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dobu gabu maru

The DWmegawad Club plays: Estranged

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MAP25 - "The Depths”

Very atmospheric crawl through dark caves and corridors. Nice use of stark lighting. As with a lot of these maps it becomes a long twisting spaghetti and meatballs kind of journey, unpredictable and occasionally looping back on itself, but ultimately more or less a straight line. Felt like it gave a few nods to iwad maps, epsecially with the cheeky false-wall maze. I enjoyed it.

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MAP25: The Depths
88% kills, 1/2 secrets

Had fun with this one, though it does start to drag near the end. The darkness is used well here, making things quite scary/dangerous as its hard to tell if that sudden dark patch is just a dark wall or an actual alcove with a monster in it. The lighting also serves to make things look a lot more interesting, I think it looks better than a lot of the monotone-brightness maps we've seen so far. Even the fake wall maze is pretty fun. The map is a bit longer than it needs to be (pretty much everything past the blue door was pretty ho-hum) but still good. I did purposely skip the second plasma gun ambush, didn't feel like fighting the RNG gods with my low health.

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map26

Pop quiz time. There are two paths to the exit. One has lots of mid-tier monsters and a BFG. The other has lots of mid-tier monsters and no BFG. Which path should you hope to take?!

This is easily the most spacious map in Estranged, a contiguous playspace measuring 26000x18000 at its most extreme points. It also sports the second largest monster count on UV at 676, behind only map32's 756. I was looking forward to some tasty slaughter action, but I found this one surprisingly unfulfilling. The fighting grounds are so spacious that it can hardly match up to the threat level of hardcore stuff. It's not particularly well suited to fluid max-running as the lower-pressure slaughtermaps should be, thanks to inconveniently placed perched monsters and the liberal use of pain elementals and lost souls that aren't much of a threat in the wide-open air apart from being potential rocket launcher trolls. Aesthetically it's quite bland, large vistas of monotextured surfaces covered in ROCKRED, which looks strangely artificial over grand scales due to the obvious tiling pattern. So it doesn't really appeal to any of my tastes.

As a me-like aside, I found it amusing that map26 of both Sunlust and Estranged use this track. map04 of Sunlust and Ancient Aliens share the same track as well. It would be funny if modern megawads start doing that with one BGM selection from Sunlust.

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Map 25 -- The Depths - 103% Kills / 50% Secrets - Another badly-played FDA.
One of the set's better levels, I think, quite moody and significantly more explorable than 95% of the rest of the set's content. The sense of place is quite well established, which, as others have said, is owing not only to aesthetic choices (dat lighting, though!) but also to the presence of optional content and a relative lack of an immediately obvious trail for the player to follow. Far from being expressed as little side-caves or alcoves off of a one-way main route as in many previous maps, here the part of the layout that precedes the red door has several interesting features (the corpse-keep, the crackle-floored commando/vile maze, the double-inlet 'rune' cave with one of the plasma rifles, etc.) which all become available as soon as you enter the area, and so there's a lot of room for varying first-blush experiences, with the lack of an obviously mandated 1-2-3 progression sequence lending a subtle but significant weight to the impact of each discovery. Notable that the strictly optional stuff is here fleshed out just as well as the mainline progression here--both plasma rifles are found in their own unique little setpieces (albeit with somewhat similar encounters tied to them, I suppose), and the latter of the two is even accessible from more than one avenue, at least one of which has its own purely aesthetic parlour trick lavished upon it--and that the red skull key is arguably a case of a 'mandatory secret.' A couple of little things exist purely for the sake of setting, ala the disorienting flashing tunnel which ends in a rather credible Baron jumpscare, and not much else. This type of conceptual robustness has heretofore been quite rare in Estranged, which has mostly been very much an exercise of walking on one and only path between point A and point B.

