Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Samsara (SAMSARA-V0.3666-BETA.PK3)

Samsara allows you to play as a formidable complement of classic FPS heroes and either duke it out in deathmatch or slay monsters alone and in co-op. The intent was to provide something like Marvel vs. Capcom for Zandronum. Term eventually discontinued development when he moved on to a new project to drive all the Doom players crazy - Demonsteele - but Kinsie of Reelism fame eventually took up maintenance of the mod so that you can use the same package in both GZDoom and Zandronum just as easily as you can use all of the heroes in any of the idtech1-derived games.

Doomguy appears, of course, as well as the warrior from Chex Quest; Heretic's Corvus; B. J. Blazkowicz of Wolfenstein 3D fame; Parias the Cleric (but not the fighter or mage); Mr. Duke Nukem 3D himself; Marathon's mysterious security officer; and Ranger from polygons unknown. If you think that there are some gaping holes in the roster then you're not alone! Plenty of folks have already sent death threats to TerminusEst13 so there's no need for you to rattle his cage about Caleb or Strifeguy, especially since he isn't even maintaining it anymore. His eventual vision for Samsara tried to ensure that the included heroes didn't tread on the others' deathmatch niches or require severe changes to reign in their abilities.

As I recall, Term was always open to detractors making a mod for a mod and this capability is why Extra Heroes exists. An in-depth examination of the whopping 100 mb file package is out of the scope of this review but it totally exists and contains eighteen more fighters, some of whom are pretty obscure. The expansion loses TEst's tight focus on idtech1 but has a much broader emotional appeal, more on the level of Super Smash Bros.. I don't know if they're planning on adding any other folks but I will say that the idea of having so many characters under the umbrella of a single mod is nice.

In Term's infinite wisdom, Samsara is compatible with pre-existing maps which involved co-opting their item spawns. As a desirable side-effect this means that you can play as different heroes and the mod was extended until it could function on all of the commercial idtech1 games: Doom, Heretic, Hexen, Chex Quest, and Strife, the last one regardless of whether its hero features in the roster. It's pretty fun to take, say, Doomguy into the different universes just as much as it is to leverage the powerful kits of other games against the infernal denizens. There's something perverse about fighting Flemoids, though, since the cartoonish creatures die a violent, goopy death when they aren't zorched and sent to another dimension.

The current Samsara thread doesn't have a whole lot of in-depth information but the original, retired post still has a ton of good data, the gist of which is also available in an in-game function called the Tipbox that you can configure keys for. None of the heroes including Doomguy made the translation into the mod with absolute fidelity. Each one has been given a set of perks in order to differentiate the way in which they play... except for ol' green marine. The super shotgun is powerful magic, you see. The biggest across-the-board change gives infinite ammo for the starting weapons and consigns them to slot 1 alongside melee. It isn't much but it's nice to know that you always have a ranged weapon to fall back on, no matter how inadequate it may feel to the task.

Corvus has quite a few interesting dynamics going on. He gets to hoard all of the pickups including what passes for medikits as inventory items; the firemace becomes his slot 2 weapon since it was such an underwhelming "ultimate" armament; and the Tome of Power appears in his seventh slot. It isn't consumed but there's a sizable cooldown involved so make sure that you really need it. The weirdest mechanical change is making his damage more similar to Doom's model insofar as it now resembles the latter's sometimes terrifying randomness. He also starts out with a few explosive consumables.

Chex Warrior was one of those things that Term now grits his teeth over because it's tough to differentiate a guy who was literally a Doomguy clone. Players who are Good At Doom might enjoy him since he takes reduced damage from all sources and can't splash himselfwhile using his Zorch Propulsor (rocket launcher analogue). He enjoys a few subtle mechanical tweaks such that his shotgun equivalent reloads a bit faster and hitscan patterns a little tighter. If this sounds really good, well, the main tradeoff is a nerfed LAZ device. It still does big single-target damage but Doomguy is king when it comes to the BFG bump. The other surprise is the Super Large Zorcher. It's similar to the combat shotgun but sufficiently different in both its gross shell consumption and area of effect such that it won't default to your workhorse. My favorite detail: Chexie sends ALL enemies away in a red, neon glow.

B.J. is a low-res powerhouse. You lose out on variety because he doesn't get a slot 3 weapon and both his machine and chaingun use bullets but they get work done. His rocket launcher equivalent is a powerful ripper projectile while the flamethrower sort of stands in for the plasma gun; it just isn't as useful for stunlocking. The chaingun will have you covered there, though. Blazkowicz gets an extra life whenever you pick up a berserk pack; if you should die then it will return you to the start at 100% health. This could be to your disadvantage depending on the level design, of course. The coolest aspect of B.J. to me is that he wields the Spear of Destiny. Its take on room clearing is pretty cool; I love the sound design.

