One very good reason to stop by HoYo Fest 2023 is the opportunity to check out the gameplay for Zenless Zone Zero- the next big game coming from HoYoverse. The booth has a short 4-minute challenge run, so it’s not like there’s a chance to see the how character builds and the like are going to work.
That being said, it’s just enough time to get a hold of how the combat feels. I’ve always loved HoYoverse’s ability to translate the feeling of a good character action game to mobile. It’s a much harder to thread balance than you’d think- a mobile screen can’t have the complicated buttons of your Devil May Cry games, so that calls for simpler controls.
Where Zenless Zone Zero excels with this is making you feel like you’re doing complex actions. The animations have intensely good feedback, feeling responsive and stylish at the same time. They’ve also definitely tuned how a lot of these mechanics would have worked in other titles- they’re playing with a lot of the same blocks as the other games, but with minor tweaks to make it more action game than RPG.
The Nitty Gritty Of It
Zenless Zone Zero feels very much like Honkai Impact 3rd in terms of gameplay, albeit with some changes. Unfortunately, we’re three action games in and HoYoverse still won’t add universal air combos, no matter how much I wish for it. That being said, there’s a lot going for this game’s wilder approach to weapons- since each character isn’t restricted by weapon classes the overall animations feel unique to individual characters. I mean, I played as a pink girl doing briefcase combos, I don’t know what else to tell you.
I also need to talk about the game’s dodge. Considering how mundane Genshin’s dodge is compared to Honkai Impact 3rd’s timestop-inducing dodge, I have to give Zenless Zone Zero props here. While the preview wasn’t long enough to tell if it has invulnerability or not, it’s definitely the best feeling HoYo dodge we’ve gotten so far. Something about the way it’s keyframed just makes it feel much more responsive than Genshin’s dodge, and more stylish than Honkai.
Perfect dodging also gets you a counter opportunity, which really just makes the game fun on a basic level. Even without a complete knowledge of how any of the characters’ kits work, it felt good bobbing and weaving through the boss’ attacks.
Honkai Impact 3rd’s QTE system is also expanded on, since certain attacks will allow you to switch in your reserve character who will tag in with an attack. Without access to any menus I can’t tell you if there’s any deeper mechanics to this, but extending your combos by tagging in more characters is always a great incentive to keep the rhythm up.
The New Stuff
The biggest change to how the combat works is the new stagger system. Bosses have a yellow stagger bar under their health, and dealing enough damage to it will cause a stagger, letting you wail on them to your heart’s content for bonus damage.
Better yet, using special attacks here will trigger the Chain Attack- this is a quick QTE that lets you tag in another member to do big damage on the target. According to HoYoverse you’ll want to organize your team to have different element compositions, since comboing into different elements will provide Stagger Multipliers.
Actually it’s worth stepping aside and just talking about how special attacks work in Zenless Zone Zero and it’s school of gameplay. Unlike Genshin and Honkai, there’s no cooldown or resource consumption in the traditional sense. Instead, using the special attack just gets you an alternate attack for your combos. However, using them when the Energy Meter fills up gets you an enhanced version, though with our time we didn’t get to explore just how much that changes.
As someone who’s fought many a HoYo damage sponge, I really hope the Stagger is the developers first step away from this. The fact that it feels like special attacks also have no cooldown is great, though without a proper look at unit skillsheets it’s hard to see how far combo depth will go. At the end of the day team comp will probably be important just like it is with every HoYo game, but the fact that just hitting buttons feels so good for all the characters is a solid plus.
The fact that we still get pretty cinematic looking ults is also a great touch. I’m especially a big fan of Anton. I’m not gonna lie, he looks like Sol Badguy and his moveset does no favors in changing my mind from that. By the time his Ult was charged up I was practically yelling TYRANT RAVE! at the booth before having my squad wiped.
Zenless Not Zenloss
Overall, I’m really hyped for how good Zenless Zone Zero and its gameplay is looking. HoYoVerse has always had really good combat, and Zenless Zone Zero feels way more like a step in the character action direction than even Honkai Impact 3rd was with lots of interesting mechanics to make sure you really get in there rather than just dancing around waiting for your cooldowns to come off.
It really boils down to how they plan to let you experience the combat, though. The gameplay really shines with harder enemies, like the challenge run we were given. If the rest of the enemies are going to be overly passive, you may never see some of the more intricate details and it’d be easy to dismiss it as a mindless button masher.
Once we get more information on individual Agent abilities and the core gameplay loop, Zenless Zone Zero has a good shot at being one of the best action games on mobile. I mean, we’re talking briefcase combos, for the love of god.