Thoughts on Zeal (Early Access)

At some point or another, I saw Zeal turn up in my discovery queue on Steam. A game that wasn’t really available yet, it had a store front that advertised the type of game it was aiming to be, while still being unavailable for download. There were instructions to go to another website to sign up to test the game, but I didn’t bother. Instead, I followed the game because it did appeal to me in some ways, and this week it was finally made available for download via Steam Early Access. While it claims to be an “Action-RPG”, really Zeal is a game that is aiming to be like WoW‘s PvP arena, in that you control a character in 3rd person, it comes pre-designed and pre-loaded with spells/abilities (with a small amount of customization available) and you use said abilities to kill your opponents. Currently the game is in a “pre-alpha demo” state, but I have seen consistent updates by the developer since I’ve been following the game.

Apparently the team is made of three people, and with that said it’s not a terrible looking game. There are some janky animations and latency is definitely a problem, but it looks okay and keeps things fairly simple as far as depth goes. It appears that next month they are aiming to do a Kickstarter to fund the game, and given that success it might actually blossom into something great. However, in its limited form I have some concerns alongside the hope for it to be fully realized.

This demo provides an “Arena Mode” along with seven classes for your testing pleasure. I find that the standard RPG classes that you’d expect are here, and clearly they have plans to add a handful more. Of the seven on offer I have tried the Outlaw (think Rogue), Ranger and Warrior. Each performs as you would expect, with the Warrior leaping into battle and spinning around with axes, to the Outlaw stealthing and pulling some shenanigans on the battlefield. Despite that each basically looks the part, they all handle nearly identically, the animations are fairly basic and the spells/abilities don’t really feel that fleshed out yet. It seems to degrade into a bit of a button spamming mess, but I supposed PvP in most MMOs is sort that way too. Some abilities are skill shots, and yet it doesn’t have that tactical/twitchy gameplay you’d expect in a MOBA, though they are clearly pulling influences from both genres.

After selecting your character, you can head to the training grounds to customize your build and take out some aggression on training dummies. This is nice to gain your bearings but doesn’t prepare you for PvP in the slightest. That said, PvP was a bit difficult to find.

There are several servers set up, and though the closest one to me is in the same state, I had wildly fluctuating ping last night. I did see people playing though, but it was a bit late and I didn’t want to jump into that so I waited until this morning to try a PvP match. There were exactly zero people playing on that server, so I opted to try out the game in a bot match. I played plenty of these back when I was a budding MOBA player, so I expected it to be decent. Eh… not so much. I managed to win in a 3v3 bot match, but had a stalemate in a 2v2. As I said earlier, each character feels too samey, so unless you play the Cleric, Witch, or Wizard you’re just going to be running around chasing bots/players trying to spam your abilities and do some damage. The other classes I just mentioned will either focus on healing or will try to hang back to do damage. I had the best feeling playing on the Warrior because I could leap to runners and finish them off with a killing blow. Overall, I see potential with the title. There needs to be some work done on the animations and look of the characters, but the world looks pretty nice. The abilities need better effects and to be more fleshed out, but this is pre-alpha so I guess all of this is to be expected. I’ve seen worst “finished” games so there’s that. I’m going to keep an eye on this one, but I have a feeling if the Kickstarter doesn’t go off (which would mean a bunch of people would need to try this on Steam for free and feel good about backing it) that this title doesn’t see the finish line. Time will tell.