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Zenless Zone Zero review - what’s new, New Eridu?

In our Zenless Zone Zero review, we dive into Hoyoverse' urban ARPG, exploring its post-apocalyptic world and charismatic characters.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a custom image of Billy with two bangboo and some denny around him

Our Verdict

Zenless Zone Zero is an electrifying urban ARPG fuelled by fluid, fast-paced combat, quirky characters, and gripping gameplay. A departure from Hoyoverse’s usual M.O., it pulls you into a fresh yet familiar futuristic world, blending threads from different genres into a truly unique universe.

Zenless Zone Zero is a truly unique beast, and I mean that in the best possible way. While it still has a hint of that unmistakable Hoyoverse flavor, ZZZ feels very independent of its older siblings and seems to have no interest in filling their (admittedly large) shoes.

Instead, it’s gone out and bought itself a pair of light-up platforms, dyed its hair neon green, grabbed a fistful of bubblegum, and headed off to a rave when Genshin and HSR weren’t looking. Okay, that was a bit of an odd metaphor, but hopefully it should all make sense as I go into a bit more detail about my time in New Eridu in this Zenless Zone Zero review.

ZZZ is Hoyoverse’s fresh urban ARPG, but it’s also a gacha game with roguelike mechanics, puzzles, social and life sim elements, and some clear influences from some of the best fighting games around (if you want to hear more about that, be sure to check out our Zenless Zone Zero interview with lead producer Zhenyu Li). It’s quite the melding pot of genres and ideas, but it all pulls together to make for a really fun, electric ride.

It’s set in the near future, in a post-apocalyptic world that has been taken over by hostile alternate dimensions known as Hollows. These Hollows act as portals, through which powerful entities called Ethereals have traveled into the human realm, wreaking havoc and wiping out most of humanity. However, a group of resourceful survivors managed to fight back by extracting Ethereal technology and resources, forming a bastion against the invaders in the form of the last standing metropolis, New Eridu.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of Belle and Wise talking

As one of the Zenless Zone Zero Proxies, it’s your job to help your clients explore the Hollows, gathering new allies to fight the Ethereals and push back against this colossal threat. But your work isn’t exactly safe or legal. Luckily, Belle and Wise aren’t new to this – they run a video store called Random Play as a cover for their operations, work under pseudonyms on the Inter-Knot, and are very careful about what clients and commissions they take on.

Zenless Zone Zero’s gameplay follows quite a few different branches, but it’s predominantly split into two sections. The first is set on the streets of New Eridu, where Belle and Wise go about their ‘normal’ lives. Even the daily grind all grinds down (get it?) to a cup of coffee and a couple of photos of cats for the most part, with everything feeling very urban and familiar.

Similar to Digimon World and Persona, the game features a time system that sees each day split up into different periods (morning, afternoon, and evening). You can organize your quests and daily activities via your in-game schedule, but certain interactions and events can only occur at specific times of day. I’ve always enjoyed this feature in games as it does add to the realism – but don’t worry if you’re not a fan of waiting or working out ways to pass the time, as you can just rest on the couch to skip to whatever time window you want.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of the Random Play store management screen

Belle and Wise live on Sixth Street and, as I mentioned earlier, run the Random Play video rental store – which means the store’s upkeep is in your hands. It’s a very simplistic version of a business management minigame, which allows you to choose a staff member to greet customers and pick what tapes you want to put on display that day, but I think it’s a cute touch. Occasionally, you also get opportunities to help customers with specific requests and recommendations, too.

The launch version of the game also sees an expansion to Random Play via Belle and Wise’s bedrooms on the second floor, and I’m a big fan. They really complement the Proxies’ personalities and add to the realism of them living in the shop (because, let’s face it, it would suck to share a single couch with your sibling as the only place you can sleep).

The bedroom also has an adorable memory wall which you can decorate with pictures from the main story quests and cute little stickers. However, considering there’s an in-game camera, I was a bit disappointed to learn that you can’t hang your custom pictures up. I mean, I just want the photos I take of New Eridu’s cat population to fill up that prime real estate. Is that so wrong?

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of Belle scrolling through her phone

Cat collages aside, the memory board isn’t the only new addition ushered in with the bedroom. When you choose to go to bed and rest through the night, instead of going straight to sleep, your character actually grabs their phone and starts doomscrolling for a bit, allowing you to browse through the Inter-Knot forums and even text or call your pals (and by pals I mean the other Zenless Zone Zero characters, if you need clarification).

