Monday, July 17, 2017

The Inquisitor 3 (INQSTR3E.WAD)


I played Shadowman's Inquisitor and its sequel back in 2014; both are experiments originally begat by Russian "freakmapping" contests where a procedurally-generated layout is used as the foundation for people to make their own levels. The original INQSTR was controversial for its political / sexual undertones focused around a mysterious, metaphorical allusion that sullied an otherwise pretty cool castle adventure stylized after Hexen II. The Inquisitor 2 pushed in a different direction, attempting to channel the dungeon crawler combat of the Diablo series complete with an overworld town and quests that you could accomplish to further your power, exploring a fair variety of dungeons all within the space of a single level. Its bold aspirations were tempered by highly claustrophobic combat and boxy architecture.


The Inquisitor 3 - released in 2016 as a Doom II PWAD to be played in GZDoom - is a true sequel where INQSTR2 was a prequel to the original. All three flesh out the fantasy world of Khorus, a loving pastiche mixing elements of Diablo (and other 90s CRPGs) with Russian Eastern Orthodox religion and having a sort of alternate-reality flavor. The opening cinematic lays out the story, saving you the trouble of playing through the first two entries... if you're a less inquisitive sort. You're still Doomguy, here dubbed "the inquisitor", arriving in this dimension on your tireless quest to rid all existence of evil. Khorus is on the precipice of destruction at the hands of the nefarious Eidolan and you hardly help matters with your original bid, delivering a powerful artifact into the hands of the adversary in the guise of a sorcerer named Blacknore.


Your next trip takes you to the origin of the evil where both the undead king of Khorus resides and Blacknore surreptitiously engineered the downfall of the realm. You sort of save the day, but it's hard to tell what purpose your trip had because your progress is walked back so that the same setting - though rendered in a different map - can be used as a location in this adventure. For the final entry, you arrive on the docks of the town of Tristan, a fishing village on the edge of the madness. The king's deceased daughter appears to be the crucible of this insurrection and your quest will take you through dizzying heights and the deepest trenches, to Hell and back again to wrest the land from evil's grasp.


Given what happened with The Inquisitor 3, my closing thoughts on INQSTR2 seem eerily prophetic (though I dunno what other way it could have been developed). Most importantly, I was looking forward to "...a bigger adventure in a slightly less sadistic direction." I can't help but peek in at the Russian Doom Community forums on occasion and was pleasantly surprised to see INQSTR3 in development, noting that it had broken free from the Freakmapping yolk to encompass multiple maps. I later discovered its metamorphosis into a full-fledged game including an ARPG level system with statistical point distribution.


I had not had the luxury of playing any of the previous sophisticated ARPGs created for Doom source ports - most notably Stephen Clark's Serpent: Resurrection - and it's exactly the sort of thing I would hope to see for a work of this magnitude. One still using the base conceits of The Inquisitor series, anyway. The five different statistics are the classic Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Intelligence, and Wisdom. The first affects your melee damage, the levels of firearms that you can carry, the level of armor you can wear, and whether you can force certain locked doors open. It's worth specializing in if you enjoy the gritty melee combat of Hexen, especially since a type of armor in the late game requires a high Strength score.


Dexterity determines how much harm you do with ranged weapons, the levels of firearms that you can carry, whether you can pick the locks on doors (similar to Strength characters), how fast / how far you run and jump, and your capacity to "dodge" attacks entirely, a fringe benefit not mentioned in any official documentation. The only downside to focusing on a Dexterity-based character is that the very early game (your initial foray through "Wilderness") is heavily melee-focused. Vitality is exactly what you'd expect and a little more, raising hit points with every bump (though you always gain some amount at each level) and at higher levels reducing damage taken by a flat percentage as well as increasing the health gained by "rations".


Intelligence and Wisdom give you extra blue and green mana, respectively, and determine how much damage spells do as well as which ones you can learn. Some are alternative attacks to weapons, like Spark adding a lingering electrical strike to your sword each time you swing it. Others must be cast using the spell cycle menu. Buffs that increase stats or reduce damage lower your total mana until you turn them off or you change areas; at that point, they wear off. The buffs also have item equivalents, like potions, but the latter last a short time, dependant on a specific attribute score. The spell system adds yet another layer of depth to the gameplay, since both Intelligence and Wisdom have their own peak power spells. Which statistic will you specialize in?