After the red door, the route contracts back down into something much more obviously linear, but played as a contrast to what preceded it I felt it was interesting and not unwelcome changeup, even though it's something like a microcosm for 90% of the rest of the set. Atmosphere and thematic concept continues to be a point of focus here; there's a sort of surreal dimension-shift staged via fireblue portal, stark brightness contrasts and chunky/stylized directional lighting feature more prominently than ever, and much of the leg is spent listening to the rustling and giggling of and general bumping-in-the-night of creatures you won't meet until a goodly way down the road. Reduced to pure gameplay terms, this is very basic stuff--shooting monsters that appear (mostly in front of you) as you rattle through a stuffy low-ceiled quasi-maze--but it's really the overall mood of the level that sells it, I think, something that is conducted nicely from the get-go, with a couple of minutes of silence at the opening and then a spook setup to chase you down the first lift, all the way up to the end, with the ominous corridor leading to the last arch-vile on the exit-lift. Action in Estranged has generally been on the simpler side for the great majority of the duration, and while the fights in much of this map are actually some of the simplest of all, their being presented sort of like they're scenes directed for a film rather than going through the motions of generating X amount of movement pressure makes them seem like a lot more thought has gone into them than much of what came before. The map has a somewhat disquieting/unnerving atmosphere (helped along by one of Evilution's best tracks), yet I was sorry when it ended and wanted to stay a bit longer. That's a good sign, I reckon.

Regardless, a minor gripe of principle: I really wish I had been able to return to get my revenge on those first two knights. Spooky bastards. Also strange how many of the actual eventual encounters show on the automap should you happen to look at it, given how studious Foodles has been about concealing secret meta-tells from said gadget. Perhaps he felt it didn't really matter, since knowing that 'something' is coming but not exactly what/when is something of a stock in trade for "The Depths" as it is?

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MAP26: Valley of Defilement

If you're in the market for a large number of medium-difficulty encounters with packs of mid-tier enemies in a large, flowy landscape, you could probably do both better and worse. The route I took, the BFG-less one, I think (but I had one anyway from playing on continuous), both of the cyberdemon encounters were easily skippable. The texturing is pretty fugly. After the previous tour de force, this one is overload from the warm end of the color wheel.

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Map 25: The Depths

Yeah, flashing lights can be used quite well in select areas to add some atmosphere. When you add them to every part of the whole damn level then it gets annoying on the eyes. Thanks for the seizure Foodles.

The map is generally very dark, even on 1.1 gamma so there's quite a bit of that element of surprise where you can't see monsters before they spot you. We finally get some cells here, which means I can start spamming that BFG. Wasn't a huge fan of the fake wall Chaingunner maze. Very predictable after the first few times and not a fun gimmick. Ended up grabbing both secrets but finished with 1 enemy and a bunch of items missing. Map's alright, I'd just prefer the flashing lights toned down a bit.

Map 26: Valley of Defilement

Now this was a fun map and less annoying than 32. There is really no requirement for slaughtermaps to be harder than regular maps and this one gives you plenty of space (most of the time) to run around and handle encounters however you see fit. The strict two-path approach is quite strange, as you can skip nearly half the content when you get to the exit after heading left or right at the start. I went right first and found the left side anti-climatic when it came to the encounters as they were much more subdued. Something about not having the BFG on that side, but this wad has shown plenty of times its disregard for pistol balance. A few bullshit moments, like that AV behind you after you take a teleport or the literally in your face Revenant pop-in along the western cliffs. The Cyberdemon to trash mob ratio was quite high, which meant the Cybers almost never died to infighting even if you sat back watching some Monster Infighting Simulator®. Also, the starting monster count was 750 for me.

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MAP26 Valley of Defilement

Here we go, the start of the really long and arduous ones that will divide us all. This one is like MAP32 in that it's a linear full-blown slaughtermap. The diverse nature of this is that you can go in TWO directions. Just pick one, as they are about the same in hordes. Aside from the hordes, it's not a valley map without a few pinches of snipers, especially when you reach the outdoor areas with those damn mancubi (I'm a lefty so I take the left path first, by the way). I also have the lost soul limit on so most of the pain elementals are useless right now. The whole leg takes about 12 minutes if you're fast, and the ending area has multiple types of monsters, with some cyberdemons, and the exit is right after them.

The key to 100% completion is to hit the back of the exit switch, which takes you back to the start allowing for the other path to be chosen. Maybe I was wrong about the horde numbers, as the right side ends up with way more. The right path shows more valley, but you get a BFG at some point so it's nicer in a way. Might want to take out the lost souls when possible though, as they can be more annoying than the other monsters there. The paths both intertwine at the same spot, marked by lifts that lead into the same cauldron. Both sides have their fun, or whatever.

