Ahh, and here we are, map29 of Epic 2. This is the "real" finale of the mapset since the traditional map30 in this wad is nothing to write home about. Nowadays it seems it can be expected that the map in the 29th slot of the wad is the true test of perseverance and skill (thanks Doomworld for reminding me the greatness that is Citadel at The Edge of Eternity, I should definitely replay that soon) and this map fits rather nicely among the other beastly map29s out there. Granted, Ogdoad was a considerably larger than this but the set-piece battles here are the most intense fights you'll see in the wad, the only comparable would be the chaotic insides of the Rev-ring in Ammut.
Visually the map is pretty much what is expected, mostly the usual egyptian tombs and libraries a'la Eternal with some Deus Vult II references thrown in the mix. I particularly enjoyed the warning sign at the doorstep, fits there like a glove. The DVII references don't end with the visuals here as the combat is very much DVII inspired like a few posters have already mentioned. The meat of the map consists of four brutal set-piece massacres situated in different parts of the map. These fights are total slaughter through and through, BFG in hand and if you're not firing it you're doing it wrong. The only tactical aspect of said battles is trying to control yourself enough to AV-bounce to the second invuln-sphere at the correct moment and occasionally refilling your cell ammo counter to get through the chaos alive. This style of gameplay is pretty much unforeseen in this wad up to this point so it may come off as a total shock to first timers but I found this map quite relaxing actually. I was very surprised to get through with very little problems on my first attempt, no deaths and (almost) maxkills. Now I did play this map just a few months ago because I felt like it so I knew what to expect but still, not much has to go wrong to get yourself killed. The only fight I considered a real challenge was the library slaughter due to the lack of invulneranbilities in the area. The other three can be managed pretty easily with good timing and aggressive playstyle (and knowledge of the locations of very helpful green items of course). Combat in between these set-piece arenas is your fairly standard Epic 2 -combat amped up to the next level with additional Arch-Viles slapped into seemingly behind every corner and in every teleport trap.
So, the final verdict: fuckin' A. While this is definitely one of the most memorable maps in the set, I don't remember enjoying this so much in my very first playthrough; partly because this was out my league back then and perhaps partly because the gameplay mechanics differ a lot compared to the rest of the wad. Now that I felt comfortable playing it though, it's a different story altogether. Slaughter too can be relaxing as hell if you're in control of the situation and that's how I felt in this map. On the other, if you let up for a moment you might find yourself in a hole so deep that you'll be the doing the dying instead of the killing so there's no room for lackadaisical gameplay either. In other words, I found the difficulty balance to be a very good fit with my present set of skills. In any case, this a fitting finale for a very good wad. Perhaps an another acquired taste, just like the previous map, but this certainly should leave a lasting impression and you can't deny that the set "ends" with a bang!
So yeah uhh, there's this map30 still to go. It's honestly pretty damn meh, the IoS fight is VERY standard and everything before that isn't much better. The telefragging monster sequence is just weird and the large hallway with nothing but a handful of Cacos is underwhelming to say the least. The Manc circle and the Cybers afterwards is vaguely interesting and the highlight of the map. So a bleh prologue for Epic 2 unless you're a fan of generic IoS encounters.
Very brief overall thoughts on Epic 2:
I said before I started that Epic 2 is one my favorite megawads by one of my favorite mappers and this playthrough didn't really change my thoughts all that much. I did pick up some of the Eternal-isms and a few more things to criticize, partially thanks to the other members of the MegaWad Club, but there were no major surprise disappointments and I didn't grow bored of the egyptian visuals either. The set IS pretty corridor-centric and many of the maps follow the same design patterns but I can't say I would have disliked this style all that much in the end. The maps I remembered being the my favorites were still my favorites this time around. Common denominator for these maps seems to be either pseudo non-linearity and open areas or intense gameplay. Favorite maps in no particular order:
In reality though the whole third episode after map23, except Per Nefer, is really awesome and it's hard to put those maps in any order. The second episode had a few very good maps as well and it had the texture variety aspect going on too but the first egyptian episode is, understandably, quite easy and not so memorable when casual playing.