.
Zenith: The Last City may not have been able to capture the attention of an MMORPG noob like myself in its current state, but it does feel like a seed that will soon bloom into something special. If you’re on the fence about Zenith at the moment, it might be worth saving your money while it’s still fresh in Early Access, but I have little doubt that after an extra year or so of development, this will be an unmissable experience for fans of the genre.