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map26 btw is another that puts up little resistance if you choose to sprint to the exit, at least not along the BFG path. A secret switch behind the exit switch allows you to warp back to the start and tackle the other path, which I thought was cute.

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rdwpa said:

map26 btw is another that puts up little resistance if you choose to sprint to the exit, at least not along the BFG path. A secret switch behind the exit switch allows you to warp back to the start and tackle the other path, which I thought was cute.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQtCO_gJUPs


Woah, quite a big level this one D:

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map27

This might have been my second favorite map of the set so far if not for the mishandlings of flying monsters. First and foremost, there are no monster blocking lines around the island. Cacodemons would often drift out upon being shot, and souls would often charge and then get LOST (ba-dum-tish!). That is a problem because if you ditch either of them, they can find their way back to block you at an inopportune moment. One of their favorite maneuvers was rising up over the high rocks to greet you in some narrow passageway. You'd find yourself mysteriously unable to move, and then you'd hear the ahhh! of a lost soul you couldn't see. Many of the incidentally placed lost souls did this too, and unlike the ones barfed up by pain elementals, there was no way to kill them first. After the drop-off into the lava, I got to a path with mancubuses and revenants, and behind them, quite some distance away, I could see another set of gasbags, including a pain elemental I couldn't engage. The path was overseen by two very active arachnatrons, so instead of waiting for the pain elemental to approach (or possibly just as likely, to scale a cliff face and end up stuck somewhere only to reappear at an inconvenient moment with dozens of souls in tow), I stopped playing here.

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Map 26 -- Valley of Defilement - 99% Kills / 60% Kills - FDA, 2 deaths.
This is a fairly long recording, longer than I had intended, really. I had more time (and wherewithal) to work with in this case, and so unlike map 32 I gave this one a proper playthrough. First I took the east path, dying midway through when I was hit by a rocket that may or may not have actually been aimed at me (it's that 100hp/green armor status quo again, man). On the second try, I took the west path instead, ended up making it all the way to the end, and then unwittingly warped back to the start via the level's final secret, with the west path still closed and only the other remaining. Guess I could've called it there, but I ended up going all the way back through the other path ('for my honor' and all that), getting trolled/killed one more time before the end by some of the viles near the last teleporter--remember what I said earlier about how letting monsters casually use these pads can lead to unpredictable mayhem?

The first thing that jumped out at me about this level is its name, which is presumably a reference to a stage of the same name from Demon's Souls (or part 5-2 of said stage, to be more precise). Could just be a coincidence, I suppose, but given some of the design parallels I doubt that's the case. Both stages take place in a huge canyon or ravine filled with harmful goo, and both feature a pair of paths to a shared ending--one down and through the floor of the titular Valley, and one beetling along ledges and ramshackle constructions clinging to its sides or suspended above it--with a shortcut back to the start accessible at the end. Given the vastly different nature of the two games, that's where any meaningful similarities end, but speaking as a Soulsborne fan I suppose the concept added an extra layer of entertainment for me. As far as Estranged's take on the Valley is concerned, the initial choice of route is really a lot more binary (underscored by its back-to-start shortcut being one-way); if you'd like to take the more leisurely route, I'd recommend the east path, and if you'd like to see the whole thing I'd still recommend doing the east path first, as the backpack and BFG it affords you should expedite your travels on the other side.

Despite my managing to die twice, this is not a terribly difficult or stressful map, I think, especially considering you're only really required to play half of it. The east path is characterized by big, scrappy, largely unstructured brawls taking place in mostly huge open spaces; infighting and simple evasion can work wonders here, and for the most part you'll just have to be wary of catching a rocket flying through the crowd, as later fights all tend to include one or more cyberdemons (the path-shared finale has something like 3 - 4 of them, IIRC). A great deal of the action on this route is also (demonstrably) quite easy to run away from, ala map 32 from earlier. The west path, by contrast, features a larger number of smaller encounters framed mostly in spaces that are physically smaller than those on the east path, more open to dropoffs or other hazards, or both. Positional play factors in much more heavily on this side--having to deal with revenants' tracking missiles while navigating inconvenient terrain and things of that nature--and if tackled first/alone the player will lack a backpack and the BFG, on top of what seemed to me like a stricter supply balance overall. The two paths are roughly equal in length (each visits each main piece of layout geography once), but this one feels longer and is probably a little more difficult than the other, especially if visited first.

