The one aspect of Zombasite I still haven’t quite gotten down, though, is the skill tree. Like many ARPGs, the character class you choose determines a few key elements for your in-game avatar, such as weapon and armor proficiencies, and passive bonuses (like increased fire resistance for every point you put into your spirit attribute). Unlike other ARPGs, however, it’s not as clear what constitutes a “good build” and acquiring the skills necessary for that isn’t as easy as choosing one every time you level up.
Every level you gain provides you with five points you can use to increase your main attributes (strength, dexterity, intelligence, vitality, and spirit) and a number of skill points. The exact amount varies depending on what level you hit, but initially, you’ll get anywhere from two to four points. Each skill costs a number of points to acquire, starting as low as one and going up to 15, and points carry over from level to level. So, if there’s a particular skill you want, you could wait a few levels and save up enough points to be able to afford it. Once you acquire a skill, you can invest more points into it to increase its level and raise its damage or effectiveness. You can buy back any points you’ve invested into a skill, but it gets expensive to do so really quick. This skill leveling system, and indeed the skills themselves, are taken from Soldak’s previous title, Din’s Curse, so if you played through that you’ll have a good head start here.
My issue with a skill system like this is that it’s all abstract. You can look at a skill, read what it does, and see its damage numbers, but none of that means much until you actually start using it. One of the things I liked about Diablo III’s skill system was the freedom it gave you. All you had to do was reach the appropriate level to unlock a particular skill, and then you could swap the skills in and out so you could test them to your heart’s content. Games that utilize points and sort of lock you into your choices need some kind of practice mode that lets you freely mess around with the abilities so you can have an idea of what you like and what works well together.
While the various tasks outside of just killing/looting and the obtuse skill system may leave many with a poor first impression of Zombasite, it’s worth sticking it out. When you first create your character, you also get to choose how difficult you make things through a variety of options, such as making all the enemies tougher or turning on “Hardcore” mode (if you die, your character loses all progress and you start over). You can also customize the world size, how quickly the zombie threat grows, and how many rival clans there are. There’s not much in the way of a formal tutorial to explain everything you need to do, but you can at least have some control over how challenging it is. For me, that challenge is the most compelling reason for attempting to engage with the title as so few games within this genre even attempt to do this much at one time.