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Playing Heretic: Shadow Of The Serpent Riders

Updated on March 6, 2018

Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders - At First Glance

Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders - A Little Background

Even if so many years have passed since I first braved the hordes of hell in the shareware Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders episode titled City of the Damned, the phrase “thou art a smite-meister” still cracks me up. Yes, modern day game reviewers rant about dropping frame rates, lousy textures and poor handling in newer ones but it is the dark fantasy nonstop action-oriented theme that many of us still adore.

Set presumably in the Gothic period, Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders is one of those first person shooter games that just about anyone with a fondness of history would appreciate. Do you like Game of Thrones? Then you’ll just love this game. If you’re not a stickler for graphics, that is.

Whether it is the weaponry, relentless waves of nether worldly enemies, the distinctly dull architecture replete with hidden crypts and secret passageways, this game leaves you with a sense of foreboding at every turn. Even if the music truly sucks!

Put simply, the content of the game is truly worth coming back to from time to time. Even if the file size is a mere 10 MB or so. Of course, if you grew up playing Doom, you couldn’t care less about the trade off between good graphics and awesome game play. Honestly, I wonder how John Romero even came up with these names at the time. An utter rock star, I tell you!

Speaking of which, even if Heretic was considered to be another Doom clone, it seems rather reductive to label it so. Yes, your enemies either perform melee attacks or hurl projectiles at you. Yes, you look for secrets and power ups. Yes, you look for keys and their respective exits. Yes, you have bosses at the end of every episode. Yet it is the experience of playing Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders that immerses you into another world altogether and last five full episodes. Just as enjoyable as Doom if not more.

Episode 1 City of the Damned: The Docks

Episode 1 Overview: City of the Damned

Originally offered as shareware, the first episode contains a total of nine maps and of which, The Graveyard, is the secret level. Having said that, here are all the eight maps or levels of the City of the Damned:

Map 1: The Docks
Map 2: The Dungeouns
Map 3: The Gatehouse
Map 4: The Guard Tower
Map 5: The Citadel
Map 6: The Cathedral
Map 7: The Crypts
Map 8: Hell’s Maw

It must be pointed out that when you are in The Cathedral, there are two exits. One, in the room that you open with the yellow key and the other in the room that you open with the blue key. As mentioned earlier, the Graveyard also requires you to find three keys where upon exiting the level will transport Corvus to the Crypts.

When it comes to game play, and much like Doom 1 and Doom 2, your mission is to:

1: Destroy the hordes of hell as you reach Hell's Maw

2: Find elegantly crafted yellow, green and blue keys in that very order and their doors

3: Find most if not all secrets and exit the level with maximum health and ammo.

Still, in terms of action, consider the opposition as mere cannon fodder compared to the foes in the next few episodes. Trust me, City of the Damned is a mere tutorial, as another game reviewer put it, when playing coop on the Brutal Heretic mod. There's never been a better time to use quicksave from time to time, especially if you are just getting started!

Heretic Episode 1 Map 1 - The Docks

Heretic Weaponry and Helpful Items At Your Disposal

Speaking of which, the Heretic weaponry consists of the:

1: Gauntlets of the Necromancer

2: Elven Wand

3: Ethereal Crossbow

4: Dragon Claw

However, this is only the beginning. Especially as you will discover more powerful weapons in the next episode such as the Hellstaff, Phoenix Rod and the Firemace. Trust me, killing an iron lich can prove to be a real task when they first appear in Hell’s Maw without these big weapons.

Now, despite the lack of firepower, there are items that can increase the chances of your survival. Some of these include:

1: Silver Shield

2: Timebomb of the Ancients

3: Wings of Wrath

4: Shadowsphere

5: Ring of Invincibility

6: Torch

7: Map Scroll

8: Bag of Holding.

9: Morph Ovum

10: Tome of Power

Don’t discount the usefulness of the Torch as you will sometimes end up in rooms that are pitch dark. Being blindsided by melee attacks and projectiles from foes you can’t see happens every now and then.

Quite amusingly, you can use the Morph Ovum to turn enemies into chickens while the Tome of Power increases the power of your weapon of choice for a short period. Excellent for a group of enemies who have cornered you. Much like in the Citadel and the Hell's Maw levels. Last but not the least, you can store Quartz Flasks for times when you are low on health but also use available Crystal Vials to top up your health on the go.

The Staff is Practically Useless... Even Against Gargoyles

Monsters in Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders

As for the monsters that serve as D’Sparil’s minions, you have:

1: Gargoyles that scratch you when close enough

2: Fire Gargoyles that throw fireballs at you

3: Normal Golems that can pummel you to death at close range

4: Nitrogolems that throw fiery skulls at you from a distance.