Parias tries to cram the best aspects of Hexen's weapons all under one roof. The cleric runs faster and jumps higher than other heroes and is meant to really get in the thick of things since he uses Timon's Axe as his SSG replacement and suffers significantly less from blast damage. He also gets the Frost Shard spell for the shotgun; Serpent Staff for the chaingun (albeit at greatly reduced average damage); the Hammer of Retribution, though its slower rate of fire won't help you much in situations structured around RL suppression; the Firestorm in slot six with some pretty big shoes to fill; and ol' Wraithverge as the ultimate weapon. The last is great at clearing out crowds but doesn't feel all that useful against bosses like the Cyberdemon. He gets a bottomless flechette on a timer instead of the chainsaw and Berserk packs give Mystic Ambit Incants.

Duke had some of his arsenal toned down - no more trip mine or shrinker - but he gets a powerful instant AOE with the explosive shotgun and the rest of his weapons are more or less intact. The Devastator is his ultimate and it's pretty formidable when it comes to killing big bosses (since they are not immune to his blast damage) while the Freezethrower stands in quite well for the plasma gun. He still has pipe bombs in place of the chainsaw and the Berserk pack pickup bestows a jetpack (and sometimes a Holo-Duke). It functions like a Wings of Wrath and can be turned on and off until it runs out of fuel. Nukem's tradeoffs are that he's less agile, gets atomic health-sized boosts from soul spheres, and even eats more damage. He also comes complete with color commentary but you can turn that off in the menu.

Marathon's Security Officer is the one hero on the list that I haven't played much. The HUD for the weapons is spot-on from what little I remember and while Term's cheat sheet doesn't mention it I do recognize his low gravity, especially when falling. Apparently all of his bullet attacks are actually just really fast projectiles so closer is better. You'll still have to deal with reloads but he has a bunch of alt-fires for greater flexibility in handling scenarios. There's something deliciously tactile about the firing model for dual-wielding the magnums and especially shotguns. His ultimate is the previously hypothetical Wave Motion Cannon which has both a considerable charge time and a lethal area-of-effect. The Berserk pack awards you with a weapon in slot 8 whose attack appears to have a random component, at least on acquisition.

I did spend a lot of time playing Quake post-1996, though. Ranger behaves pretty much like you'd expect including the expansion pack weapons. They appear as alternatives in tiers, toggle on or off via alt-fire, or simply off the grid in the mysterious eighth slot. Ranger's Super Shotgun has always seemed underwhelming to me but while it doesn't have the raw power of Doomguy's its rate of fire combined with number of hitscans makes it a formidable stunlock weapon when tanking pretty much any normal monster. The Quad Damage exists but only appears to be tied to picking up the Thunderbolt / BFG so it isn't quite as handy. Ranger's quirks consist of more hang time in the air (the better to rocket jump with!) and megahealth-style pickups decaying down to 100.

I doubt whether the heroes will be feasible in edge case scenarios that have been tightly balanced around the more esoteric aspects of Doom's gameplay - largely thinking of high skill-ceiling stuff and slaughter - but TerminusEst13 has considered a lot in making the heroes effective in single-player and co-operative as well as Deathmatch. It's not like you have to challenge yourself, either. Playing as Duke in Doom should be a matter of fun, not whether he was balanced to handle the worst stuff that Sunlust has to throw at you. It takes a little while to feel out where the new toolkits work best when Doomguy's has been hard-wired into my brain.

There are a bunch of little details to notice as you play that show just how much polish Term put on this thing. It's stuff on the same level of Chex Warrior zorching everything while other heroes pound the Flemoids into putrid piles or all the Easter Egg weapons. One of the biggest surprises I found was boss monologues. Not the Cyberdemon or Spiderdemon, mind you, but end-of-game stuff like the Icon or D'Sparil. Your mileage may vary on these; I wasn't impressed with the text for Strife's alien entity but the thought is appreciated and the messages can be disabled. I'm more wowed by bits like the way the "secret revealed" message is given to Parias.

I don't have a good feel for how Samsara plays out online though I was in the room when Xaser lobbied hard to give it one of the newly-multiplied 2013 Multiplayer Cacowards. I did see a co-op game running when I peeked on Doomseeker so its public face still has a pulse. If you're considering hosting a game then there are a ton of notes that are pertinent to server admins. You can enable new modes like Super Turbo Turkey Puncher 3000 or Punchdrunk; start everyone with full gunsnammo whenever you spawn; and even shape the playing field by buffing, nerfing, or just plain disabling heroes.

Samsara is a wicked cool mod. I had a lot of fun puzzling out how to best employ the abilities of each hero where Doomguy-specific strategies had already been tattooed on my brain. If you've ever wanted to play as other classic FPS heroes in idtech1 games and accuracy won't define the experience then this ought to have you covered.


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2013 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Back to Saturn X: Episode 1EyedeaInterception
Doom 2 the Way id DidSamsaraHadephobia
Unholy RealmsEon DeathmatchHellbound
ZDoom Community Map Project: Take 2Best Gameplay ModHigh / Low 5
Fuel DevourerProject MSXSoulcrusher
KuchitsuMordeth AwardStomper
Forsaken OverlookZDCMP2
Stardate 20X6Mockaward
Pirate DoomExtreme Weapon Pack
Swim With the WhalesMapper of the Year


  1. I'm curious if you are ever going to check out Hideous Destructor :)

    1. It is very far from the top of my list as far as priorities go but I am starting to include mods in my to-play queue.