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Zenless Zone Zero looks to continue the streak of success HoYoverse is on

It’s a Golden Age for the Chinese developer
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HoYoverse’s Genshin Impact sat on top of the monthly revenue charts for gacha games in China pretty much uncontested since it came out – until this year, when Honkai: Star Rail managed to finally dethrone it. Not a big deal for HoYoverse, of course, since they made that one, too. Playing Zenless Zone Zero at gamescom 2023, I got the feeling that HoYoverse will not only monopolize the top two positions of these rankings for the foreseeable future, but might well permanently lock down the entire top three.

Zenless Zone Zero is HoYoverse’s upcoming game and it has everything you know and love about their work – a banger soundtrack courtesy of their inhouse studio, adorable visuals, an array of captivating characters, and an approachable combat system that feels satisfying to engage with.

Zenless Zone Zero keyart of characters in and on a car.

Zenless Zone Zero just oozes style.

The developer showed off three areas of Zenless Zone Zero at the convention: story, combat, and exploration. Much of the narrative was presented through comic strips, but contained the usual dialog bits and pieces as well – they went pretty wild with the styles and the writing was pretty funny. It seems to be more like Honkai: Star Rail than Genshin Impact in that aspect.

Exploration was the least developed part of the build the company brought to gamescom. I looked around a small neighborhood of New Eridu, last bastion of humanity, but there wasn’t much to be done in terms of interaction aside from the odd dialog. In the final version, this hub area is supposed to be teeming with fun stuff to do. You can even open your own store selling movies there, which you find out in the world.

Then there is combat – the biggest part of the demo. Like Genshin Impact, Zenless Zone Zero features real-time combat. You have a party with up to three characters you can freely switch between. Each of them has different attacks and skills as well as a spectacular ultimate. It’s a whole lot speedier than Genshin Impact, though – your characters automatically sprint around and you have a dodge maneuver. Using this at the perfect time enables you to trigger a counter attack when combining the dodge with the regular attack.

Zenless Zone Zero screenshot of combat.

Filling an enemy's imbalance bar enables you to trigger strong Switch Attack combos.

Zenless Zone Zero’s cool combat gimmick – the answer to Genshin Impact’s elemental reaction system and Honkai: Star Rail’s weakness break – is the ability to activate combo attacks. Aside from their HP bar, enemies have a second bar that fills up as you hit them. Once you’ve filled this imbalance bar up, the enemy staggers and is stunned for a short time, allowing you to activate powerful combos upon hitting them with a heavy attack.

Like in the developer’s other games, different characters will be more effective against specific enemy types, and in this case this expresses itself in damage multipliers to this imbalance bar.

Again, this is super easy to get into and feels amazing right from the start, but there is this element of strategy and tactics that will allow you to make a difference with skill. You build up your score over time and getting hit less will result in a better high score, so you're definitely incentivized to do as well as you can. There’ll likely be opportunities to strengthen your characters through upgrading their abilities or weapons as well, but the demo had none of these systems.

The gamescom build had eleven characters to choose from, all of them feeling quite different – and awesome – to use on the battlefield. There was Ben, a massive unit of a literal bear wielding some sort of huge steel beam, Miyabi, your mandatory cat-eared samurai girl slashing with a katana, and Billy, a silly masked jokester wielding dual pistols, among others. It’s a HoYoverse game through and through in every aspect and the urban sci-fantasy setting they’re going for has a lot to offer, so expect to see wide variety of characters and personalities.

Here comes the kicker, though: What I was impressed with at gamescom is already outdated by a year – yeah, they felt confident enough to just show up with a year old build, no biggie. It feels like HoYoverse is in its Golden Age and can’t do anything wrong right now. Whatever they do, it works. What I’ve seen from Zenless Zone Zero isn’t much and was already outdated, but that inspires even more confidence in what they’ve got cooking.

Frankly, I’m already worried how in the world I’ll manage to play Genshin Impact, Honkai: Star Rail, and this one actively.

Zenless Zone Zero, developed and published by HoYoverse, is expected to arrive on PC, iOS, and Android. No release information has been confirmed by the studio.