First-person shooter roguelikes are one of those things that sound awesome and obvious, but are actually incredibly difficult to do well. FPSes are built around carefully-crafted encounters where enemies can present interesting challenges for the player to overcome, so randomizing those elements leaves a lot of room for missteps. Procedural generation can land you in places where enemies are mismatched against your weapons, or the level layout makes for boring firefights. The developers behind Ziggurat somehow found a way to make it all work, and wrapped it up in a clean, colorful package that is almost impossible to put down.
The titular ziggurat is an ever-changing magical labyrinth that serves as the final (and potentially fatal) exam for your mage guild. Armed with only your trusty wand, you must descend through five sprawling floors of monsters and treasure to defeat the guardian and claim your place as a proper wizard. Defeating monsters (and exploring, on occasion) earns you experience that lets you pick a perk when you level up, which can range from a simple stat boost to a permanent mutator on your movement or attacks. There’s a lot of space for different builds if you get the right cards, providing some welcome variety even on the same character. Speaking of which, there are a dozen different characters to unlock and choose from, each with even more dramatic differences right from the start.
Fear not for your tools of destruction either, for there’s also a huge assortment of weapons to find across three different archetypes. You have spellbooks, which usually have short-range shotgun-style area effects, staves, which tend to be more accurate and rapid-fire, and alchemy, which covers all sorts of guns and grenades. Every level is guaranteed to have one random weapon and you can only hold one of each type, so a big part of the strategy is forming a complimentary arsenal out of your limited, randomized options. There are also amulets that provide powerful, sporadic effects, and shrines that can provide limited bonuses in exchange for certain sacrifices. The more you play, the more perks, weapons, and amulets get added to the pool, and after a dozen hours there’s still plenty more for me to find.
There’s plenty of variety on your end, and the enemies are designed to push your limits with it. You’ll encounter two dozen flavors of fanciful, murderous creatures on each run, as well as an assortment of challenging bosses. Pretty much any attack pattern you can imagine is represented, and enemy groups can be mixed all sorts of ways. Then there are champion monsters that are faster or have special auras, and room effects that boost all damage (incoming or outgoing) or cause visual effects. Levels should take about 10 minutes each to finish, give or take depending on how much exploring you do. Part of that decision is going to be based on how you’re holding up, because one bad combination of enemies can really mess you up… the rooms are all arena-style, so once you enter, you’re not leaving until you wipe ’em all out.
With such a huge volume of content, Ziggurat is a shooter that can last you dozens of hours. The wide variety of characters, perks, weapons, and enemy groups to use them on will keep you busy for ages, and there are difficulty levels and daily challenges on top of all that. The bright, colorful fantasy graphics and rich sound are the perfect icing on this enormous cake. If modern roguelike Heretic sounds like a good time to you, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t, pick this one up as soon as you can.