bhlaab's Heretic II (PC) review

Avatar image for bhlaab
  • Score:
  • bhlaab wrote this review on .
  • 1 out of 1 Giant Bomb users found it helpful.
  • bhlaab has written a total of 80 reviews. The last one was for Whiplash

The Game Time Forgot

Heretic 2 is sort of lost to time. It's the only game in the Heretic/Hexen series that isn't on any digital storefront. It doesn't have a cult following or a fan-made source port. Nobody ever talks about it. It's a mainstream, AAA (for 1998) PC game on the Quake 2 engine made by a known and well-regarded studio that somehow became all but forgotten over time.

The game plays surprisingly nice with Windows 10. As far as fan-made luxuries, there's a hi-res hack and a patch (http://hexenmod.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=650) that seems to be mostly oriented towards the few psychos who want to play the online deathmatch mode.

The hi-res hack can go as high def as you want it to, but I don't recommend going any higher than 1080p even if your monitor is better than that. The game's HUD does not scale and becomes basically untenable at a certain point. From there, the first thing you're going to want to do is go into the game's /base/ directory and create an autoexec.cfg file. In there, put the line "cl_maxfps 60" (or 120 or 144 or 165 depending on your desired framerate). I don't know if it's the fan patch or what, but for some reason my version of the game was initially locked to 30 fps and it sucked.

As far as bugs go, it's hard to say what is the fault of the game, the fan-patch, or the OS. However, I had a recurring problem where loading save games would cause a crash. Always back up your saves multiple times. I've found that temporarily switching to software rendering would mitigate this issue. There were some crashes that happened randomly in-game, and some bugs where the game would get soft-locked into 'cutscene mode' necessitating a restart. Saving while Corvus is on a moving platform is not advisable. Despite some close calls here and there, I managed to make my way through the entire game with little fuss.

You play as Corvus, the same character from the first Heretic (but not any of the Hexen games). While the original game was more or less a total conversion for Doom, Heretic 2 is a third person platformer/shooter/hack & slash hybrid. Unfortunately, it doesn't really pull any of these off particularly well.

The platforming is clearly inspired by the old Tomb Raider games. Those don't hold up particularly well in the first place, but that style of rigid physics mixed with WASD-style run and gunning it makes for a sour experience. Corvus' movement is digital and twitchy with no room for fine, precision navigating. If you tap the jump key he does a hop, but if you hold it he does a somersault leap that goes a bit further and higher. Both seem to have a pre-set trajectory that you can't really influence, which feels like garbage. There are a lot of platforming challenges in Heretic 2, and a lot of my time was spend missing jumps and clumsily tumbling off of platforms.

The combat in Heretic 2 fares a lot better than the platforming, owing to Raven Software's long line of experience in the field. Your arsenal of weapons is unique in that about half of them are magic spells that all draw from the same pool of Green Mana. You start with a weak fireball that is nonetheless effective against early monsters, a shotgun-style spread shot, a flame wall, a fragmentary blast, and a spirit bomb that has to be charged up. On top of that you have some weapons that don't use Green Mana but instead require their own ammo. This includes a rapid fire staff, an explosive bow and arrow (rocket launcher), and a storm bow that does damage over time in a small area around where the arrow strikes. I found all of these attacks decently fun to use, and I like how the storm bow in particular introduces zoning attacks into classic FPS gameplay. The only thing I don't like is that switching between weapons takes way too long.

You also have defensive spells that use a separate pool of Blue Mana, but many of these are useless. On the other hand, you can spend Blue Mana on the Tome of Power, which will upgrade all of your attacks to do more damage and even mutate their utility somewhat. Also useful is the meteor spell, which homes in on nearby enemies. There's also a lightning shield, which damages any enemy that comes near you.

The melee combat is a mixed experience. Your attacks with the staff are motivated by the state of your movement, however, it's far from nuanced and has zero combo potential. You basically just have a handful of canned attacks. For instance, attacking while running forward does a spinning swipe for slightly more damage. At the start of the game, using the staff at all seems suicidal. Corvus' attack speed is slow and the collision detection is less than ideal. Getting into melee distance and waiting through the slow animations comes across as a worthless gamble that will lead to inevitably tanking damage. Your variety of useful ranged attacks is just a better choice.

I don't know when exactly that changed. All throughout the game you're getting small incremental upgrades to your staff, so it's hard to pinpoint when exactly it becomes so absurdly overpowered that it breaks the game. By the final levels my staff was tearing through everything and every attack that connected was setting enemies on fire. If you hold the run key, the move forward key, and the mouse button at the same time Corvus will just pirouette endlessly and tear through things like the Tasmanian Devil or something. If you pair this with the lightning shield, enemies will be stunlocked and unable to punish you for your frankly outrageous behavior. I beat the entire last area of the game, and an otherwise difficult boss fight, just by holding down those three buttons and spinning like crazy.

I had fun when I felt weak and had to rely on ranged spells and clever use of my weapons. I also had fun breaking the villain's evil sky castle over my knee just by spinning around like an asshole. It's a shame that the melee only exists in these extremes instead of slotting in comfortably. But at the same time, I did have fun during my time at both extremes.

Well, sometimes I didn't have a lot of fun. As a PC action game from 1998, the level designers had a mandate that the game had to be full of instant-kill 'fuck you' traps. You'll get slammed by surprise crushers, caught in hidden bear traps, and fried by obscured jets of fire. It's dumb, but it's just how a lot of PC games were at the time. I don't know why this design trend was so in vogue, but the reality of the situation is that you should probably quicksave often. But never on moving platforms. Trust me.

TL;DR
Heretic II doesn't really excel at any one thing it tries to do, but it's a fine timewaster that doesn't deserve its fate

Other reviews for Heretic II (PC)

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.