Hunter Fenollol, Courtesy of Zenith
There’s lots of hype surrounding the Metaverse and how to access it. At its core, this emerging online space allows you and others to, over the internet, simulate physical spaces and being together in the same room or environment. Whether that’s by video chatting and watching together in an online messenger or throwing on a virtual reality headset to interact with someone miles away, it’s a new way to explore and socialize. And virtual reality realizes the full potential of the medium. By rendering a life-like digital environment and replicating physical proximity, VR creates a new immersive reality that you can interact with alongside other people. And while companies often use this technology to recreate realistic spaces for connected work or socializing, it’s gaming that has helped VR into the mainstream.
Applying this level of interactivity to a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game takes the genre to new heights never before seen. Zenith is a new fantasy multiplayer game that lets you escape into huge virtual cities, deserts, and valleys with others from all over the world. Like World of Warcraft in the early 2000s, it acts both as one giant game and a social hub. While the experience at times can be janky from hit tracking to connectivity, overall it successfully recreates the magic of exploring an uncharted territory while tapping into classic online gaming culture.
Playing the game is simple. You complete tasks with others, forge relationships, and roleplay across varied environments. As you level up skills you encounter enemies that scale to your abilities and new fantastical environments that you explore. While you can play the game solo, the experience is better when you join up with others who grow alongside you and can provide support. Zenith is the first true cross-platform VR MMO to pull this schtick off properly for the medium. Players with any major headset—from PlayStation VR to Oculus Quest 2—can connect online in these virtual worlds and connect with physical presence over the web. Whether I was climbing cliffs with some European players or battling goblins side-by-side with my friends who live states away, Zenith sucked me into its world.
You start the game off by creating an avatar to serve as a representation of yourself. Your character can choose from one of two combat styles; either a blades specialist who dual-wields swords or a mage who can shoot enemies from a distance and cast spells. Once you select a weapon, you can choose from one of three classes, which impacts your overall stats. When you’re ready to embark on your adventure, Zenith loads you into its starting point, an underground city. You are a field agent for a group called Zenith and must take on evil forces taking over the world. It’s far from original, but it’s not uncommon for plot to take a backseat in MMOs. For the most part, the story crafting is up to you. This subterranean district serves as a training hub. Hearing all the buzzing conversations and languages of other players is chaotic but makes the world feel real. Even the simple graphics and in-game chat audio quality have a certain charm, as combined they recreate the experience of online gaming in the early aughts.
Training takes under ten minutes. During this time you get familiar with the core mechanics as well as Drift, your personal AI companion. Combat is engaging. Every surface you see is climbable, and at the tops of certain building you can find ziplines to cut across high places or glide across gaps using your wingsuit.
There’s plenty to do and explore from various cities to surface world exploration. Objectives are overlaid in the world with markers in real-time, so you can orient yourself even in lively packed city districts or expansive plains. While other players microphones can range in quality, the sound design for the world is enveloping without any compression from the effects.
The game has topped VR storefront charts for Oculus and PlayStation, but what’s really exciting is the fact that it topped Steam’s charts to rank as the platform’s best-selling game just one day after launch. That’s huge because just 1 percent of the Steam player base owns a VR headset which shows just how many people are playing the game. This is the first true cross-platform virtual reality MMO. (Orbus MMO was a previous attempt that lacked depth and hype.) And it shows just where the future of online gaming is trending. This new medium allows for layers of interaction and immersion more fun than any MMO before it, with PVP, player-owned businesses, and customizable homes coming in the future.
Like any MMO, the game can be grindy, meaning it takes takes a bit of mastering skills to raise proficiencies. And I’ve run into the occasional connection issue. Developer RamenVR is adjusting levels each day to improve progress and even adding a cyber ninja class in a patch later this spring. You can buy Zenith on Steam, Oculus, and the PlayStation Store for $29.99.
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