I think this is a really neat touch, as it’s just so relatable – I mean, I don’t know about you, but I often stay up far too late scrolling Reddit and sending pictures of my (real) cat to my pals – so it adds just another layer to that realistic urban living vibe. And, to add to the immersion of the Inter-Knot forums, each post has a handful of comments (in fact, these posts are the main way for you to pick up side quests), and there’s even a ‘Welcome to Inter-Knot’ post right at the top of the feed that truly feels like a Reddit auto-mod post telling you the rules when you join a new sub. It’s a small thing, but I really love it.

Beyond Random Play, Sixth Street is home to a handful of establishments run by your neighbors – The Bardic Needle is a music shop where you can get your disc drives, Waterfall Soup is a noodle shop that offers boosts, you can have one coffee a day from Coff Cafe to boost your energy (and boost material drops if you get the right flavor). The characters that run these shops are also brilliant, with each having truly unique designs and personalities. They also request your help from time to time, both via simple errands and Hollow-related commissions, which really helps build a sense of community and life to the street.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of the God Finger arcade

On top of this, Sixth Street is home to the God Finger Arcade, which currently features two functioning minigames – Soul Hounds III, a game where you play as a lil’ demon dog digging through blocks, and Snake Duel, which is essentially just Snake with extra steps – both of which are far more enjoyable than they have any right to be. Both Soul Hounds III and Snake Duel also have multiplayer modes, too.

In the main story, you first experience God Finger at Zenless Zone Zero Billy’s request, and he even plays a game with you. During the beta, we had the opportunity to engage in a duel with other players around the world as part of one of the Zenless Zone Zero events. It definitely feels like there’s plenty of room for more games in the future, and I can see myself losing plenty of house playing Snake Duel with my Proxy pals.

Of course, Sixth Street isn’t the only place you can visit. During the second closed beta test, we got to explore Brant Street Construction Site (where Belobog Heavy Industries is working during the main story quest line), and we also saw a brief glimpse of Ballet Twins Road – but in the launch, the map has expanded quite a bit.

The most impressive area is easily Lumina Square, which is home to some familiar shops from Sixth Street (Coff Cafe, Waterfall Soup, etc), situated alongside a large body of water with boats and blimps drifting past. This is a particularly nice location to visit during the in-game night, as the lights look very pretty.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of Belle standing in Lumina Square

There’s also the New Eridu Metro Station (a surprisingly realistic public transport station), the HIA Club (a funky location where you can access VR trials to earn materials to upgrade your characters), and Scott Outpost (a camp tied to the permanent Hollow Zero gameplay mode). There’s also a new system where you can message different characters and invite them to go places with you, be it hanging out at the arcade or grabbing something to eat, giving you a bit more control over your daily activities and allowing you to build up your trust level with your favorite agents a little quicker.

I will say, while these new areas are very charming, they’re still quite small – I also find myself a little grumpy that I can’t actually walk around inside buildings like the arcade and the cafe. Lumina Square is much larger than Sixth Street, but Ruby (editor) and I both agree that it still feels a little restrictive, especially when you compare it to the more fleshed-out metropolises we see in other urban genre titles like the Persona games and Master Detective Archives: Rain Code.

Don’t get me wrong, I know bigger isn’t always better, and I’d much rather Zenless Zone Zero be set in these smaller, beautifully detailed locations than a barren open-world game, but having a little more freedom to roam would go a long way towards truly enhancing that urban, city living vibe that the devs are clearly aiming for.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, exploring New Eridu is just one small part of Zenless Zone Zero – the real magic happens when you head to Random Play’s Video Archive Room. But this isn’t any old storage cupboard, it’s also where Belle and Wise run their Proxy business, so it’s time to dive into the Hollows.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of the Hollow Deep Dive system televisions

You can access the Hollow Deep Dive (HDD) system via Belle and Wise’s PC in the back of Random Play and then complete different quests. These quests generally come in two forms – combat and exploration (which are a lot more separate in the full launch than they were in the second closed beta). Combat-based missions generally allow you to dive straight into the fray with a team of three characters and a bangboo that can help you in battle.

Exploration and main quests, on the other hand, generally revolve around a very unique Hollow traversal system that places you on a grid of screens that you must move between to get to your objective. As you travel from screen to screen, you encounter a variety of different features and mechanics, including items, buffs, dialog-based events, and more.

Some screens are tied to combat or challenge events, where the game transports you to a location where you have to fight or solve puzzles to progress. Here, you play as your chosen team members accompanied by your bangboo.