You have a fairly diverse armament, all things considered. The fist slot is more of a repository for spellcasting options. The sword is the main workhorse melee weapon, a holdover from the first two Inquisitors. The mace offers a powerful alternative with a bit more range and does holy fire damage on every swing, albeit at the cost of consuming green mana. Slot 4 is reserved for the light crossbow, which is capable of firing normal or electrical bolts, or its heavy variant, using explosive or arc of death-style missiles much like INQSTR2's blessed bolts. I didn't run into anything that sat in slot 5 during my first playthrough, but I would not be surprised if it served as a repository for the stronger spells.


Slot 6 is the shotgun, a weapon you'll love to smash with and either shoots single shells (normal) or both at the same time (alt) before reloading. The Staff of Zharduk is a late-game addition and either uses blue mana to shoot rapid-fire homing energy shots or green mana to wreak havoc with a death ball that bounces from victim to victim or weaves around the big guys for massive damage. The fire launcher is an optional relic that can be acquired from one of two sources, either the sandy oasis of "The Lost Valley" or a bad dream. I'm not sure what triggers the latter but I had mine in Snow White's company. It either clears house with rolling fire using blue mana or functions as a flamethrower with green.


Once you start the game and roll through the intro, it's off to the Sanctuary. This map serves as an intro and lets you set your opening stats with a roll of the dice and then spend your first few attribute points. Most of your stat boosts will come from levels - two at a time - but there are also rare magic elixirs that heal you to full and give you a single bonus point. I found one other source of bonus points, and given how that particular secret is accessed I wouldn't be surprised if there's at least one other in the body of your adventure. I strongly suggest avoiding Ultra-Violence on your first playthrough; the monsters are much thicker in critical spots and I believe that you will level just as fast if not faster with less enemies killed while playing on Hurt Me Plenty.


You won't spend a lot of time at the Sanctuary, though. Your main headquarters will be in the town of Tristan (not to be confused with Tristram), mirroring the function of the castlebound village in The Inquisitor 2 but with much more atmosphere and charm. There are a variety of NPCs that offer quests and possess the gift of gab, further fleshing out the INQ universe. It's pretty hard to miss the missions since the team is pretty good about letting you know when new quests open following major milestones and there's only so much town to explore, doubly so in the case of the Umber Estate, a smaller town in the later game that would work as a great secondary hub... if there was a free source of healing to return to.


That's Deckard Cain: questmaster, holy man, and the dude that takes The Inquisitor from mining the same vibe as Diablo to straddling the line between homage and fan-fiction. Deckard is a useful resource besides healing you to full when spoken to. He is the prime fixture of the game's main questline, capable of pointing you in the right direction if you get lost or confused, and offers prodigious amounts of backstory that help to flesh out the world. He is accompanied by a cast of characters, including fantasy staples like the blacksmith and apothecary, all of whom have their own piece - or pieces - to say, provided you're capable of navigating through the dialogue windows. They've also got plenty of goods ready to Yseult, running the gamut from armor and ammo to combat consumables and restorative relics replenishing health and mana, all of which can be bought for some sum of simoleans.


There are plenty of sources from which you can acquire gold. Monsters tend to drop it and you'll get quite a bit from the completion of quests. There's a ton just lying around in corners of the world both near and far. Later on, you'll be able to sell spell scrolls that you can't or won't use (due to their higher INT or WIS requirements) and some artifacts you might have no interest in using. Experience is a tad bit more limited, but largely restricted to the same first two sources as gold. I was pleasantly surprised by receiving an experience bonus for taking an alternate path through a conversation with one of the bosses; not a common occurrence, but an interesting diversion from the norm nonetheless.


