video games

‘Zenless Zone Zero’ hands-on impressions: Combat might just ‘gacha’ hooked

Kyle Chua

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‘Zenless Zone Zero’ hands-on impressions: Combat might just ‘gacha’ hooked
The combat in HoYoverse’s 'Zenless Zone Zero' is excellent, featuring easy-to-grasp mechanics and a level of challenge that feels just right for both action veterans and novices

Free-to-play, live service type of games – which most, if not all, gacha games fall under – never much interested me. The few that do manage to catch my attention rarely hook me enough to want to spend. I usually go into these types of games with much skepticism, knowing that the very nature of their business models are designed to siphon as much money from players as possible.

Gacha games implement a mechanic where you either spend real money or money you earn from hours upon hours of playing to buy an in-game character or item at random. You don’t know what you’re getting each time, and that’s what some players say makes the mechanic rather exploitative.

Fans of the subgenre meanwhile argue that the gacha is what makes these games addictive – the excitement and thrill unpredictability brings. Regardless of whose side you’re on, there’s no denying that these games are massively popular right now.

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Zhenyu Li, ‘Zenless Zone Zero’ producer, says the game isn’t just for hardcore gamers

Zhenyu Li, ‘Zenless Zone Zero’ producer, says the game isn’t just for hardcore gamers

HoYoverse has built a flourishing gaming empire on them, raking in billions in revenue in the last few years thanks to the breakout success of Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. The Chinese giant’s latest gacha game, Zenless Zone Zero – or ZZZ for short – is shaping up to be another mega-hit, topping 40 million pre-registrations ahead of its July launch.

I got some hands-on time with a close-to-launch build of the game at a HoYoverse media event in Singapore, and I was pleasantly surprised.

As I previously said, these types of games aren’t my cup of tea, yet there are so many things I loved about the demo I played that I’m now excited for the game’s launch. Perhaps more than that, I could see myself getting into the game and playing it actively for months, if not years, down the line.

Welcome to New Eridu

Zenless Zone Zero is set after the collapse of modern civilization in the bustling, post-apocalyptic wasteland city of New Eridu. You play as a reputable Proxy, a special individual who can guide people through Hollows – supernatural gateways to dimensions where mysterious monsters roam freely. Despite the dangers, some groups in New Eridu want to enter and explore these gateways, and you’re their accomplice.

Zenless Zone Zero, Sixth Street in New Eridu

You, however, won’t take your Proxy to combat; no, that job is for your agents, which I’ll get into later.

There are three primary parts to ZZZ’s gameplay: exploration, the Hollow Deep Dive System, and combat.

The first part, exploration, is where you play as your Proxy, who can be either male or female, depending on your choice. Here, you can freely roam New Eridu, a hub world where you can engage in various activities, most of which are preparations for combat, from upgrading your agents’ stats to granting them temporary buffs. You can also talk to the city’s denizens to learn more about what’s happening in the city or tackle commissions – the equivalent of quests in the game.


Once you’re all set, you can pursue a commission at the Hollow Deep Dive System. Main Commissions and Side Commissions would likely start with you having to traverse through a large tile grid of CRT televisions to complete a puzzle-like objective. Some of the tiles you land on might have buffs or debuffs for your agents, while others contain valuable loot. There are also tiles that trigger combat.

I’d say this part of the gameplay is the weakest. While I do like the occasional puzzle in my action games and I did enjoy the incorporation of roguelike elements here, the whole idea of the tile grid minigame feels somewhat haphazardly tacked on to serve as a diversion to the main draw of the game, which is, without question, the combat. All the minigame does is slow the pace of the gameplay down to a crawl, killing any momentum built from the short sections of combat that might come in between. And I found myself rushing through the puzzles during the demo to get to the next combat section as quickly as possible.

Calling all agents

The combat is, as you can already tell, my favorite part of the gameplay. It plays like an action-RPG, with hack-and-slash gameplay liberally sprinkled with fighting games mechanics.

You play as a team of three Agents, and each one has his or her own set of attacks, as well as a dash to avoid enemy attacks. You only control one Agent at a time, but you can freely swap between them anytime with a push of a button.

Zenless Zone Zero, Combat scene

The mechanics are intuitive and simple enough to grasp but can take some time to fully master. Apart from the obvious – attack and dodge – the key to ZZZ’s combat is to fill your enemies’ Daze meter to stun them and trigger an Assist Attack that deals heavy damage.

Enemies accumulate Daze when they are hit, and once the meter is full, you have to hit them with an enhanced Special Attack. That then triggers a cinematic quick-time-event where you tag in your other Agents to perform their Assist Attacks. Special Attacks are enhanced when you have enough Energy accumulated, and Energy is gained over time. Stunned enemies also can’t attack and are more susceptible to damage, so you’re free to unload on them once they’re in this state.

The way the Assist Attack works here, to me, is reminiscent of fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom, where you use it to extend your combos and deal more damage than you might be able to using only a single character.

At the start, you don’t necessarily have to engage with all the different combat mechanics of the game. You might even be able to make it past the majority of early combat encounters by simply mashing the attack buttons. But eventually, the game does throw tougher bosses your way, and you’ll at least have to get the basics down to survive, especially if your Agents don’t meet the recommended level of the Commission you’re playing.

Zenless Zone Zero bear character

Then again, the game does a good job at pacing the introduction of new combat mechanics. I also don’t think the combat itself is intimidatingly difficult. Sure, some boss fights can be challenging, but never to the point where they can be compared to Souls games.

I also want to mention that I played the game on PC using a PS5 DualSense controller, so that might have helped my experience.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with ZZZ and am looking forward to playing more. I do have a few questions about the game though, which I hope to discuss in my review, including how free-to-play-friendly it is.

I also want to try the game on mobile to see how the experience is with touch controls and a smaller screen. For me, these are factors that could influence how much time I might later devote to the game after it launches. –

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