5: Undead Warriors that throw axes from a distance apart from slashing you to death if they're close enough

That said, Golem, Nitrogolem and Undead Warrior ghosts also appear in levels of City of the Damned but only in levels that are close to Hell’s Maw. They're no different apart from being just harder to see.

Which brings us to the disciples of D’Sparil. These monsters are the hardest to kill even if the Dragon Claw is the best weapon to end them. Their projectiles are fast, have a decent "spread" and are usually flung in your direction with decent accuracy. Offense is the best defense!

Disciple of D'Sparil

Facing D'Sparil in Episode 3 The Dome of D'Sparil

Preparing For Difficulty Levels in Heretic

The "Wet Nurse" Difficulty Level

Now, if you play the first episode on the “wetnurse” difficulty, it isn’t hard to find weapons, ammo or health as well as the aforementioned items. Still, here are a few tips that can make things easier as you progress closer to Hell's Maw:

1: Whenever possible, use the Elven Wand for Gargoyles and Golems

2: Reserve the firepower of the Ethereal Crossbow for the Undead Warriors, the Fire Gargoyle, Nitro Golem and all ghosts.

3: Strafing and moving continuously is mandatory.

4: Deal with Disciples quickly by using the Dragon Claw. No hiding behind walls for too long! Attack!

That said, if you use your weapons and the items found smartly, you will rarely die in City of the Damned.

For the Yellowbellies-r-us Level and Upwards

However, as you pick a higher difficulty level as shown below, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1: Conserving ammo and power ups for a whole group of monsters ambushing you from out of nowhere would be very wise.

2: Since surprise attacks will take place in tight or dark enclosed spaces, prepare to beat a hasty retreat.

3: Sniping your foes with the Elven Wand is an excellent way to thin the herd. From a distance. This will also help you conserve precious ethereal crossbow and dragon claw ammo for stronger monsters who either ambush or attack you in larger groups going forward.

Note: It must be mentioned that if you are playing the first episode in the two highest difficulty settings as shown below, survival will be a real challenge up until you find the ethereal crossbow and the dragon claw. Don't panic. Find them first before you take on every hellish creature waiting to take you out!

Heretic Difficulty Levels

Secrets, Secrets and more Secrets

Now, there are three ways to find secrets on every level and these are worth mentioning:
1: Open sections on grey walls that have the Eagle Insignia. You can find a secret in the first level known as the Docks when you find yourself in a room where you can see water flowing on the outside. Of course, not all of them will open up in later levels but it’s well worth exploring the map for the aforementioned items. By the way, the maps get much larger and so it is good to be observant. One level that I found difficult was the Citadel which required you to move through two different areas in your search for the exit. Missing a secret meant backtracking across a large area and requiring you to start over again.

2: Turn on every switch that you find in each level as it opens secret passageways and teleporters to secret areas. Make it a point to return to the starting point of each level so as to find the latter in some levels.

3: The hardest secrets are found in areas where the lights flicker. This requires you to observe the layout of a room carefully as you go in search for keys. Sometimes, the secrets in question are right in front of you even if you might not know how to get to them just yet. One level where this is evident are The Dungeons.

One last thing: in some cases, there are secrets within secrets. A feature that most Doom players would be familiar with. If you have mastered the map, you can have fun looking for the available number of secrets on each map. As always, it gets harder to locate them as you progress through higher levels in City of the Damned.

Look For the Eagle Insignia to discover Secret Passageways!

Watch Out For the Iron Lich in Hell's Maw!

In Closing

Blame it on my sense of nostalgia that has made me write this post on Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders. Of course, there are other games such the popular Doom and Wolfenstein series, Blade, FIFA and Project I.G.I that some of us played for hours. Yet Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders must be acknowledged for being that very paradigm shift in gaming that will never be forgotten, no matter how sophisticated gaming gets.

I still can’t get over how creative this game was when it first came out. That said, much like the shotgun in Doom 2 that enjoys universal acclaim, some of us absolutely love the ethereal crossbow in Heretic. The Dragon Claw blocks your field of view in a clunky and irritating manner. Of course, all this changes until you get the Phoenix Rod in the next level... but that discussion is for another day!

Having said that, you can benefit from the playthroughs posted on YouTube as shown below to help you get started with The Docks in Episode 1 City of the Damned. Be it finding keys, secrets or learning how to eliminate all enemies on any one of these maps, these guys are pros. It's real fun, I tell you! If you can't get enough, Brutal Heretic takes it to the next level! Enjoy!

The Glorious Phoenix Rod

City of the Damned Episode 1 The Docks Play Through: The Brutal Heretic Mod

© 2018 Daniel Chakraborty

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