In terms of combat, I'm a poor judge. My initial playthrough was done as a jack-of-all-trades on UV, an experience I am loathe to repeat. I'm sure I suffered due to a lack of specialization in some aspects but I eventually finished the game... admittedly with a lot of saving and A LOT of reloading. Inquisitor 3 is slow to start since much of the massive first area, including the graveyard, will be cleared with the sword as your primary weapon, only later acquiring the relatively straightforward ranged attacks of the crossbow and lightning bolt. The elemental vulnerability system is neat and made readily apparent through color-coding, though it's more rudimentary with poison being its own thing and fire and lightning functioning as each other's antithesis. There are other niches, too, like the mace's superiority vs. the undead, but the main conflict appears to be between shock and thaw.


The cast is fairly robust with a plethora of palette-swapped beasties featuring variant behaviors; nothing too complex for a hack and slash RPG, though. The bosses are a different story, and while I'm sure that honing the player character's skillset would have helped, I'm not convinced it would have made the highly obnoxious lich king encounter any less distasteful. The dragon battle is just as grueling, but not because of manic monster movement. It's more about balancing the limited movement tracks against narrow windows of opportunity to attack with many of your weapons coupled with fast, fiery death if you slip up. I think I had the easiest time with the witch herself, either in spite of the multitude of monsters that make to mob you or the fact that they're so easily mopped up with the staff's alt-fire. Again, though, I didn't take the chance to play around with INQSTR3's deadlier arcanum.


The overworld is a fantastic environment that does a pretty good job of disguising its essential nature as corridors connecting larger areas (or to be completely reductive, rooms). Not that I expected anything similar to Diablo II's vast fields, obscuring hordes of randomly-placed monsters off the edge of the screen. I don't think that similar isometric-derived environments would work for The Inquisitor, at least not without the careful pacing and scripting that dominates areas like the graveyard outside the cathedral. Echelons of enemies work great for the spectacle of Doom II's slaughtermap scenarios and the crawling chaos visited upon the world by the Lord of Terror, but INQSTR3's pacing borrows from ARPGs with a measured cadence that emphasizes the art in artifice.


Of all the things that struck me as brilliant during the first few minutes of venturing forth walks hand in hand with an annoying bug that you'll want to completely disable autoaim for. Slaying flesh-and-blood monsters will in time trigger crows to feast on their corpses, slowly devouring them until only the sanguine skeletons remain. It's a fantastic addition to the PWAD's atmosphere, excepting the fact that the corpses are still live entities that draw your fire, at least until the crows are done pecking at them. I'm thinking that it's an issue that the developers could fix given their apparent ingenuity.


There are a plethora of other atmospheric additions that make Inquisitor 3 come alive. There's the stagnant fog in the graveyard, for instance, or the rolling mists of "The Shadow Gorge". "Citadel of the King" has a cinematic escape sequence with a collapsing bridge and the trappings of "Citadel of Inferno" create a clear otherworld that would be fun to investigate sans its soul-crushing difficulty. I also enjoy the rolling waves of INQSTR's various coastlines, from the opening shore you materialize on in "Tristan" to the tantalizing tropic of "The Lost Valley". The subtle special effects work is an excellent accent for Shadowman and Memka's eye for detail, exemplified in their previous releases. The locations you visit are stunning, taking more after the architecture and scale of the original Inquisitor but with even larger locales. The interior of "The Cathedral" is cavernous with "The Catacombs" below providing the one labyrinthine dungeon-crawling scenario. Mostly free of grid 64 mazes, thankfully.


The look and feel of the project is enhanced by a plethora of 3D models, ranging from simple furniture props to massive statues like the angel just outside the cathedral doors. The objects feel perfectly at home in the environments; less jarring, say, than those appearing in 2015's Prime Directive. That's probably because of all the work done to accommodate them, though; the slopes and 3D environments go a long way toward bridging the gap between Doom and Hexen II, more so than the original Inquisitor which excepting its simple and straightforward presentation seems quaint in comparison to INQSTR3.


