Last month’s Zenith beta suggested the VR MMO could go the distance. Read our hands-on labs below.
Looking back over the past few years, I confess that I thought it was a given Zenith that would fail. Heck, I didn’t even think it would get to the point where it would be considered a failure – I had assumed it was destined to fade from memory without even an apologetic tweet or an under-the-radar update from the Steam store.
Two and a half years after these presumptions and, well, I look a little silly. I played at the Zenith. I actually played it on Quest 2, which basically means I’ve played it on the toughest rigs the Ramen VR developer will be working on. And it’s good. I think it’s even very good. But that’s of course based on just a few hours of what promises to be a much, much bigger experience, and there’s still a lot to learn about what the developer is up to.
Zenith has just enough VR novelty sprinkled into the classic MMO formula to make me think people who love the latter element are going to devour it and people who want the former are going to respect it.
There are two basic classes to start with that basically split the MMO crowd in two: swords or spells. Warriors will wield dual-wielding electric katanas, carving out deliberate patterns to maximize damage, while mages (or at least shooter spells, as I figured) use two wrist-mounted laser-guided gauntlets for attacks. of projectiles.
There are also smaller sub-roles to consider being a tank, but combat is the main decider of what kind of experience you have. Thankfully, at least as far as I can tell, the game seems to have ditched the Beat Saber-style approach it first promoted in 2019.
The sword fight skillfully avoids the pitfall of VR bustle – you can just pound enemies repeatedly, but you won’t do much damage. Instead, you need to give your swords time to charge between each attack to maximize your attack power. It’s a clever way to ensure that Zenith isn’t just about mindlessly waving its hands and watching the numbers fly by with little to require it to be in VR. You can still swipe horizontally and vertically to land special attacks for extra damage and buffs, though I haven’t dove deep into the upgrades and progression to these systems yet.
The magic – something I admit I tend to avoid in this genre – feels simplified, but that works in its favor at least at this early stage. Point, shoot and occasionally press a different button to activate your other powers. I haven’t seen many complex systems to maximize the effect of your attacks, but it makes the class really approachable from the start.
Other VR-specific touches are sprinkled throughout. There’s the liberating physical climbing that you can find just about anywhere these days, and then Population: One stops to lend what is probably its main contribution to the industry – instant gliding while doing take players into the T-pose. It puts a welcome spring in the march of a genre that historically evolves at the speed of a snail.
What’s more familiar, however, is Zenith’s structure. After the surprisingly brief tutorial, you’ll be introduced to the game’s first environment with a group of other players. Here, you’ll take on your usual assortment of fetch quests. There’s a lot to killing a certain type of monster once… and doing it all over again 5 minutes later. And, hey, it’s fine if a little routine in those early days. Zenith does just enough with its VR interactivity to make up for the early obviousness of its lens types, but I really hope to see more elements that speak specifically to the platform later in the game.
And, of course, there is the social aspect. I really enjoyed the ease and openness with which I could play After The Fall with just about any VR owner when it launched last month and that simplicity seems to be fast approaching a common trait in industry. Just pick the right server, meet at the same place, and you’re there. Not only that, but you’re with friends who have great full-body representations, with the ability to party with just a few taps.
The fundamentals therefore seem to be firmly in place for the launch of Zenith later this year. But, as I said before, this is all just a very cursory reading of what the MMO has to offer so far. I can’t wait to dive back in for a closer look during the second beta this month and then obviously really push how far it can go at launch, which is promised for early 2022. In As it stands, however, Ramen VR has already exceeded my reserved expectations. Now it just needs to stay above that mark for another 50+ hours.