Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Inquisitor 2 (INQSTR2E.WAD)

by "Shadowman"

Back in 2012, Russian Doom community superstar Shadowman released The Inquisitor, a GZDoom adventure that pulled an Army of Darkness, sending Doomguy to one of the realms ruined by Hexen II's Eidolan in order to save it. Its biggest problem was that it was really a mod using Hexen's gameplay, but with faster, super-powered monsters. The Inquisitor 2 shares these same foibles, as well as the fact that it's a single map for Doom II to be played in GZDoom, but the delivery of the adventure is very different, with some improvements and some new issues privy to the format. It's still a very interesting experiment, one you might want to look into if you love first-person RPG gameplay.

The Inquisitor's sequel is actually a prequel of sorts. It takes place in one of the kingdoms adjacent to Khorus, the location of the original. This time, it's Krondor, which should ring a bell with some PC fantasy aficionados. Krondor is having some trouble and, having spontaneously arrived via the dimensional pathways that carry Doomguy from world to world, you're just the person to help them out. You'll clear out catacombs, an abandoned mine, the royal crypts, and even fight through a slice of Hell. Yes - there are plenty of parallels to be drawn to Diablo, and if you look hard enough, you'll even find a section of library housing a humorous poem lauding perhaps the premiere action-RPG.

Right off the bat, you'll see how Shadowman's changed things up. Krondor is not already ruined, like Khorus in INQSTR, so you arrive in a castle that is populated with wandering peasants. It has a tavern, where you can talk to the townsfolk; a smithy, where you can buy weaponstuffs and armor; and a church, where you can get utility items like flasks, urns, torches, and fléchettes. They all cost gold, and that is something you get pretty much from investigating the dungeons. Sure, you can raid the homes of the townsfolk under penalty of fighting stone golems, but the vast majority of the gold you'll receive comes from either monster kills or quests. Yes, there are quests to complete, complete with some awkward back-and-forth camera angle swapping as you speak to the townsfolk. It's alright, though. I just wish I'd managed to find my red cow.

If you didn't play INQSTR, combat is pretty simple. You get a sword for a melee weapon, which would be nice if the big monsters didn't destroy you at close range and the weak monsters weren't so fast. You get a crossbow, which fires bolts that are very handy for killing afrits and huntresses, though it also gets a secondary "blessed bolt" that tears shit up. Krondor's world developed gunpowder, so you get the shotgun of Blood, which is very handy. Last, you get a staff that shoots fireballs, which isn't so hot against monsters that attack with fire, so you'll mostly be using it to kill angry spirits on your way out of the crypt. The four-weapon loadout feels less effectual than in the original, even with the addition of the blessed bolts, because Shadowman knows what people love to do in Diablo - mow your way through hordes of monsters. Did he forget, though, that the heroes in Diablo can take a few punches?

Life as is incredibly hard when the catacombs are lousy with skeletons and zombies. The sword has a little range but it won't save you from getting swarmed, and many of the early fights involve backing up and swinging ad nauseum. It's very hard to even get things started on UV, and it hardly gets better as you go deeper into the dungeon. One fight in the crypt is an enormous clusterfuck you'll want to have saved the icon of the defender for, and if I recall correctly, that's a secret. There's about 100 less monsters per difficulty, so things should be way more breathable if you knock that down a bit. The current count would seem more justifiable if there was some kind of leveling system in place, but, so it goes.

The final boss is probably the perfect peak of frustration. He's sort of reminiscent of the Lich King from the original Inquisitor, but he feels like a much bigger pain in the ass to fight. He constantly jukes when he's not casting, which is about the only time you can reliably hit him with blessed bolts and shotgun blasts. Plus, he has an attack that shoots out red lightning columns that wander quickly and errantly around the battlefield. It's easy to bump into them if he spams the attack and they will slay you dead if you're not using a fire resistance ring. And, if you run out of ammo, tough shit! It's not like Shadowman didn't stress that you be prepared before you go to see him.

The monster composition is largely the same as INQSTR, with some additions. The skeleton is the most populous new guy, being the weakest monster you'll face besides the spiders, which are largely relegated to a spider-squishing quest at the beginning of the adventure. The goat dude is the most annoying new monster as it's basically a slaughtaur. About the best solution to taking the massive wave out in the mines was to group them up and then blessed bolt them to death. The pit fiend isn't too bad to deal with as you have plenty of space to move in whenever you fight them; they breathe and shoot fire. The balrog is the super-monster which has an interesting mechanic, leaving trails of fire on the ground that damage you as you walk over them. If you didn't have to fight so many of them at once at first, you might not be tired of them as you fight your way out of the dungeon toward the ending.

The dungeon layouts look very nice, but at the end of the day the stuff in the catacombs proper is pretty boxy and boring. I'm guessing that part of it is due to Shadowman's working within the competition limits mentioned in the .TXT but places like the mines and Hell stand in stark contrast to the stuff you'll be spending most of your time in. Still, the village is very fun to explore for the first time and all the jaunts are much appreciated, even if there IS a grid 64 maze crammed in here. It's kind of a pain in the ass as it's got undead lords instead of revenants, and the lords are way worse to fight, but at the very least it's short.

I'm actually pretty glad at the direction Shadowman took The Inquisitor 2. The town setting is a great base area to start off a fantasy adventure, I like the shop stuff, and having quests is pretty cool. Plus, the church of Krondor isn't corrupt in some fashion, avoiding a pretty tiresome fantasy trope. The gameplay is still pretty agonizing on UV, though I suppose it's intended for masochists or people who are already familiar with the adventure. Maybe he can be compelled to make a bigger adventure in a slightly less sadistic direction. I know I'd enjoy it!


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