Another thing that helps to nail down the tone of this release - as well as the prequel - is its soundtrack, much of which of course comes from Diablo II. There are also tunes from other RPGs contemporary to it that I'm not nearly as familiar with as well as other musical sources including but not limited to symphonic metal. I'm not as fond as the metal if only from a consistency standpoint, but it's just as jarring as the chaos of the associated lich king fight that it accompanies. Diablo II's not quite ambient music is just as captivating as the first time my barbarian visited the rogue encampment. File it alongside Deckard Cain as stuff that further blurs the line between Doom mod and Diablo fan game.


You might notice some distinct parallels with the progression of the original Diablo, previously mirrored in INQSTR2. There's a definite cathedral / catacombs / mines / Hell progression, here broken up by the overworld a la Diablo II. If you're just jumping into the Inquisitor series here, though, you'll miss out on a number of details cribbed from both Inquisitors. The three biggest that stick out in my mind are from the original INQSTR - the alchemy chamber where you have your first showdown with Blacknore, the tall chamber filled with wraiths, and the apparently inescapable legacy of the three tortured women. The in-universe explanation given in the intro of this release is that they were the handmaidens of the princess, put to death after failing to prevent her infernally-induced drowning. While appearing there, you'll see an eerie echo located in the bowels of MAP08.


INQSTR3 lacks the dynamic layouts and landscapes that generate so much buzz for Doom and Doom II, but I don't miss them considering that they're not critical to the methodical ARPG model that the Russian team cultivates. It's got more of an adventure game sensibility with less emphasis on free exploration. You'll really feel it in bits like your first entry into the Cathedral, which requires climbing up crumbling walls and leaping across the roofs of mausoleums. That's not to say that the team has eschewed the sorts of curiosities that reward a thorough study; indeed, it's rich both in secrets (albeit many of the item closet variety) as well as optional nooks and crannies including a shrine that allows you a very limited respec option and two optional levels with their own rewards, not to forget the super-secret author Easter eggs. I wonder, now, if the herb I collected in the Shadow Gorge triggered the imperial incubus.


I opined that the sequel to INQSTR2 ought to be larger and with less soul-crushing difficulty. Shadowman and crew exceeded my wildest expectations with Inquisitor 3. It's the sort of production I'd love to see more of, especially since the team has broken the surface level of fantasy staples. Of course, I'd like to see a little less time whacking stuff with the sword in the beginning - more contradictory contrivances are always appreciated - but I remain in awe that the team succeeded with such a vast increase in scope. I know that this is likely the end of the Inquisitor's journey, but I hope that more adventures are in store from this seasoned team.

NOTE: The version of INQSTR3 found on /idgames is English-only (well, besides the Russian voice clips) and contains compressed resources. The Doomworld forum post for the mod includes a link to the full version, which contains the original Russian version and uncompressed resources - I'm assuming largely the music.





THE INQUISITOR III
by Shadowman,
Big Memka,
and Guest

The SanctuaryMAP01
by ????
This level serves as the opening tutorial for the advancement system and works as a sort of pocket dimension that you'll only return to in order to distribute your stat points. The atmosphere is contemplative, matched by the cathedral-like architecture complete with dome ceiling, the blue sky contemplating the peaceful yet pensive environment. The presence of the "The Spirit of War in Green" seems like it would be out of place on paper, but the allusion works quite well.

MAP02Tristan
by ????
Much improved over the flat-feeling Krondor from INQSTR2. The docks certainly help but the townsfolk have much more character and a lot of work has gone into polishing Tristan using slopes and precise texturing. This is one of the best places to go crazy on the detailing since there's no combat flow to ruin. Using the Rogue Encampment music from Diablo II is probably cheating, but if you're gonna steal, steal smart! It absolutely nails the atmosphere and segueing from it to the Wilderness theme is a perfect one-two punch as far as music goes.

WildernessMAP03
by ????
Your first true taste of blood is a network of ravines connecting snippets of Khorus countryside and, of course, the massive graveyard leading up to the cathedral. The unhallowed ground might be the coolest set piece in the entire package. Most of the combat is drip feed stop / start stuff with gargoyles occasionally waking up to fight, reaching a peak in the graveyard with zombies crawling out of graves at regular intervals. The real test will come later, once you're flung out of the cathedral, where an entire undead army lies in ambush. Good luck with that. The other difficult fights usually involve the Fallen-esque monsters, particularly the horde that ambushes you at the meteor fragment. Since "Wilderness" is one of the two major hubs you'll appreciate all the little shortcuts and waypoints that unlock as you progress, streamlining your travel time between the higher-level zones.

