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— DooM Nexus Heretic II Review —
[Written by Rex of DooM Nexus]

[2 Cent Take | The Story | Environments | Music | Bestiary | Weapons | Play to Win | BUGS | Summary]

  My 2 Cent Take on Heretic II

  For a guy who claims to have an interest in computer-based action games, it took me long enough to play through and finish this game. I first started playing this game back in March of 2005, and played it off and on for a few months, despite quite enjoying the game, and then completely gave up on it for what seems like ages. I resumed the game earlier in 2006, was interrupted by real life, my DooM editing responsibilities, and a new-found interest in movies, and finally completed the game in October 2006. If you were to ask me for two words to describe the game, they would be very nice. Not one of the top games I've ever played, but with enough new stuff, eye candy, and challenges to make it worth your while.

  The Story of Heretic II

  The game starts at the end of Heretic I, in which you played Corvus and sliced and diced D'sparil, who had delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately, with his dying breath D'sparil cursed you, and you were forever doomed to wander the Outer Worlds. During your exile you stumble across a Tome of Power with a sexy voice, and when you are offered a way back home you foolishly accept (instead of staying on and hoping the Tome is transmogrified into a beautiful and seductive woman). Turns out that the Tome was sent by an ancient race of sentient beings named the Seraphs, who wish you to undertake a quest. You start your journey in the town of Silver Spring, where you discover that your fellow elves are beset by a horrific plague that drives them insane with blood lust. After checking to make sure they aren't old drinking buddies, you start lopping off heads.

  As with Jedi Knight and Unreal IIthe story is told through cut-scenes, which also serve to provide mission objectives. Unlike JK or U2, though, the cut scenes in H2 are not interactive and use the in-game models. The voice acting is very well done, and is accompanied by text so that the player can follow along even if something is missed in the telling. Despite the excellent voice acting however, the cut-scenes appear very primitive compared to recent games (and even Quake II, on whose engine Heretic II is built). Regardless, they serve to advance the plot, which like most other plots on an epic scale has to do with the utter domination of known civilization.

  Environments Surreal and Eerie

  For a romp through a real-looking medieval world as it must have looked when in the death grip of a terrible plague, you can't get any better than Heretic II. From the Tudor style architecture of the towns to the magnificent interiors of the palaces, from the depressing depths of dungeons to the grand columns and arches of the castles, from the canyons and caves of the wilderness to the fantastic realms of the denizens of this world, you are surrounded by beautifully detailed and believable environments. The world is peppered with apothecaries, taverns, wells in village squares, and other manner of establishments and trappings from the Middle Ages. Kitchens, storage rooms, bed chambers, warehouses, docks, laboratories, dungeons - you name it, and the creators of this game have made sure that you believe you're in a world that might have existed centuries ago.

  Outdoor environments are gorgeous too, with expansive skies and scenery, some gloomy and others bright and hopeful. The scenery encourages exploration, but while the maps lend themselves to occasional (and non-essential) side trips, there is little scope to wander too freely in the wilderness. Still, there are marvellous areas that invite the player to stand and take it all in (after clearing the area of undesirables first, of course. Safety first!) In the final area, known as Cloud Fortress, I was treated to an unexpected bonus in the form of mountain scenery that strikingly resembled the mountains of Deimos, in the second episode of DooM.

  Music Both Haunting and Sweet

  The music of Heretic II is, to me, perfect for setting the mood for the game. It is at the same time melodious and melancholy, hard-driving and moody. In particular I encourage you to let the game go through the end-credits, not just so that you can see who worked so hard to put this excellent game together, but also to take in the wonderful music that accompanies the credits.

  The ambient and other sounds lend authenticity to this strange and wonderful world you are destined to traverse. The early maps are replete with the sounds of people groaning, babies crying, mothers wailing, and night birds screeching. Occasionally you can hear a dying elf crying "Help me!" or "Have Mercy!" All of these serve to heighten the sense of despair and to immerse the player in the mood of the game, and for me the game certainly succeeded in doing that.

  The Bestiary Beckons

  The enemies are quite varied, and mostly come in humanoid form (although there are reptilian Gorgons, shark-like Myxini, air-borne Harpies, and the ever-popular Rats). Many of them are fairly clever, and use different tactics to attack the player. Some are relentless, and will fight to the death, while others will retreat when they take damage. The human-like elves (known as Sidhe) , in particular, will run away screaming if you hurt them enough (such as, for example, cutting off their arms - yes, I said "cutting off their arms". Imagine being able to selectively damage an enemy!) Enemies will follow you into water, will ride up elevators, and generally pursue you in a quasi-intelligent fashion. Some will even leap aside to avoid your attacks. There are enemies with whips, enemies that hurl flasks containing damaging plagues, enemies that strike you down with lightning bolts, enemies that swoop down on you and rip your head off. In short, the game provides plenty of ways to put a rapid and painful end to your quest as Corvus.

