Saturday, February 22, 2020

Heart of Fire (HOF.WAD)

by Pablo Dictter

Pablo was one of the more prolific authors to emerge during the source port boom. Much of his output consisted of small, straightforward levels with a hefty amount of detailing. Today Dictter is probably remembered for his sole contribution to Alien Vendetta, "One Flew Over the Caco's Nest" (MAP21). The stringy layout is emblematic of his style back in the early '00s. He also indulged in level design for the Raven branch of the id family. Heart of Fire is an E1M1 replacement for Heretic, originally released for what appears to have been something like a limit-removing port - wHeretic. Published in 2001, it is a sequel to the similarly-titled River of Fire which was stamped back in May of 2000.

RIVERF had something like a plot but it isn't explicitly continued in here or in How to Disappear Completely, the third and thus far final part of the series. The setup is that you're a retired adventurer turned priest who starts to receive strange visions. After a fell premonition, you discover a mysterious portal at your place by the altar in your chapel. You gather your old equipment and step into the gate and find yourself among fiery caverns and foul beasts. In the first part, you battle your way up and down a trail of molten rock. HOF has much of the same confines, including a small stream of lava.

Dictter gets away with quite a bit by exploiting the more naturalistic setting. I'm less apt to perceive a stringy level as being artificial when it isn't a chain of orthogonal rooms and corridors. It also feels less like overdetailing because the noisy greebling is on subterranean, earthen passages. The short network of tunnels eventually leads to a color contrast finale much like RIVERF. Where that one was a simple, easy-to-skip red Disciple brawl, Heart of Fire puts you on a blue race track with difficult-to-see crushers. You can still run and bypass the sorcerers, but are you really confronting the evil if you walk on by?

The nature of the combat is more approachable in some ways and less in others. At a scant 35 monsters, you won't be scraping together ammo for a full clear. Dictter has a boss fight in store for you, though, and while he hands you a Tome of Power it's still on the player to clear a gauntlet of three Iron Liches. I appreciate that the gargoyles are only at their thickest at the beginning and can be deftly handled with the wand. Having to use it on the first weredragon is a small price to pay considering that you're fully kitted out with a crossbow and arrows afterward. Environmental hazards aren't too bad at the start; your movement space is limited but not because it's dominated by hurt floor. The subsequent areas are much worse, though, and a few spots will end your run if you misstep.

Heart of Fire is a fun little Heretic level. It feels better-balanced for pick up and play so if you're a huge fan of Raven's modest, medieval clone then you should probably give it a try. Supposing that you haven't already done so while starved for content, of course.


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