MAP04The Cathedral
by ????
Stately, spacious architecture abounds in this enormous structure. The cathedral is INQSTR3's one big brush with symmetry, but I doubt that anything else would look quite right, plus the team subverts expectations by locking away portions of the eastern section until your much later return. "Cathedral" is dominated by hordes of undead in the larger rooms, packs of gargoyles waiting for you backtracking, and archers as snipers, plus a few mobs of devilkin. The first finale is in the breathtaking central chamber, tempered by a drawn-out torchlighting sequence that wakes up small groups of roosting fliers with every flickering flame... and there are a lot to be lit. The Bloody Pastor, the first boss battle, is pretty straightforward compared to the encounters to follow.

The CatacombsMAP05
by ????
Of all the levels in INQSTR3, this one is the most clearly descended from Doom; or, rather, its dungeon-crawler aspects are closer in relation to Doom's map layouts than any of the other maps. There are plenty of tricks in these catacombs gloaming with undead, zombies and skeletons alike but also introducing nightmares and wraiths plus a generous heaping of all the evil you've seen before. Its labyrinthine layout precludes any memorable pitched battles beyond claustrophobic slaughters with the boss fight just as simple, if more breathable. The secret exit back to town is highly appreciated, though, and I'm glad that the authors got the duller dungeon delving out of their system relatively early. The atmosphere is still great, though, and the set pieces like the crypts, underground housing, and well of souls keep things interesting in an adventurous sense.

MAP06The Abandoned Mines
by ????
One of the more frustrating ones to play through, the mines have a great "dug too deep" feeling with the vast scope of the heart of the cavern, tracks and platforms spanning a molten chasm, an abandoned arcane smithy, and the way to Hell itself. On the other hand, it's riddled with beefy sniper monsters, fast-moving afrits, and satyrs with spear attacks that will soundly knock you to your death plus a mini-boss fight with a highly punishing variety of skull wizard. It only takes a few of those screaming blood balls to slay you dead. The net result leaves the player feeling utterly exposed, slowing the pace of the game down even further. However, I visited the mines before the Shadow Gorge - an easy thing to do - and thus cleared most of it before having a shotgun in tow. My advice? Skip the mines, get the gun from the gorge, and then come back. You'll have to make two trips to here, anyway; one for the key to the citadel, and one once you've conquered the king in order to journey to the Inferno.

The Shadow GorgeMAP07
by ????
"Wilderness" 2.0. This gorgeous gorge is caressed by sweeping, sickly mists that give it the character of a no man's land, and the prevalence of poisonous perturbators purveys a pestilential panache. Exposure isn't quite so bad since you're not surrounded by deadly drops, but you'll have to put up with the venomous weredragons in the upper tier for much of the map. All of the hidey-holes make it easy for the others to sneak up on you. The gorge feels like the most fully-realized of the levels from an action RPG perspective as it's filled with secrets in its nooks and crannies and has a handful of areas that exist to house quest objectives, like the micro mine or the satyr-infested ruins. I also like the Umber Estate, a remote village under the care of the king's former advisor that would serve as a great second base... if it had a source of free healing a la Deckard Cain. It's still got some unique utilities, though.

MAP08The Citadel of the King
by ????
Throwing everything seen so far and more at the player. "Citadel" is enormous, the first part consisting of the trek through the rocky path to the castle and then the fortress itself. Hordes of undead dominate the grounds and there are plenty of snipers and gargoyles to keep you on your toes. The lightning gargoyles and archers may be the most annoying aspects in this outing. Well, excepting the boss. The castle layout is a three-dimensional Rubik's cube complicated by monster surprises and there are several sawtooths that lock you in until you find return teleporters, the first at the castle courtyard. The journey to the boss chamber has a fantastic, cinematic quality as you cross impossible bridges to isolated spires. The combat is grueling, though, between the archers and the harrying fliers, and it ultimately culminates in a battle with the lich king. He's a spastic foe that fields a milieu of lethal attacks making him a hard to hit hard hitter that will test your patience. The escape from the citadel is pretty cool, though.