Aesthetically, I thought this was just fine. As I believe I've said before, there's really only one track from the Heretic soundtrack that I particularly like, and this happens to be it, whatever it's called. As I've also said before, something about majorly overscaled areas/geometry in idtech1 also appeals to me on a fundamental level, and so the sense of vista and scope through much of this level is something I appreciate (even if said scope is largely an illusion in gameplay terms). In many cases like this, the issue of texture-tiling is often mentioned; this is a sort of incidental engine limitation that has never really bothered me much (and I might go so far as to say that a keen awareness of the issue is probably a generational thing to some degree), at least where ostensibly 'natural' textures are concerned, though I suspect I'd probably find it harder to mentally gloss over if the level were using (obviously-tiling) assets I'd never seen before, as opposed to stuff I've been looking at for a couple of decades. Lighting is handled simplistically (bright outdoors, dimmer in caves/buildings, not a lot of interplay or dynamism), but the impression's believable enough--the whole 'outdoors = one light level' thing always works better under a nightime sky (even those with ostensibly lightcasting celestial bodies in them!), for one reason or another. The best aspect of the overall presentation is one you'll probably only get a chance to appreciate if you tour the whole level--the west path overlooks and snakes through the east path fairly cleverly at a number of points, and in a way that feels organic and believable rather than video-gamey, something far easier said than done in this or any game engine, and something which does wonders for that ephemeral shade of immersion we call 'sense of place.'

On the whole, the level is more or less effective in its marriage of two different playstyles (though it's arguably one of those awkward googie-era TV marriages where the couple sleeps in separate beds in the same room), palatable throughout without ever being really gripping or remarkable, much like the majority of the rest of the set. I think I most appreciated it for little diegetic details of the setting.

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Map 27 -- Flame Peak - 102% Kills / 100% Secrets - FDA, 1 death
This is one of the most persistently obnoxious maps I've played all year, a shame since it seems like it could've been one of the set's strongest examples of Foodles' nature-trail brand of mapmaking if it had been playtested properly.

As the name implies, this is a long-ish hike up a fiery red mountain, ending with Estrangedguy dropping into the mountain's bowels (and apparently right into another infernal plane of existence) from its highest cave. As a thematic idea it's certainly interesting enough, and frames Estranged's characteristic linear progression/layout style in a new way, which is a subtle detail but nevertheless important for the set's ability to sustain conceptual momentum. Being comprised mostly of practical footpaths rather than vistas or overlooks, it is perhaps a little more aesthetically unambitious than one might want--no diorama detailing, not much visual interconnectivity between higher parts of the trail and lower parts, etc.--but in moment-to-moment terms it's as soundly wrought as anything else we've seen in Foodles' outdoor Hellscape style. The music track started to seem a little too snot-nosed cheery to me after a while, but that impression was likely colored to some degree by how aggravated I was getting the longer I spent scaling the Peak.

The main problem here is, again, infinitely-tall actors, perhaps compounded by the absence of a few timely monster-blocking lines around the level's periphery (ironic for me to be calling for these after complaining about them so persistently during Bloodstain, I know). As an unerringly linear path with a lot of very narrow stretches and other environmental complications (light platforming sections over lava, etc.), the route is highly susceptible to being choked by gasbags and souls who path freely over the unplayable terrain, descending upon you and causing problems great and small throughout the duration. This isn't as much of a problem in the broader stretches where you enjoy some visibility (though flyers and especially lost souls soaring out to the distant map bounds only to haunt you later is a persistent problem in these instances), but much of the route is deep-set in the mountainside, with tall rock walls on either side of narrow paths, and in these places flyers quickly become a real headache, blocking your movement from high above while remaining totally out of sight. Apart from being an annoying complication to many of the engagements with ground-based foes (having to cross arachnatron plasma streams, beat back vile & friends encounters, etc.), the issue also engenders a nastily herky-jerky pace to the proceedings, with the player having to repeatedly stop and wait for all active flyers to slowly path into view so that they can be cleared out and progress can continue. Getting impatient and trying to move on with the level before doing this every couple of minutes WILL bite you in the ass (flyers can access literally the entire map unhindered), and yet this stopping and waiting can also give groundlings time to soundly plug up the way forward, making for extremely tiresome and unfulfilling action. The matter is unfortunately not one that just shows up markedly in a couple of places, but rather something that dogs the vast majority of the runtime.

