Demon of the Well
Map 11 -- The Tower - 104% Kills / 100% Secrets
A callback to the finale of the original Epic (and also to the final map of Baker's Dozen), this is one of those deceptive maps that seems huge but is actually relatively compact. The flow seems as 'epic' as it does because it reuses space efficiently; there are really only two main areas--the flat, open sandbar containing the Tower itself, and the strange many-pillared subterranean temple hall, fronticed by a miniaturized depiction of the four seated kings of Abu Simbel (which I suppose might theoretically mean the nearby body of water is Lake Nasser, but of course it's generally not meet to read too much into this stuff while playing Doom). The goal in the underground temple is to open up the small shrine containing the key that ultimately lets us into the tower, the 'keep' of which is our ultimate goal. Though it turns out not to be a keep at all....
Combat in this map is generally low-stress while nevertheless featuring a fairly high bodycount and a lot of bloodshed, and so it does feel like a good conclusion to the episode and this first arc of the Epic II narrative. My favorite part is the underground temple that comprises the first half of the map. After a bit more roundabout corridor crawling, this sojourn underground eventually sees us playing a volant game of cat/mouse with packs of smallfry in a spacious, dimly-lit Moria-esque pillared hall. The spiderdemon at the center of the forest of pillars is really not very effective, but it's sort of a boobytrap in disguise--if you kill it (which you need to do if you want that megasphere), a large horde of zombies and other miscreants eventually begin to teleport in on the spot where it stood, which doesn't seem so bad until the arch-vile shows up right in the middle of the mountain of corpses. Assuming you don't panic it's still not much of a problem, but a satisfying encounter nonetheless.
Returning to the surface and beginning to fiddle with the tower sees two large regiments of infernal gentry teleporting in at different spots on the sandbar. There's ample rocket/cell ammo and a BFG to use to decimate these with ease, but it's just as easy to leave them behind and enter the tower. If you're playing under classic settings I recommend thinning out the more northerly group, though, lest they happen to infinitely-tall you into a stalemate when you have to leap for the red skull. Actually fighting/navigating in the tower is quite simple, though Eternal has the courtesy to beam in a few lightweights now and again to keep things from getting too dry. The one real flaw I'd point out about the entire map is the incredibly strange design decision that has the floor of the cyberdemon's room--which just looks like an ordinary floor, mind you--set to damaging...I'm not sure if this was some ploy to prompt the player to climb up on the blue pylons in order to see the tiny switch that opens the door back up, but if so, there must've been about a million more elegant ways that could've been handled....like, not closing the door in the first place, since it's the mural-switch that's really important. Anyway, despite that bit of nonsense, it's still a fun episode-ending map.
Map 12 -- Alien Ship - 100% Kills / 80% Secrets
...and now for something completely different. No more sand, no more sun, no more tombs....still a fair bit of gloom, though, at least early on. To add to the general bewilderment engendered by the WAD's stark 180 in theme, map 12 opens up with an essentially monster-free puzzle segment, where we have the duration of a single radsuit in order to figure out a way to get out of the docking bay and onto the main ship before being parboiled on a molecular level by the harmful exhaust from the pod that brought us here. The last bit of this introductory segment involves a fairly convincing 'security scan' that presents a puzzle of its own. Not unlike getting stuck in the cyberdemon room from the previous map for no apparent reason, this second puzzle is perhaps a bit too nonsensical for its own good--the way out is to fire into one of the opaque midtex openings on the sides of the scan-pad, killing the hitscanner there and eventually hitting an impact switch that lets you out (the other unseen enemies get crushed to death soon afterwards).
After that bit of dubiously obtuse tomfoolery, the map becomes a simple corridor-crawl not unlike those that characterized the earliest maps in the WAD. Cynical quipped earlier that he thought map 06 seemed like Wolf3D; he spoke too soon, as the meat of this map really does seem like something straight out of Laz Rojas' WolfenDooM playbook, or rather his AstroStein playbook, I should say--lots of neat, orderly corridors (sometimes veined with air ducts) that empty into discrete cubicle-style rooms. Of course, the new enemy--some kind of diminutive alien footsoldier with a stealth camo module--is greatly responsible for this overall impression: despite the reskin and new sounds, it is still very much the SS Nazi. It takes a while to get weapons in this map (and some of them are either secret or easy to miss), and so you're liable to find yourself doing a lot of wetwork with just the handgun--it's not a problem seeing as how these aliens are pushovers, but it's not fun, either. Eventually the standard bestiary is gradually reintroduced, and the map even ends with another spiderdemon, although it is once again largely ineffective--though there's not much good cover, the thing starts so far away from you that it's easy to use the plasma rifle to roast it alive before it can do any real harm (although it's probably much more problematic if you didn't explore thoroughly enough to find the rifle, granted). For the most part, though, combat in this map is quite underwhelming, to say the least--more of an issue now that we're on map 12, rather than map 01 or 02 or the like.
I suppose the new theme compensates for this very dry gameplay somewhat, and it's true that there's a couple of more interesting rooms/encounters once the standard Doom II monsters start reappearing (e.g. the platforming in the yellow key area or the close-quarters battle with successive waves of demons behind the blue door), but overall this is easily one of the weakest maps in the set, and it was for that reason that I sort of suggested players not feeling engaged by the earlier maps try to jump in around the middle of episode 2, rather than here at the start. Incidentally, the next map is positively bizarre and very interesting as a result, but in gameplay terms I suspect it's going to leave a few players feeling baffled....