Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shadows of Chronos (KAISER_28.WAD)

The only thing more rare than a Hexen PWAD is a HACX PWAD. But, uh, this isn't about a HACX WAD - it's about Shadows of Chronos, a 5-map hub for Hexen released in 2014 by Doom veteran Kaiser. For those keeping track, this will be the first Hexen PWAD reviewed on my blog, but that's not because I hate Hexen. In fact, I love it to death. Hexen maps are just few and far between, due to a number of factors including but not limited to its relatively minor fanbase, balancing maps for three different classes, the original's presentation of hub-based gameplay, dependence upon puzzles that many players find to be obtuse, and only having four weapons at a time. It's basically the FPS version of a dungeon crawler, minus the cool loot, party system, and (for the most part) character progression. Hexen has its own definite niche, as small as it is, and if it even barely intersects with your interests, then read on.

The story so far... isn't very long. Baratus, Daedolon, and Parias were collaborating to help rebuild Chronos since returning from the Dark Citadel, a project that has gone on for eighteen years. The wicked never rest, though, and it looks like the remnants of Korax's army have staged an attack on the capitol city. The heroes band together and, after repulsing the threat, travel to its source to put an end to the mischief. Once through the gate, though, they are greeted by a visage long thought dead. It isn't clear whether it's the rider himself or one of his subordinates posing as him, not helped by the fact that the end text is a repeat of the one from Deathkings, but you're not gonna let a little thing like that stop you from annihilating hordes of horrible, fantastical beasts, are you?

The one thing you can count on people to complain about when Hexen is mentioned is its puzzle play. "Seven Portals" enjoys a fate opposite that of Doom's introductory episode. Where people laud the Phobos experience except for being perhaps a bit too easy, Hexen's intro post-"Winnowing Hall" usually comes across as a confusing pain in the ass. The bilateral symmetry does it no favors, and while I didn't have much of a problem with the item stuff, I can see where that might trip some players up, especially coming from Doom's simple, run and gun action. Kaiser attempts to obliterate a lot of these criticisms through his own level design by using teleporters to send you close to desired locations, making obvious setpieces for places where you'll be using puzzle items, and eliminating most of those situations where something you do affects a different area of the hub, with one major exception that I can think of. It would be interesting to see a rewrite of Hexen with the same level of professionalism Kaiser brings, though I doubt it's something I'll see in my lifetime.

Anyway, Shadows sends you on an adventure through three main locations, bookended by two standalone structures on Chronos. "Sanctuary" is a cool level with some simple puzzles and traps. "Forest of Time" isn't as foresty as I was expecting but it's got some cool naturalistic scenery, a palace, and a lot of cool places that open up as you explore. "Cenotaph" is ye olde swamp ruins, but it has a sensibility that is all Kaiser's and has a pretty cool hook with those masks you have to return to the start area. "Garden of Gaea" is a must-visit, with tons of gorgeous scenery and cool level design. "Outpost" is pretty much just a boss map, not that it isn't a nice showdown.

Some things that go hand in hand with Hexen can't be avoided, like the four weapon slots, the last of which is a death engine, particularly if you're the cleric. That said, Shadows of Chronos is a prime example of how cool vanilla Hexen maps can be, though I suppose the first step is to actually have people making them... Thanks, Kaiser, for taking me back to the magic again.

by Samuel "Kaiser" Villareal

Chronos SanctuaryMAP01
Welcome to Hexen. "Sanctuary" is far less forgiving than "Winnowing Hall", fielding a ton of ettins and centaurs that plunge you right back into the dungeon crawl atmosphere and testing whether or not using your base weapon against enemy hordes is really something you want to get back into. It works if you can get into it, as the masses of monsters create an aura of desperation where deft maneuvering and crowd control pay off well. You also get your slot two weapon, right before jumping into one of the biggest fights in that outdoor area. The steel key room has a nice, dangerous trap that you can turn to your advantage, which is cool. I also froze up in that ambush across the pit you flood and died like a knave.

MAP05Forest of Time
Kaiser sets you up for success. You have several distinct avenues to explore at the onset, like the ravine that deadends with the rusted key, the gate with the missing gear, and the jewel puzzle in the forest. The reivers have a nice, if obvious introduction and busting down trees is a nice problem that breaks the cryptic ice. On your fist return trip, the gear lets you access the palace-type area, which has a pretty cool ambush with dark bishops, followed by more crazy action in the outdoor area, which is crawling with beasties. The third visit just uses the skull to start up a big reiver fight. The next trip is pretty cool; returning via the Garden puts you center stage as the earth cracks open, revealing a cavern that takes you on your way to the next hub teleporter. The enemies are thick, but you should be loaded for bear by this point. The next time you return, you quickly clutch the rusted key and trek across the level to find one of the few places you haven't fully explored. The rusted stronghold isn't too terribly challenging since the added monsters come as a pretty obvious trap. Finally, after a big ambush that your slot 4 weapon will make short work of, all you have to remember is where the Hell you were supposed to use that sapphire. It's, uh, in the southeastern portion of the map. Time to put this forest in the past.

