Altar of Storms by necros

Necros' latest map, Altar of Storms, is a fantasy-styled excursion into a dungeon built inside of a huge mountain. If it sounds epic, it is. The map combines features of many previous Necros maps - the sense of vertical progression, traps, and epic ending of ne_tower, the moving machinery and ominous approach to the level's end from Crescendo of Dreams, and the final fight is kind of like the high-up confrontations at the end of The Rats In The Walls. There is even a bit of a Quoth-like "architecture in the black void" moment. But despite recognizable elements of Necros' past levels, this - probably more than any other of Necros' past release, and maybe even to the level of Metlslime's Rubicon 2 - is its own unique, coherent Q1SP experience. Custom sound, textures, models, features, code, monsters, etc all coming from many sources - but especially Hexen II - create an "adventuring in the bleak winter" atmosphere which is very dramatic.

The beginning of the unit takes place in a suitably imposing environment: rugged, warped mountain terrain that curves in odd and unexpected ways, creating the sense of an ancient and bizarre geology high up in this new world. A few monsters are lurking in the snow, and the combination of fog, skybox, and ambient noises creates a powerful impression as you make your way to a huge stone door (locked, requiring a rune). Upon being denied entry, you must find another way, which turns out to be a door deep in shadow beneath a rocky ledge, one which leads underground. From here you enter the greenish dungeons which make up most of the combat ground. The dungeons are full of traps, new and modified enemies, and interesting (but potentially deadly) scenarios. There is a real sense of exploration, since the dungeon layout is somewhat non-linear, there are plenty of secrets, and you can knock open vases to get bonus items (be careful with this though). The coolest thing about the fights is that they tend to seem like credible ambushes, the different "species" of monster performing logical functions (golems as a sort of automaton guardian, fresh zombies as bloodlust-filled troops, fallen angels lurking and supervising, tarbabies as malicious creatures that just want everyone to fuck off, especially those stomping golems, and of course the occasional shambler, well, shambling). Infighting, as you might have guessed, is quite important. There's enough space to manuever around, but you need to think about how to approach the fights. Secrets, exploration and backtracking can be important.

There are three major boss confrontations in the unit, and they are all awesome. The final one uses healing pools, a good choice, but the final-final bit can be a bit difficult until you realize that you _have_ to take the golems out first. I guess I don't have too much more to say, other than toemphasize how the little cool touches - from the modified zombies (great gameplay!) very appropriately being called "Fresh" zombies, to invocation of the gods in the map title and story, and using a doom pain sound for the boss' pain sound! - really add to the sense of a different world. At the end of the map, a message prints, "you hope the next place you visit will not be this bleak." On the contrary, I hope it will be just like this! I don't think anyone who plays this will be able to deny that it is a unique Q1SP masterpiece of the first order.

Score: 19/20