Demon of the Well
Map 29 -- Hell on Earth - 110% Kills / 100% Secrets
While Scythe has even less of a story than is typical for a game of DooM, we seem to run into a slight bit of some kind of narrative here. The title states that apparently now we're back on Earth, and during the dead of winter at that (or maybe this is summer in Greenland for all I know)....it's a snow-covered day in some kind of little mountain-town, itself decidedly Downtown-esque in aspect, right down to the arrows on the ground; apart from a strange bit of flesh on a wall in the last major building, there's very little of Hell (or REDness!) in evidence here, that is apart from the sky....apparently Hell is seeping through into the earthly reality again? Ah, well, nothing some intense violence can't fix, right?
Despite the crystal-clear Downtown influences, this really doesn't play a lot like said map. Sure, it's a sandbox, and you can run all around all of the buildings at will from the start, but there's a fixed sequence in which they must (and can) be entered, and nearly all of the play space is ultimately mandatory, so there's really only the illusion of a sandbox at play here; if it seems like you're running around like a headless chicken, it's probably because the early going makes you search and maybe take a few early risks to acquire good weapons and adequate ammo stocks, rather than because you can go and play around in any part of the map that you wish. Not that this disguised-yet-stringent linearity really hurts the map much, mind--most of the buildings contain memorable setpiece encounters (my favorite is the cloud of cacos that are unleashed in the distance along with an arch-vile and some commandos right next to the player in the redbrick building) or are otherwise conducive to engaging fights, e.g. the height variation in the red key and final buildings. And, as a treat, there's some pretty entertaining cyb usage at various points as well (although the three that appear out in the snowy courtyard at one point are really only as relevant as the player chooses to make them); commendable that Erik went 21 maps without using this monster before using them liberally, as he clearly is very fond of them.
Ultimately, this is probably one of Scythe's best maps (perhaps even THE best); apart from the much-welcome categoric change of scenery (again, I think coming up with something thematically out of left field is a brilliant approach to take to the last 2-3 maps in the game) it has the same straightforward but enjoyable medium-difficulty battle style of the majority of the other maps, but has time to develop a much more solid sense of progress and achievement simply because the map constitutes a much more filling portion than the little appetizers that precede it. Incidentally, I have never played this map from anything but a pistol start (time was I used to think it was intended and indeed only possible to exit map 28 on a death-slide....)....I imagine it's unusually easy for a map 29 played otherwise, which one could perhaps interpret as being Alm throwing the player one last bone before going for the throat in....
Map 30 -- Fire and Ice - 113% Kills / 100% Secrets
I reckon the only reason that map 26 is Scythe's combat posterchild rather than this one is simply that map 26 is probably a lot more accessible to many folks, being both short and surprisingly forgiving of mistakes in spite of its huge horde of monsters, only slightly smaller than the 700+ that await at the start of this final map. Yes, Fire and Ice is absolutely Scythe's longest, largest, and for most players most difficult map (I....still have more trouble with map 28, like I said... :s ), representing a protracted and grueling battle against plentiful hellish legions in and around some derelict buildings (observatories, perhaps) huddled around a volcanic seam and thermal cave system in the same icy mountains from map 29. The overall playstyle is repeatedly punctuated by slaughter of great homogenous hordes (esp. revenants) in large yards, but there are some smaller battles on irregular terrain as well, particularly in and around the thermal cave system where the red skull is found, and the elevated central platform upon which the BFG and blue skull rest; so I suppose I would say that it's actually fairly varied in content and quite replayable from a battle perspective, assuming at least that you're willing to approach it in a loose, freewheeling way, as opposed to F6ing/door-spamming your way through its somewhat substantial duration.
It occurs to me that this map almost seems like a more developed sequel to an earlier, comparatively obscure (although Eternal, author of next month's WAD, clearly homaged it in several places in his "Belial's Bad Brain" map!) level by Alm called "The 24 Cyberspirits", which was the finale map in a small community project released in 2001 or thereabouts (the exact name of that project eludes me at the moment)--a lot of the battle setpieces and architectural constructs share a great deal of kinship (particularly in deploying viles and cyberdemons), although in surface aesthetic 'Cyberspirits' was a much more full-on redstone/lava/marble/flesh Hell-romp than the earthy feel of Fire and Ice.
What makes FaI feel a lot more mature is that it interconnects and loops back into itself vastly better than the older map does; indeed, this interconnectivity is probably the map's greatest virtue. While each of the three key zones is initially very discrete and distinct, and the initial hordes of monsters tend to oppress the player somewhat and thereby obscure the intricacies of the layout, as progress is made navigating the map quickly becomes a lightning-fast and very intuitive proposition, as apart from an extra degree of separation between the eastern and western extremes, most major areas connect to the others in at least one easy way (and often more than one). There are also no restrictions on the player's itinerary other than those presented by the hellspawn--you acquire the keys in any order you wish, and with the exception of the red key caves (which you are stuck in for at least a bit once you enter from at least one particular entrance), you're free to come and go as you please. This lack of route restriction combined with the many shortcuts between and multiple entrances/exits to most major battlegrounds means that the big battles (and by extension, the map as a whole) can be played in a great many different ways; while some routes are bound to be vastly harder than others, in broad form your imagination's the limit on how you want to go about things, not only in terms of route but in terms of tactical options as well. Ironically, then, this is really a vastly more non-linear map than the superficially sandboxy map 29, and for that reason it's quite enjoyable to try different things while spending time with it--whatever else you do, though, I certainly recommend getting the BFG ASAP, even if it does seem like a suicide mission!
I'm not a fan of the way the Romero-head is openly presented at the end (hurts immersion and setting and all that), but that's a very minor complaint about what is otherwise an enjoyable and fitting conclusion to the WAD. Those of you who dislike IoS maps on principle should feel vindicated here, I imagine...that is assuming of course you didn't sour yourself on this alternative selection by savescumming your way through it, thus depriving yourself of its surprising degree of variability! ;)