This murky swamp has some stones. Dealing with the lurkers will depend entirely on what class you've picked and there's a pretty healthy mix of monsters, including tons of sniper chaos serpents, which might catch you off-guard if you're too used to dungeon crawling. The gimmick is pretty simple, using masks on the starting area pillars to lower sequential doors. On your second trip, you're just passin' through! Nothing to see here. On your third visit, you're back, this time plunked down into a nasty storeroom ambush with a heavy emphasis on claustrophobia. Then it's a plunge into a ring of muck in which you have to fight A DEATH WYVERN, HOLY SHIT. The stalkers are a pretty nasty hazard here, just for getting hung up on while trying to dodge fireballs. I also love the badass crusher trap sequence, very cool. On the last sojourn, we are back to killing stalkers in the muck, but the opening crossfire is hectic enough and getting to clear the big ol fortification with its mass of bishops and use the swamp key feels pretty satisfying. Sapphire in hand, we're done with this.

MAP03Garden of Gaea
"Gaea" feels a bit more like a second hub. It's nice and big and has a nice mixture of earth and plant theme plus some sideshows like the little camp in the cave for you to marvel at. The enemy opposition isn't quite as thick but Kaiser still has a few big surprises up his sleeve, like the battle for Yorick's skull (though I don't remember seeing the headless statue). The design is quite breathtaking. On return, Kaiser basically hands you your slot 4 weapon if you can endure a canyon crawl with a creamy chaos serpent center. The cave key opens up a nice shortcut, though, and using the gem does something... interesting... in the Forest of Time. The third and final confrontation is a quick jaunt that rends the earth in the canyon area, opening up a way to the ruined temple on the butte. It's actually a tricky little crossfire with the afrits and bishops, not to mention the serpents in the center. With the axe key in hand, you're done with this place.

Chronos OutpostMAP04
This is a quick boss map that shoves some powerups down your throat before throwing you to the wolves. It's a two-stage fight, starting off with the trio of your betters before a mob of monsters funnels into your limited breathing space, followed by... a pair of Heresiarchs. It's not a hard fight, but it might take you awhile considering the uptime on their magic shields. You're not under any real danger, though, with all the pillars and stuff provided for cover.


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2014 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Going Down32in24-13Bauhaus
The Adventures of SquarePushBloody Steel
Back to Saturn X: Episode 2Rage CTFMayhem 2048
PlasmaplantBest Gameplay ModWhitemare 2
Shadows of ChronosDemonSteeleYou Dig
Monster Hunter Ltd. 1/2Mordeth AwardThe Wailing Horde
ResurgenceDoom 2 in Name OnlyReconstruction/
Mayan MishapMockawardDecomposition
Urban Brawl: Dead of WinterBrutalist Doom
Thy Flesh Turned Into a Draft ExcluderMapper of the Year


  1. Heresiarch not Hierophant ;)

    Hierophant is the name of a custom Doom monster someone made that uses it's sprites with some slight recoloring.

  2. Also, the characters you call 'the three heroes' are the leaders of the three group's the player characters were a part of before Korax came. They just use the same sprites as the player characters.

    Here is a video of the cut scenes added to the PS1 and Saturn versions of HeXen, that detail both the manual's plot and also the text screens of the PC version.

    The N64 version of HeXen lacks the cut scenes, but adds brief descriptions of every level to loading screens.

    1. i thought i had it down as heresiarch at some point but for whatever reason hierophant took over. good catch. both are big ol h words taht have some significance in a religious context so when your eyes glaze over its an easy mistake to make. maybe i shouldnt have used the word hereos but its not worth a hexen history lesson, i mean gosh damn. it may be factually inaccurate shorthand but you knew exactly what i was talkin about, didnt you?

  3. Nice, finally a Hexen wad review!

    BTW will you do reviews for the official games too? I have been looking forward to these since I discovered "Icons of Sin" page. I know you reviewed Final Doom and Master Levels but not the main Doom games, Heretic and Hexen. I feel that they should be reviewed.

    1. ill get around to it eventually. doom64 and no rest for the living will come first tho.

  4. Did you find the secret level? I pored over the hub in Doom Builder and there's definitely a secret exit, but I have no idea how to get to it.


    1. honestly i didnt even think it was a real thing cause it looked like a placeholder in SLADE3. after warping to it idk if im that interested in trying to figure out how to access what is basically a bonus room but im kind of tempted

  5. The hordes of enemies right off the bat in the first map turned me off this set initially, but I know I'll get back to it at some point. Hexen was once my favorite IWAD after all, and there are so few solid PWADs for it.

  6. Hey, since youv'e started doing Hexen WAD reviews you might as well try and review the newly mixed soundtrack...

    That'll work with most Hexen WADs out there, too.

  7. Very few Hexen hubs of this quality, so it is very welcome to have one. I can't think of anything to really compete except MTrop's Scourge of Viscerus episode.

  8. The portal to leave the secret room takes you back to the Forest of Time. Another poster mentioned going to the secret level after placing the Sapphire... Hmm. I went to each portal with noclip on and mapsco used to see all the portals, in each map, but can't find the secret exit.