Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders

Moby ID: 1929
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Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders is the expanded version of the original Heretic retail release with the addition of two new episodes. This gives Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders a total of five episodes compared to the original Heretic's three episodes (and a single episode for the shareware release). Owners of the original Heretic are able to download a free patch which will update the game to the Shadow of the Serpent Riders' full five episodes.

Your world has been ravaged by the three Serpent Riders from the Abyss. Afterwards two of the Riders have left, while one, D'Sparil remains to oversee the oppression. It is your duty, as the Heretic, to destroy this demon.

Heretic is the first game in the Heretic/Hexen franchise. Here begins Raven's tradition of taking id's latest game engines, improving on them, and using them in a fantasy game.

For Heretic, the Doom engine was used. The Raven team enhanced the engine with the addition of an inventory system, the ability to look up and down, and the ability to fly, along with some lesser features such as powerful wind currents. Not counting the inventory, the core gameplay that made Doom such a hit remained the same.

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Critics

Average score: 74% (based on 9 ratings)

Players

Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 84 ratings with 1 reviews)

A lot more than “Doom with a medieval theme”

The Good
Heretic is one of those games that need some time in order to be understood and appreciated. On first glance, it will indeed look like Doom with a medieval theme thrown on top. But once you get deeper, you will see that it takes the Doom formula a couple steps further.

In this game, the player himself is the Heretic – a lone and revenge-driven rebel fighting against a seemingly endless evil. There is a lot of bitterness and despair entwined into the storyline, as you journey through a broken medieval/gothic fantasy world, fighting various demons and undead. Heretic is a classic first-person shooter – with intense skirmishes, lots of enemies to face at once, and a variety of weapons with varying degrees of usefulness (depending on the situation).

One of the things I have always enjoyed about Heretic is its ability to create various interesting and immersive environments. Episode 1 takes place in a medieval city, complete with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, buildings, rooms, cellars and great halls. Episode 2 takes you to a hostile other dimension, where the primary theme is a juxtaposition of fire and ice – an effect I always enjoy, and which adds a slight touch of Norse mythology feel to the game. Episode 3 is an opulent palace of evil, your arch-nemesis’s personal lair.

Shadow of the Serpent Riders is an expanded version of Heretic (like Ultimate Doom), which gives you two extra episodes. Episode 4 will immerse you into the ruins of a shattered world, corrupted by the forces of evil a long time ago. And Episode 5 combines elements of all previous episodes, creating the ultimate nest of evil that you will have to purge. The two extra episodes have increased difficulty and are suitable for more experienced players.

The weapons are similar to the ones used in Doom, and yet they manage to be original in their own right. The coolest thing about them: powered-up mode. Activating a certain artifact in your inventory will enhance your weapons, making them more powerful and sometimes radically changing their effect (the Hellstaff’s “red rain of death” is probably the best example for this). A weapon that acted like a rocket launcher suddenly becomes a flamethrower – do you feel like roasting some bad guys today?

The inventory items add an element of strategy to the game – they are most useful if you use them in the right moment. These artifacts can give you various benefits – healing, protection, power, invisibility, and even flying. The ability to turn your enemies into chickens or set a few deadly timebombs in the path of pursuing monsters is one of those little things that make Heretic so fun to play.

The sound effects and the music are on a very high level and enhance the atmosphere considerably. The chanting of the dark wizards, the snickering of the gargoyles, the thundering below of the Maulotaur, and the sadistic laughter of the player character when you find a new weapon are the little bits that make the game feel alive. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the addition of ambient sounds in the levels, such as evil laughs, sneaky footsteps, tolling bells, splashing water, etc.

Last but not least – level design. It tends to be more colorful and detailed than Doom’s. The levels aim to achieve a higher degree of realism, especially in Episode 1. The five episodes try hard to create five distinct worlds, and for the most part they succeed. And, of course, there are plenty of secrets (and secret levels) for the player to discover and challenge.

The Bad
Heretic’s similarity to Doom could be disappointing to players who are looking for fresh new experiences.

The game takes some time to fully appreciate, so more dynamic (or impatient) players could also be disappointed.

