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blood for the blood god (2)

ironlord in extreme_nerdery

Post three of three, even though it's now tomorrow

I made a promise, and I didn't break it.

HEXEN: Wolfen (six level hub)

Hexen. Irritatingly, the least appreciated of the Great ID Trilogy, mainly due to the arrival of the false prophet that was Quake. And that, in turn, caused a near-dearth of decent user-built Hexen levels. Those that did try, though, came up with some gems, and here's one. I'd be lying if I said I'd played it a lot, as upgrading to ZDoom 2.1 broke it (ZDoom 2.0.63a works just fine, though) - so other old favourites such as Caldera and Vaults filled the bill instead.

For Doom and Heretic, I pointed out single levels - that's just not right for Hexen, where the hub concept was the biggest improvement on Heretic that there could have been. And as hubs go, this is a masterpiece. If it had been a full game conversion, it'd have blasted Deathkings Of The Dark Citadel into the weeds, as it addressed ever criticism levelled at that official add-on. Let's see. New monsters? You bet. The sprites aren't quite as impressive as the regular nasties, but they're a fine attempt, and there's quite a few of them to choose from. New wall textures? Not too many, but they're noticeable. New music? Yes, and some of the best I've heard for any Hexen add-on ever, including "extra boss music" and some chilling chords when there are traps ahead. New weapons?

These are the best bit!

For a start, all character classes have access to a blunderbuss; there are two lying around the levels. It's brutally effective against ettins and other lower minions and makes a really satisfying "KAPOW!" - but how do you plan to beat the inaccessible Death Wyvern at the top of the Tower Of Fire if you're out of shots?

And then there's the official Fifth Weapons. They've all been drawn exceptionally well, and come in exceptionally handy in boss battles - especially if, as I do, you're playing as the fighter and need a rapid-firing long-range weapon - that'll be the Dragon Lance. The mage gets an Ethereal Acid Spell, a bit like what the stalkers fire from the pond but at about five times the rate; the cleric's Mystic Crossbow doesn't seem to be as good. These weapons are powered by Aeon Mana - picking up the attractively-designed crystals (think of a grey yogurt pot with a purple infinity symbol on it) increases the maximum Aeon Mana capacity, to a maximum of (I found) 70. It powers the fifth weapons, and is restored by time - one point per second, to its maximum. It's a brilliant concept, comparable to the id Trilogy's cousin, Strife - in which the Sigil Of The One God is powered by the player's hit points. Collecting 40 aeon mana activates the "passive" ability (the fighter recovers one hit point per second, the mage recovers mana at the same rate, and the cleric has to stand there like a lemon in order for HP or mana to increase... occasionally.) At 60 aeon mana the "aeon attack" can be used; the fighter takes negative damage, gaining HP for every hit he takes to a maximum of 300, the cleric is surrounded in fireballs, and the mage spews out a ton of ghosts that makes the cleric's Wraithverge look very tame indeed.

So, you know what really hammers the point home here?

In this hub it's a massive amount better to be a brutal killing machine or a master of magic than it is to be a religious figurehead... and that's just the way it always should have been.

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August 2009

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