The year is 1994. Doom and Doom II have been unleashed upon the world, and Doom fever is spreading across the PC market. Loads of copycat shooters are being released left and right, but one game running on the Doom engine is released by Raven Software and Id software near the tail-end of the year. That game is a dark fantasy shooter known as Heretic, one of my favorite FPS games of all time.
To sum up Heretic in one phrase, it’s like Doom but medieval. There are no chainguns or pistols, rather laser-shooting dragon’s claws or staffs. Instead of the depths of hell and labs on Mars, you fight through graveyards and castles. The game has a very coherent theme, and it’s nice to see a shooter branch out and have a theme that isn’t the deep reaches of space or a modern military tale of espionage.
Unlike most shooters of the era, Heretic has a simple dark fantasy story to go along with it. Heretic focuses on the sidhe elf Corvus, who is the sole member of his race who is willing to fight against the evil D’Sparil (Pronounced Despair-il). This is one of the few early FPS games that has a clear story with a villain set from the front, rather than the Cyberdemon or Mecha Hitler appearing out of nowhere.
Heretic sticks to the “like Doom but medieval” theme even with its level design, and I mean that in the best possible way. Levels are usually mazelike areas with multiple locked doors for you to navigate, filled with hidden alcoves of enemies and secrets. Don’t be surprised that when you pick up a new weapon or item, the walls will scroll up to reveal hordes of enemies. Speaking of the enemies, enemies in the game are surprisingly melee-oriented as well, with the most default cannon-fodder being golems and gargoyles. However, later on in the game, you will face off against more ranged enemies and three unique bosses.
Like nearly everything else in Heretic, the good majority of the weapons function just like those in Doom. The necromancer’s gauntlets replace the chainsaw, the ethereal crossbow replaces the shotgun, and the minigun is replaced by the dragon’s claw. What does differ from Doom is the inventory system, which lets you pick up and use a variety of helpful items. My personal favorite is the Tome of Power, which gives every weapon a temporary power up. Wands shoot in shotgun spreads, melee-oriented staffs have increased knockback, and the mostly useless Firemace is able to kill every non-boss monster in a single shot.
However, Heretic isn’t quite perfect. Ammo is a common problem, which would be fine if the game didn’t love to toss hordes of enemies at you. Ammo for anything other than the relatively weak wand and the slightly better crossbow is rare, especially during the first episode of the game. Aside from that, I’m happy to say the only complaints I have are personal preference about the music, which I know is very subjective.
So is Heretic worth it? Absolutely. It’s one of those games that’s constantly fun to play at down time, and it’s available for purchase on Steam for a measly five dollars. Few games stick to their theme as well as Heretic does, which is quite admirable. If you like fantasy games, Doom, or just shooters in general, I can give Heretic a solid recommendation.