  Of course, no game of Heretic II's ilk can be complete without bosses. The three bosses of note are the Watcher (at the end of the Silverspring Palace mission), the beautiful but deadly Hive Priestess (at the end of The Lair of the Mothers mission), and of course the contemptuous Moracalavin at the end of the game. Each boss has strengths that make them worthy adversaries, but the game is fair and gives you the opportunity to defeat them. For me, it seemed that my battle with the Hive Priestess was the most difficult, even though she was not the end-game boss. Still, the fight with Moracalavin was tough and tense as well.

  A Veritable Plethora of Weapons

  Starting off as Corvus with just a humble lance-staff, you soon begin to acquire better and more powerful weapons. The Hellstaff is the first (and one of the few) rapid-fire weapons that you get, but I was generally unimpressed with it's power. Subsequently you pick up spells (for which you get offensive or defensive 'mana'), projectile weapons like the fun-to-use Storm Bow and the Phoenix Bow, and fun but somewhat useless weapons such as the morph ovum spell, which I found to be more a novelty than providing significant defensive capabilities. Eventually you get upgrades to your lance-staff, making it a staggeringly powerful melee weapon; I was using it even against the vastly larger and stronger Cloud Fortress Guards. In the end, although I had a fine array of weapon choices, I found myself veering towards just a few. The next time I play the game I will try to use more of the other weapons, if only to get a broader game-play experience.

  Play to Win or Don't Play at All

  The gameplay in Heretic II can best be described as cautious exploration with periodic encounters with the denizens of the world and the occasional ambush thrown in. Most encounters will give you plenty of room to maneuver, and rarely will you be faced with a horde of enemies that want to swarm all over you. For this reason I would characterize the combat as measured and steady-paced. But the non-combat aspects of the game are, for me, the gems of Heretic II. There are plenty of breakable things - barrels of ale in the tavern, grates, tables & chairs, crates, etc. - that will satisfy those of you with the most wanton and destructive urges. Occasionally, objects in the game serve to advance the gameplay. For instance, in the Silverspring Warehouse some Sidhe try to drop a crate on your head. If you're not careful and are standing in the wrong spot the crate will crush you. The other device is the use of a crate sliding down a ramp to break a hole through a wall, allowing you to pass through. Then there are the occasional non-combatant characters, such as the Ogles, which will attack their guards once the guards have been weakened, and dance on their corpses with glee.

  In the Darkmire Swamps the "quicksand" nature of the mire is a cool device - you have a limited amount of time to reach solid ground before sinking under and dying. All of these serve to make the world of Corvus more believable, and to further the missions and objectives of the game.

  The maps themselves are more or less linear, which works well to prevent confusion on the part of the player. Regardless, to their credit the Heretic II team has managed to keep the levels straightforward while giving the impression of compexity. They have made wonderful use of hubs, which not allow the player choices regarding where to proceed first but also allow the player to return to areas already visited. The maps generally have great connectivity, that makes long periods of back-tracking unnecessary. There are the obligatory puzzles, which are reasonably challenging (but not overly so), and map-specific missions (such as the one in the Ogle Mines - to activate power for a trestle to carry you across a slime pit, you must first find raw ore, refine it, and obtain a suitable power source). Overall, I am extremely impressed with the map design. Being a map designer myself, I can appreciate the difficulty in fusing the various objectives of a well-designed map - simplicity with the illusion of complexity, prevention of unnecessary (and pointless back-tracking), connectivity between the main areas of the map, and challenging but not frustrating objectives.

  A NOTE ON BUGS (not the creepy-crawly sort):

  In Andoria Plaza, every time I tried to exit the final area towards the entrance to the slums the game would crash. I tried using the "kiwi" cheat code to noclip through the doorway that was "causing" the crash, but that didn't help either. Finally, I used noclip to bypass the small outdoor area completely, and reached the entrance to the Andoria Slums without crashing the game. In Andoria Slums, upon entering the area right after the Lizard King, where the Ssithra jumps down while a part of the ceiling starts collapsing, the game crashed on me. This might have happened in part because the falling rocks killed the Ssithra. The next time I played the area I backed out as soon as I knew the cut scene of the breaking ceiling was going to happen. That way the Ssithra didn't jump down until after the cut scene played out, and the game did not crash. I have not been able to find any reference to these bugs, and so I say to you: Player beware. [I'm using v1.06, which I believe is the latest version.]

  In Summary

  I would say that Heretic II is first a game of exploration, and second a game of combat. [I hasten to add that I played the game at medium skill level, and perhaps the combat gets more frenetic at a higher skill level.] It is a game of liesurely wanderings, of remarkable architecture and beautiful environments that are meant to be savored as a school-child savors the last ice-cream cone of the summer, of moody music and sombre emotions, all driven by a plausible plot and worthy missions. In short, if you have not already played this game, do so.

  For a more detailed synopsis of the game, as well as a mission-by-mission summary, read the Heretic II Mission Summaries.

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