In terms of pure gameplay, Skyewood is a bit of a letdown with weak geometry, small-scale encounters, and confusing map progression. In terms of pure creativity, however, Skyewood stands out even 25 years later due to its surreal visuals and originality. The forests are quite convincing for 1996 taking mouselook limitations into consideration, and the early attempts at the "void" style are quite captivating.
There are a lot of Doom maps of varying quality set inside techbases on Phobos. You won't find nearly as many that feature fire-breathing dragons, chattering trees, or exploding toads in the archives. I have to give it points for that alone.
There are many approaches you can take when designing a mapset. Doom is a very fun game on it's own so you can simply create maps that follow and expand on it's formula, and come up with something great.
But then there are certain special wads. They are still recognizable as Doom, but use the available tools to create an unique experience, unlike anything you've seen in the original games, or other pwads. They easily take on a life of their own, as a products of legitimate artistic expression.
TeamTNT pioneered this approach with Icarus: Alien Vanguard, in which they used everything that could be done within the game to push the story forward, while also giving the wad a consistent tone and structure, which evolved over the course of its 32 levels to create a genuine narrative. Later with Eternal Doom, they completely shifted the game's focus from pure combat to non-linear exploration and puzzle solving on an unprecedented scale.
B.P.R.D.'s Equinox is also one of those special WADs and perhaps the greatest.
As soon as you enter the first map, its beautiful, grand architecture, combined with the ethereal choir of its midi, immediately create a sense of wonder and adventure, as you begin to explore the massive complex.
However, it quickly becomes apparent that the base is no longer under human control. As you progress through the levels, you encounter more and more bloody remains of its former occupants, and the base itself gets progressively more damaged. Over the course of the set, sense of dread and isolation takes over, as you face ever increasing amount of monsters. After a trip on a beautiful and otherworldly but terrifying alien ship, and one last visit to now completely destroyed hub level, you are transported to a hostile alien world, which culminates in the greatest finale to a Doom wad. But you should really experience that for yourself ;)
People say that by buying Doom, you are opening doors to lifetime's worth of fanmade content, which often surpasses the original in unimaginable ways, and this is one of the best examples.
Aside of the completely different atmosphere and storytelling, Equinox also features complete set of new midis, some of them by B.P.R.D. himself, lot of gorgeous custom textures and replacement graphics and a whole bunch of new sound effects. The weapon sounds are great, while some of the others are... questionable.
I absolutely adore the new HUD graphics. They look gorgeous, fit the mapset like a glove, and the status bar face replacement is by far the most creative I've ever seen.
The music is, in the spirit of the whole wad, completely different to what you'd hear in a normal mapset. All of it is great and perfectly captures atmosphere of levels themselves.
Despite all the praise, Equinox has a few small issues that I need to highlight. Nothing to significantly take away from it though.
First of all, the volume levels of both the music and sound effects are really inconsistent. You'll probably need to adjust your volume levels, sometimes even between levels.
Maps 04 and 07 end with you blowing bunch of stuff up. This is unfortunately accompanied by incredibly loud, ear piercing sound effect.
The ending of map 12 is pure bullshit. Just straferun to the rising platform and into the exit.
There are some misaligned textures. Probably. Who cares.
Very Important Note Before Playing: One last issue that is often brought up is the gameplay. Especially in regards to the difficulty due to ammo starvation.
I understand that pistol starting is fun once you've become good at doom, and maps are often designed with it as the intended way to play. That being sad, Equinox is from 2001, and I assume pistol starting wasn't as common back then. It is also obvious that continuous playthrough was considered, as there are secrets which would be completely useless with pistol starts. It is never stated that pistol starts are the intended way to play.
But if being an ep1c dewm god is more important to you than actually enjoying the game...
On a continuous playthrough, the gameplay is a good challenge, but you don't have to rely on chainsaw and infighting so much. There are situations where you still need them, like the giant infight fest at the start of map04, but those are very obvious.
Equinox also uses monsters to block paths or as turrets, so getting 100% kills on some maps like 12 and 13 is impossible.
Equinox is masterpiece and one of the best, most unique experiences you can have in Doom.
Despite coming out in 2001, it hasn't aged at all. It's visuals especially hold up really well. This could come out today and it would be considered beautiful. Simpler than a modern ultra-detailed map, but still.
If you do a continuous playthrough, the gameplay is challenging but not unfair as is often said.
The new graphics and music are excellent, as well as most of the sound effects.
All the levels are good and there isn't any filler.
Everything in this wad serves to flesh out it's world and tell it's story, which is done very well, simply with its visuals.
i found the first half a bit of a chore to get through, but around map14 or so it really started to pick up and became an absolute blast to play through. i found that it had gameplay very similar to that of alien vendetta, which is great cuz i absolutely loved av!
it doesn't take itself very seriously, which adds a lot to its charm and helps it stand out quite a bit. it's full of doomcute, strange midis, and gimmicks, but i found that just helped add to the overall experience