It's pretty clear that the map was only playtested in (G)ZDoom, where infinitely-tall actors are disabled by default, which of course affects not only the player's ability to move through the narrower ravines but also the monsters' ability to pathfind around/over each other; the infinitely-tall flag is all the difference between a weird form of incidental combat and something borderline unplayable, in this case. A very common mistake, to be sure, but with particularly unfortunate results in this case. Speaking for myself, this persistent nuisance on the metagame level soured my mood eventually, and I found myself less receptive to many of the map's later designed challenges actively employing awkward terrain as a result (i.e. the platforming bit overlooked by snipers and guarded by a pair of cybers at its end). My one death was due to shitty play, certainly--you can tell by my "shovel-style" handling of the end of the map in the FDA that I had stopped having fun long before the exit appeared--but it was shitty play rooted in a shitty attitude, just as certainly. Perhaps it's churlish of me to implicate the author in this case, but then again, I am usually the one playing devil's advocate in these cases, for whatever that's worth, so....... ;)

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MAP27: Flame Peak

I also had mucho trouble with flying monsters. I seemed to encounter a good half of the caco's on the island in the first five minutes. Then the remaining presented themselves one at a time, dropping into narrow passages so often I almost did not complete. And lost souls pulled their own tricks, popping up behind me so often they became like my shadow. The bigger rooms seemed a bit too locked down by arachs on perches, and by the time I got to the heavier encounters, I was too irritated to enjoy them, even though they involved a bfg massacre. On the plus side, the little spelunking tunnel that leads to the exit is cool. I was hoping this would recapture the grandeur and fun of map15, The Floating Fortress, but no dice.

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Map 27: Flame Peak

Yeah, ok. This is why I use mouselook, so I can shoot at Cacodemons and Lost Souls hovering directly over my head. Even so, this is still a rather annoying map with hideously tired redrock and lava and annoying monster placement. The two Cybers at the end of the platforming section were especially irritating. Thankfully you can run past them and use a ledge to cheese them later. The pit at the end is cool though, but otherwise I'd rather play Mount Pain from TNT than this map.

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MAP26 - "Valley of Defilement”

heh, this is quite the battleground. I made it my mission to run through the whole thing without firing a shot, unfortunately I got to the door with a bunch of archviles behind it and thought I'd better deal with those, and there was a mastermind at some point that I figured I better take out. Still I ended with over 40% kills, which is testament to the amount of infighting mayhem going on I guess. It almost feels like that is the intended gameplay, with the long stretches of running and ample space to weave around. Its great fun too, there are at least a couple of different routes to take so I was alternating between them every time I died. Panicked a bit when the secret switch at the exit took me all the way back to the start, but it was a 2 way teleport thank christ. One pretty big minus point for a lava pit you cant seem to get out of.

MAP27 - "Flame Peak”

I lost the will to live playing this map. It really wants you to fight for every inch of progress, and then sends a load of cacos and pain elementals just in case you were starting to enjoy yourself too much. I've had fun playing maps like this before, fighting your way up the mountain path, paddling upstream through a river of blood and all that kind of thing, so what went wrong here? Why was this such a pain in the arse? Maybe I'm just having an off-day, but it felt like the optimum strategy for each bit was to play it slow and safe, which turned into a bit of a grind. The terrain was too awkward to do much dodging around, so it was mostly shooting around corners and constantly looking behind you for any lost souls and cacos that were creeping over the cliffs out of visual range. Occasionally I just thought fuck it, and ran through as far as it would let me, which worked here and there. Any fun I tried to have was ruined by lost souls, leaping in front of rockets, getting in the way while I'm dodging, or biting me up the arse while i'm on low health. Dunno. I get this map, but I just wasn't in the mood for it i guess.

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MAP27 Flame Peak

Flame Peak is a gauntlet run of sorts, up a mountain with plenty of tough enemies standing in the Doomguy's way. It's a great combination of both action and adventure, driven by the music in some ways. t does not promote dawdling at the start however, as you've got a band of cacodemons who will catch slow players from the back. In fact, the mountain crawl's main harassment are these red blobs, plus the occasional pain elemental and their spawn, which are enough to bring the map down, and they are easy to miss when you're busy. As usual, snipers are placed rather evilly. The arachnotrons at the northeastern end are true highlight for that gameplay part. The difficulty even decides to ramp up, in an annoying way unfortunately, the apex of the flame peak is a monster hell. There's about three or so stragglers when it's all done if you went in a linear fashion like I did, and some jumping and sidling is necessary for the one secret in the map.