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Combat is incredibly fluid in this game and has only improved since the second closed beta. It may not be to everyone’s taste and is quite different from Genshin Impact and Honkai Star Rail, but it’s very fine-tuned and fast-paced, with clean animations and a real sense of impact when attacking your foes. While you do have your usual rotations of normal attacks, special attacks, and ultimates, there are quite a lot of variations depending on combos and your reactions to enemy attacks, adding a nice level of depth to any fight.

For example, you can use your character’s special attack at any time, but using it when they have enough energy triggers a more powerful version called an EX special attack. Similarly, you can dodge or switch characters at any time, but doing so just as an enemy is about to hit you triggers a perfect dodge or assist, which can slow down time and/or unleash a powerful parry attack.

On top of all of that, rather than your traditional ‘classes,’ characters also have different attack types, roles, and anomalies (elements) that excel in different scenarios. All of this combines to make a surprisingly detailed combat system and, while you can get through a lot of content by picking one strong character and button mashing, the game certainly rewards you for investing more time into exploring different combos and team comps.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of Ellen's Mindscape Cinema art, showing her painting her nails

Speaking of characters, ZZZ is, of course, a gacha game. The Zenless Zone Zero banners are very similar to Honkai Star Rail and Genshin Impact’s, with the same pity system, a pool of standard characters, and limited banners rotating in and out every few weeks.

You can pull for both characters and W-Engines (essentially weapons) using the main gacha currency (polychrome), which you can either earn in-game or purchase for what I presume will be a similar price to Hoyoverse’s other games. However, you also get a decent roster of characters and a handful of W-Engines for free by simply playing the game, and I personally find the A-rank characters just as fun as the S-ranks so far, so there’s room for free-to-play players in New Eridu.

There’s also a bangboo banner, but thankfully, it’s entirely free and you can’t purchase currency for it with real-life money. Instead, you can earn the currency (boopons) through events and specific gameplay modes, and you can select what S-rank bangboo you want to pull with a guarantee to get it within 80 pulls. This is welcome, as the thought of three premium banners to make the most of your favorite limited character certainly feels a bit overkill.

As you’d expect, you can also upgrade each of your agents’ levels, skills, and equipment to increase their power. This, of course, requires that familiar material grind. Luckily, you can do a lot of this grinding by through the VR gameplay mode, where you choose different enemy cards to build a challenge for yourself based on what materials you need.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of the Cunning Hares

Zenless Zone Zero’s visuals are really striking, seamlessly blending retro vibes with futuristic elements to add a real sense of depth to the world. The playable character designs are, as always, absolutely top-notch, and notable side characters such as the adorable bangboo, General Chop, and Elfy align perfectly with the high standards we’ve come to expect from Hoyoverse over the past few years. From the funky comic book-style cutscenes to the punchy UI and menus, everything looks snazzy, vivid, and cohesive, giving the game a clear sense of identity that fits perfectly with its world.

In terms of performance, I’ve had the chance to play the game on both my PC and my iPhone 13, and I’ve had a great experience across the board. One of the positives of the smaller maps is that loading times are almost always short and snappy, and I’ve suffered next to no frame rate drops, lag, or stuttering throughout my extensive playtime. The controls are also intuitive and translate well across both platforms, making the movement between PC and handheld feel as fluid as the combat itself.

And, of course, I could never forget the sound design. The voice acting is brilliant across the board, from the playable characters to the NPCs, and the combat sound effects feel really punchy and impactful. But where Zenless Zone Zero really shines is in its absolutely brilliant OST – music director Mr. Yang’s fantastic EDM and dubstep-fuelled beats never fail to get your blood pumping at the peak of battle, and there are some great lo-fi tracks to enjoy during the game’s more chill moments. Having attended the Genshin Impact concert in early 2024, I can attest that Hoyoverse never lets us down when it comes to music, and yet Zenless Zone Zero still manages to pleasantly surprise me in this area.

Zenless Zone Zero review - a screenshot of Wise playing on his phone

Overall, Zenless Zone Zero is a very promising urban ARPG with an extremely unique and engaging world, fabulous characters, brilliant beats, and incredibly fluid and satisfying action combat that feels great whether you’re a beginner or a pro. It’s still early days, but considering Hoyoverse’s stellar track record, I’m incredibly excited to see what’s in store for this funky, futuristic world.

So, how about it? Do you fancy hopping into the Hollows? If so, be sure to check out our Zenless Zone Zero tier list and snap up some Zenless Zone Zero codes to take with you. We’ve also got guides to all the latest Zenless Zone Zero events and current and next Zenless Zone Zero update so you can keep an eye on what’s new in New Eridu.