Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Warlock's Hearth (WARLH.WAD)

by Adam "Khorus" Woodmansey

I know Khorus has done a ton of things, but I only really know him from his 2011-now stuff, starting with Khorus's Speedy Shit. As such, the vast majority of my Doom II experience with him is relegated - almost entirely - to fairly difficult speedmaps. Imagine my surprise when Adam announced The Warlock's Hearth, a single map released in 2015 for limit-removing ports which is not at all short, and while it may have its moments, it lacks the omnipresent oppressive feeling that comes with Khorus's shorter, wilder levels. Plus, unlike all those KSSHT levels, it actually has a title!

And a plot. It's sort of in media res, so to speak, with you just barely escaping Armageddon in your own world by slipping into another. Unfortunately, it's out of the frying pan and into the fire as your out door was one of the ins that the demons were using. It seems that they've the former servants of a powerful warlock and have since overrun his fortress, which serves as some sort of dimensional nexus with portals to myriad other worlds. While you may not be able to save your home, you're suddenly in a prime position to defend the rest of existence. Not that you have anywhere else to run, of course.

The Warlock's Hearth is a very large level, but I found it hard to get lost in, apart from those moments where progression seemed to stall and it was back to checking the barricaded areas that I could remember, which are pretty obvious. The action is broken up into four main areas, gated off by keys and other milestones, but that's a fairly arbitrary division on my part. There are plasma rifles stashed all over the place, so you'll be able to snag one sooner or later if you're canny enough, and the action is more oriented toward a slow and steady drip feed with the occasional adrenaline-fueled clusterfuck to keep you on your toes.

The theme bounces all over the place, as befits this particular psychedelic warlord, mostly depending on which section of the level you're in. The main area is a sort of E4-ish mix of marble and wood that should seem somewhat familiar while the other worlds mentioned in the .TXT are separated by brown metal portals fixed within the red rock walls of the inferno - something I didn't realize until I came back to the level to write this review. One of these apertures actually has a cool porthole thing going on with one of the few custom textures Khorus uses, a sort of vision of a barren wasteland. It's locked, of course, until you complete the steps to remove the overlay, after which you'll have a nice surprise - and a new invasion force to slaughter.

One of the biggest breaks with the level overall is the techbase wing to the east, accessed after a long, grueling sewer crawl and a short trip through the void between worlds in a cool little interlude. As with the other places, it bears the scars of a demonic invasion, and while the action isn't quite so plentiful, it's part of the same leg of the adventure where Khorus shifts away from the more incidental combat to more tactical, area denial monster placement, beginning with your fist steps into the eastern library and its perilously perched arch-vile, among other things.

The red key sets off the final portion of the level leading to your exit from the manse, which is a bit more dense with enemies if you couldn't tell by the enormous horde of imps waiting for you on the other side of the crumbling wall. Cyberdemon surprises and clouds of cacodemons plus tricksy snipers make for a harrowing exit journey that eventually ends in another teleporter clusterfuck, this time with imps blinking around. The final encounter is slightly underwhelming, but it's an appropriate last ditch effort from the beasts of the manor, and has a spooky sendoff with the floating bed - the dream master, perhaps?

While The Warlock's Hearth has a sort of aesthetic patchwork that reflects its status as a dimensional hub, one thing overwhelmingly ties the segments of the experience together - the soundtrack, a monster that flits between lo-fi wailing synths at its most atmospheric and on the other end an outstanding groove that reminds me of... Sun Araw, I think. It's creepy at first but the overall effect is about as chill as the action that Khorus uses to out fit the level. It's pretty much perfect, I think, as your traveling companion through these horrific halls.

It's great to see Khorus's style plied out over an adventure level. He's got a great sense for pacing action and watching him cut loose for limit-removing after so much vanilla footwork is a bit of an eye-popper. So, if you like long levels with tons of cool shit to see, you should download The Warlock's Hearth. I highly recommend it.



  1. A very good map. I like that Khorus went outside his comfort zone of small-medium maps to make a big one, without the 'pressure' per se of having to come up with multiple maps (let alone a megawad). Looks good, plays good, I feel if this map was Khorus' experiment it's quite a success, probably his best individual map to date!

    1. certainly the most memorable of the ones i've played