Like Doom, Heretic’s gameplay can be repetitive at times. The “find the keys, then find the exit” formula is clean and simple, yet it could get boring after a while.

The Bottom Line
Heretic is perfect of hardcore Doom fans or people who generally enjoy 1990’s classics. If you like it, then you definitely should look into the sequels as well – just keep in mind that the true successor of Heretic is Hexen (though Heretic II is also a pretty good game).

There are number of source ports that will allow you to enjoy Heretic in its full glory even on a modern computer / OS.

DOS · by Gatekeeper (290) · 2013

Trivia

3D

Heretic had a little known feature that would let you see in true 3D perspective. If you ran Voiht.exe, it would let you use the I-glasses made by Vio technologies.

Controversy

The Steam download version of the game is listed as Windows platform because the executables are modified to use a DOSBox variant (v 0.70); additionally the traditional setup.exe is missing.

It is confirmed that neither Valve or id Software contacted the DOSBox project staff and initially the game didn't includes the TXT files that must be present under the GPL license (so they failed to fulfill 2 points of the GPL license).

Two days after the launch, there was an update that includes COPYING, AUTHORS and THANKS.txt of the DOSBox 0.71.

References

  • The DOOM cheat codes IDKFA and IDDQD work in Heretic, sort of. If you type IDKFA (the all items cheat), the word "cheater" appears on the screen and you will find your inventory empty. Worse yet, just try to open up "God" mode with IDDQD. Your character is instantly pureed!
  • The design of the Sabreclaw enemy species is similar to the one of the Aliens from the Alien movie series.

Speech

The enemy Disciple of D'Sparil (the one who looks like a black priest or wizard) sometimes whispers strange incantations. These are actually English sentences played backwards:

WIZSIT - "Destroy the Heretic"

WIZACT - "Succumb to us, Heretic"

When facing the last boss, D'Sparil, he sometimes shouts demonic incantations. These are actually English sentences recorded backwards:

SORSIT - This sound is hard to understand, but some possible interpretations are "Now ravens shall chew your flesh" and "I will torture your flesh"

SORACT - "Surrender to D'Sparil"

Technology

Heretic is commonly noted as the first DOOM-enhanced engine to perform looking up and down, but truthfully none of the DOOM-enhanced engines can truly look up and down due to the nature of the engine. Technically, yes, it's "looking" up and down, but no tilting of the head is involved -- rather, the viewpoint of the player is raised and lowered, much like a periscope. This is also why, at extreme heights or lows, the perspective gets wildly distorted.

Weapons

The weapons in Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders are loosely based on weapons from DOOM. It uses the exact same system:

There are 2 melee-only weapons (the Staff and the Gauntlets of the Necromancer), which clearly resemble the Fist and Chainsaw from DOOM respectively. The Gauntlets even function exactly the same.

The Elven Wand behaves exactly like the Pistol from DOOM.

The Ethereal Crossbow works in a similar manner as the Shotgun from DOOM - some of its arrows (pellets for the Shotgun) fly in different directions, and only some of them hit the enemy, mostly.

The Dragon Claw works pretty similar to the Chaingun from DOOM. Another interesting fact about it, is that you can see three claws on the weapon, just like you can see three barrels of the Chaingun at a time (though the claws don't rotate).

The Hellstaff shoots particles very similar to the Plasma Gun from DOOM.

The Phoenix Rod works exactly like DOOM's Rocket Launcher - it is very powerful, and does splash damage, which can also harm the player.

The final weapon, the Firemace, however, doesn't behave like the BFG 9000 from DOOM in any way, although in the beta versions of DOOM, the way the BFG shoots is quite similar to the way the Firemace does.

Information also contributed by DarkDante, Medicine Man; Scott Monster, Xoleras and Zaghadka

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Related Sites +

  • Raven-Games
    This site is dedicated to older Raven Software games. Here you can get maps and mods for Heretic, including JHeretic and Koka's GLHeretic, the two best hardware accelerated Heretic upgrades in existence!

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Kalirion.

Windows added by DarkDante.

Additional contributors: Trixter, Terok Nor, Patrick Bregger.

Game added July 14, 2000. Last modified January 22, 2024.