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Map 25

I liked the use of darkness and strobe in this map a lot. Didn't care for the maze parts at all, just don't like mazes.

Map 26

Nope.

Map 27

Lesse, tons of enemies attacking me and not having any fun having to kill any of them. Run past stuff, get killed by Archviles. Annoying. I think I must be burnt out on the game for a while or something. Guess I'll drop out of the club for a bit, might not play next month either. On that note...

+++ Please feel free to eliminate my vote for AV from the final tally; if I'm not going to play I shouldn't get a say. Sorry.

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+++ I'm voting for THT: Threnody despite having not participated this month. And then Crusades atop that to have a link to the new DWIronman League.

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Seele00TextOnly said:

+++ Please feel free to eliminate my vote for AV from the final tally; if I'm not going to play I shouldn't get a say. Sorry.

Even if you're not going to play, you're still entitled to vote. It was something I thought about making a rule early on but it unnecessarily complicates things, so people are free to "countervote" for something like Getsu did.

Suitepee said:

I'm voting for THT: Threnody despite having not participated this month. And then Crusades atop that to have a link to the new DWIronman League.

New rule FYI:

When do we vote on the next month’s megawad?
[...] Remember to add a “+++” before your vote to make it easier to count.

Just add one "+++" too.

--------

This is the tally so far:
Urania: 2 votes
THT: 3 votes
AV: 4-5 votes

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I feel a bit guilty about it, considering that I have never participated in the DWmegawad Club before, likely won't be able to fully participate this next month, and had a hand in the THT pot, but I would be interested in a play through of THT by the club. If my vote shouldn't be counted, no offense taken.

+++ THT: Threnody

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I'd definitely join in for a +++Threnody playthrough, but like Fonze I'm a bit biased, so..yeah :p

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I'll try to play in the next month. It has been fun to read the reviews for Estranged.

Which one of the three most voted has the least amount of slaghterish gameplay? Lol

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MAP28: Astral Plane

The broad strokes of this map are pretty cool. You warp from isolated building/complex to isolated building/complex in a lava sea. The problem is a lot of the combat is incidental, and there's nothing to stop the revenants and mancubi from the next building over from sniping at you over and over and over and over. And to make matters worse, many of the areas are bound by waist-high walls that make returning fire really tough, if not impossible. The open, horizontal layout, and the way the projectiles come flying at you right from the beginning, make it clear this was intended to be something of a bullet hell, so if you're into that, you might have fun. For my tastes, some more closets or warping and a different ending could have made this a snappy level. The buildings are pretty unpredictable. But I only slogged my way to the end out of a completionist's desire.

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dobu gabu maru said:

Even if you're not going to play, you're still entitled to vote. It was something I thought about making a rule early on but it unnecessarily complicates things, so people are free to "countervote" for something like Getsu did.

+++ Well, I suppose you can leave my vote for AV intact then if you're okay with that and since it looks like it's going to be down to the wire. Thank you.

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rileymartin said:

Changing to +++ AV since we're being raided by the THT crew! D:

Seele00TextOnly said:

+++ Well, I suppose you can leave my vote for AV intact then if you're okay with that and since it looks like it's going to be down to the wire. Thank you.


Boo!

Deadwing said:

I'll try to play in the next month. It has been fun to read the reviews for Estranged.

Which one of the three most voted has the least amount of slaghterish gameplay? Lol


Dunno, they all have their share. What people call "slaughter gameplay" sometimes is really just "using 100+ monsters because the area is ginormous and there's no other way to have a challenge, unless the whole area is like a catwalk over a damaging floor or something, and crowd control really isn't so important because the area is still very spacious in relation to the # of monsters used, even though there are a lot of them and it looks imposing kind of, man this sentence is really long now". :D I can't really say, I haven't played AV (don't stone me, people) or Urania yet. Monster counts in all three get pretty high though, but mostly because of larger maps in THT (and also in the others, from the little I've looked at), with some doses of slaughter gameplay but far from every map.

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