Citadel of InfernoMAP10
by ????
Rounding out the Diablo / INQSTR2 parallels, it's on to Hell. Inferno is unique in that it feels like a big series of set pieces, starting with an opening boat ride and moving to a spooky skeleton slaughterfest on the outskirts to the showdown with the dragon. It also feels like pulling teeth the whole way through; the pit fiend pillars early on are a great example but I could name plenty more, like the big fuckoff winged demon lords scattered across the citadel itself, the super-fast wyverns, clearing the satyrs out of the battlements, or the berserker goatmen inside the inner sanctum. There's also a switch puzzle that appeared to be trial and error but has its solution hinted at by pickups. If resources didn't feel so scarce on UV the deliberate placement might have had enough time to sink in. I love the setting and nominally the architecture and a city-style level is a welcome deviation. It's a bear to play, though, and the behemoth isn't any better as a flying ammo sponge you don't want to get near, a tough task since its arena is entirely composed of platforms and walkways over hot lava.

MAP04The Cathedral (part 2)
by ????
Your second trip to the Cathedral uncovers its other mysteries and comes with a few surprises. There's one last gasp of puzzle-solving as you attempt to locate the final stone, fitted between two boss fights. The first is appropriately dangerous but more awkward due to the contents of the room itself. The second is a multi-stage battle with the witch lich; her erratic movements aren't quite as bad as her father's, but still make her a hard target, bolstered by a veritable clown car of summoned monsters that you'll want to save your AOE nukes for. The last stage is a cinematic finish a la FFVII, so if you make it, your quest is all but finished.


ELECTIVE ERRANTRIES

The Lost ValleyMAP11
by ????
The one major optional area slowly eschews the semi-frozen mountains for an exotic locale drawing inspiration from Diablo II's second act... if mostly by its choice in music. "Valley" fails to fully mine its differing locale; the monsters, with the exception of the gill beasts in the sunken temple and the boss fight in the subterranean temple, are the same. It's got the look, though, including inundated ruins off a sandy beach and desert scrubland including desiccated ruins. I kind of got a Temple of the Lizardmen III vibe, particularly with the underwater shrine bit. The reveal with the crone is a nice touch that helps to tie the side story back into the overall adventure. I just wish there were some more unique monsters.

MAP09Nazi Nightmare!
by ????
An isolated incident that throws you into a Nazi-occupied city. While a welcome bit of gunplay, the gameplay is a double-edged sword as you're pitted against hitscanners, which you've thus far been spared from. Health is at a premium and you'll want as much as you can get before nearing the submarine. The real question is how long it will take you to adapt to cover shooter gameplay after so much hack and slash action. There isn't much to do besides move and shoot; "Nightmare" is clearly more of an action on-rails vignette than any of the surrounding material. It's nice, though, to have this faster-paced excursion as a bonus and the way it's framed makes the shoehorning go down smooth. Plus, killing nazis.

LET ME TELL YOU OF THE DAYS OF HIGH ADVENTURE!

4 comments:

  1. Really glad to see a new review by you appear again, and what a biggie this one seems. Before I sit back and enjoy the read (with a good drink) I just wanted to comment to tell u that I love your site and enjoy reading your reviews, its been quite helpfull in finding some good wads that I might've overlooked.

    Hope to see you continue to review wads for this awesome game.

    Thanks for the effort.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. thank you for reading! It feels great to finally have this review published.

      Delete
  2. "Or, hey, the trial and error switch puzzle that could waste a ton of resources if you didn't save scum it."

    Not trial and error. Correct switches are marked with manacubes lying under them on the first floor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, hey! A Jim Flynn special. Unfortunately, I was too excited about having mana in a level starved for resources for them to linger long enough to serve as a puzzle clue.

      Delete