Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Ranger (13ZD-RGR.WAD)

by "TerminusEst13"

TerminusEst13 has taken Doom's modding scene by storm with stuff like Samsara, DemonSteele, and Push. The Ranger was his first release, published in 2011 for ZDoom and Skulltag. It's a new character for Hexen, and an attempt at bringing something of gunpowder tech to a familiar fantasy setting. The Ranger doesn't change any of the core conceits of Hexen's gameplay; none of the enemy behavior has been touched. Any alterations to item behavior are just additions to cover what the Icon and Flechette do when wielded by the formidable Ranger, which isn't just understandable - it's to be expected.

Terminus has even prepared an in-depth backstory that explains where the Ranger came from and how his armaments operate within the context of Cronos. Of course, the most pressing question - who made all this gunpowder tech - is glazed over. Presumably, the fighter prefers to work with his fists, with magical weapons trumping primitive firearms any day. In any case, Rangers represent the folk of Cronos that stand distinct from the finely-tuned caste system that Korax was able to exploit. They eschew the dogmatic society they broke from and, hardened by Cronos's harsh wilderness, become powerful individuals in their own right. Our particular Ranger has enjoyed both sides of Cronos's lifeways, I assume to show why he has a stake in the future of its civilization where others may not care. His enemies will know his name, and his name is... Terence.

The Ranger is a pretty formidable character on top of his occasional wisecracks, but he will unavoidably come across as having slower-paced gameplay when compared to his brethren. That's because you actually have to stop firing to reload if using anything other than your default weapons. There are a couple of other nuances that I'll get to which make it a more complex character than the defaults, but reloading will be the single biggest deterrent to enjoying this mod besides those curmudgeons who simply shit on it for having the gall to ruin the immaculate atmosphere of Hexen by including some guns. The nerve!

First, your default loadout. The Ranger uses actual claws to attack with, a byproduct of his time spent in nature. As mentioned in the .TXT, it uses a Zen Dynamics-esque combo system based on timing that lets you move from calculated attacks to flailing wildly or a lethal lunge that will take down an Ettin pretty much every time. It's not at all bad to start out with, and you even have the ability to attack with piercing blasts of razor wind as an alt-fire. It's not very strong, but it may be the most efficient attack you have when faced with a huge crowd of beasties, and I'm told that it even penetrates troublesome shields.

The Ironsheath is one of those nuances I was talking about. It holds thirteen bullets and consumes a fixed amount of blue mana whenever you reload. By holding the fire button down, you'll rapid-fire, suffering the effects of recoil. More importantly, it also cuts down the damage you do. Rapid-fire is great in a pinch, but if you don't need to push a monster back, you're better off with the single-shot. The Scrapbox is a formidable close-range weapon, kind of a combat shotgun analogue, that's a bit slower to fire than the Ironsheath. About two point-blank shots will grease an Ettin, with the IS taking about four bullets in single-fire mode. The Scrapbox still takes a long time to reload per seven shots, but you should have plenty of room to dodge off.

The Ranger's ultimate weapon is the Godcannon, which trades mobility for power. You can't attack with it until rooting yourself to the ground using your secondary fire, after which you're free to annihilate any wave of monsters under the pain of some significant recoil. Plus, the Godcannon doesn't even use mana! It's powered by the soul of a Phoenix, which can be charged with a little crank, which is the Godcannon's primary fire when not in attack mode. I'm sure that one could diligently clear most of the game using it, but switching between states on a constant basis will deter all but the most dedicated players from taking advantage of its virtually unlimited ammunition.

As for the item effects unique to the Ranger, the fletchettes are pretty handy, busting flasks into caltrops that do a good show of slaying landbound enemies. You'll find plenty of opportunities to exploit them given the prevalence of beasties that go pitter-patter through Hexen's dark fantasy corridors. The Icon triples your attack power and greatly reduces the damage you take, turning you into a sharp-shooting killing machine. Being able to speed up fights through a damage boost is always welcome, considering the glacial pace of Hexen's combat when not abusing slot 4 weapons.

Because the monster behavior hasn't changed, the core gameplay of The Ranger is still the same. You just can't hold down the fire button until you exhaust your mana since the reloads insert pauses in the combat. You can kind of keep things going by dumping flechettes while you skitter around, but you only have so many to burn. At some point, you'll be ducking into an alcove to reload your gun as opposed to hewing a merry path through Korax's minions, which to be honest, isn't much of a difference in a game that was essentially a first person dungeon crawler minus most of the mainstays of character progression. To any prospective players, The Ranger is essentially another spice to add to the flavor of Hexen, which will be welcome to some players and not to others. It's... pretty cool. Maybe you'll like it, too.


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