• Currently 5/5 Stars.

An Epic Campaign

MurgenROoF on Dec 24th, 2022, Version 1.3 preview 4

Note: I played through version 1.3 Preview 4.

Eternal is a massive 52 level campaign that’s essentially a love letter to the original Marathon trilogy. It’s a ton of fun and adds a lot of new content in terms of graphics, weapons, gameplay tweaks, and sound. In terms of quality I would say this is definitely one of the top three Marathon 3rd party campaigns.

Graphically the textures, weapons, and enemies have all been redone and they actually look much better than the original. There’s lots of new terminal art and it is of superior quality. Your motion spotter looks different; even the main menu screen has a new look. All Eternal textures look good, but the neon fluorescent Pfhor textures in particular look phenomenal.

There are also a bunch of cool-looking new weapons that are fun to use and generally handle well.

Gameplay tweaks: Oxygen now auto-replenishes in oxygen-filled environments, which is a great quality of life improvement! Your motion spotter now includes a compass, and the auto-map now tracks enemies, items, and even projectiles.

Eternal features a useful secrets counter. This tracks how many secrets are on the current level, plus how may secrets you’ve had the opportunity to find overall.

The campaign features autosaving by default. It can be disabled under the “Environment-Plugins” option.

Eternal has branching level paths. In the fourth level of every chapter there will be exits to two possible successor levels. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I feel it’s good to give the player choices (or the illusion of choice, since all of the paths eventually merge back together).

But on the other hand, I felt the execution had some problems. For example, on “Sakmet Rising” it is highly likely that the player will run into a Hathor terminal shortly after starting the level, which will whisk the player off to the “Remedial Chaos Theory” level. The player might not even realize they have a choice of going with Hathor versus staying with Tycho and completing the remaining 90% of “Sakmet Rising.” It’s just so counterintuitive, and it means that anyone intending to play every Eternal level had better start by finding a spoiler guide so they can plan out exactly how they’re going to do it. I would suggest either making the branching paths more obvious to the player via terminal text, or getting rid of the branching paths entirely and making the failure path the normal path.

Sound: There are hours of new music, and most of it is pretty good. Many of the songs are evocative of the original Marathon 1 soundtrack, in a good way. For example, Eternal has a new version of Bungie’s “Rushing” song that uses, I think, brass horns? Well anyways, it’s a really kick ass song that lends itself to fast-paced combat scenarios, which is appropriate because when you first hear it a massive firefight is breaking out on the bridge of the Marathon! My favorite soundtrack was probably “Carbon” which I thought synced well with the chaotic situation at the start of Chapter 3.

The plot: The plot did not grab me at first; much of the early exposition was irrelevant and could easily have been cut. I fear new players might try the campaign, encounter an initial wall of text with lots of technobabble, and log out before ever seeing the strengths of Eternal. However, once the plot gets moving, it REALLY gets moving! Eternal ended up having my favorite Marathon 3rd party scenario story. Looking back on it, the narrative is pretty amazing in scope, and touches upon almost every bit of lore from Bungie’s official campaigns.

Time travel is central to the story of Eternal. Yes, it is a problematic plot device for many reasons, but I became OK with it once I realized it was actually an excuse to take the player on a walk down nostalgia lane, as you’ll get to revisit some iconic locations from Bungie’s trilogy. I loved how there was always a cool new twist to those locations.

Some of the terminal text is in the form of poetry; normally I would not say that poetry is a medium that lends itself to storytelling in the first person shooter genre. However, in this case, I would argue that there are parts of Eternal’s plot that could not be effectively delivered without the use of poetry. For example, the story of the level “The Manipulated Dead” has a powerful emotional payoff, but it simply wouldn’t work if normal word syntax was used.

Eternal has a memorable antagonist. Most Marathon scenarios don’t even bother with an antagonist, or if they do it’s just “Generic Pfhor Warlord #9735” who is out to conquer humanity, and how many times have you kicked that guy’s ass? But Eternal’s antagonist has all the hallmarks of a great villain — a personal connection to the protagonist, regular interactions with the protagonist, the ability to react to any setbacks the protagonist might cause, and just a generally interesting backstory and motivation.

Level design: Alas, there are too many switches that open stuff to who knows where. Too many levels devolved into a switch hunt, or trying to find what area the last activated switch opened up. Many levels require hitting about 20(!) switches to reach the end, which means there’s 20 different places for the player to screw up and get needlessly lost or stuck. The single biggest thing that would make Eternal better would be to tone done the switch hunts, or institute some kind of waypoint system to keep the player from getting stuck because they missed 1 switch out of 20. I used the “Eat the Path” plugin to help find where I needed to go, which helped but it was not perfect.

Level notes:

Tangent Universe — A somber level as the player witnesses the defeat of the human race on a space station close to the sun; there is great music to set the mood. On this level the location of the sun is used to good effect to cast shadows.

Enantiodromia — The terminal text did a great job of setting up Chapter 2, and your fight against Battle Group One. The plot of Chapter 2 was my favorite, because it felt like I was coming into this military stalemate and just singlehandedly turning the whole thing around.

Chapter 2 — The spaceport levels had superb aesthetics; the music, plus the ambient rain and thunder synced perfectly with the idea of fighting in a far flung alien outpost as massive Pfhor capitol ships loomed on the horizon.

Chapter 3 — I loved all the callbacks to Marathon 2!

Let Sleeping Gods Die —The spiral staircase was inspired.

How deep the rabbit hole goes — The water pillar in this level was another thing that I didn’t even know was possible in the Marathon engine.

Second to Last of the Mohicans — A working conveyor belt! Another thing I’ve never seen in the Marathon engine before!

The Incredible Hulk — What a great way to explore Marathon lore. The events are mentioned in the official trilogy, but now we get to be an active participant in them.

This Cave is Not a Natural Formation — Some really great looking architecture in the initial arena and the northeast cave area.

Frog Blast the Vent Core — I liked the lighting, the bridge, and the smashed up part of the ship.

This Message Will Self Destruct — My favorite combat level. You’ve acquired an arsenal of really powerful weapons, and now you get to use them against hordes of powerful enemies.

Where Giants Have Fallen — Wow, the circular ascent was really clever! I probably could have grenade jumped up, but I wanted to take the scenic route, listen to the poignant music, and reminisce over the epic journey I just completed.

Thanks so much for making this, I had a blast playing it!

Eternal is one of the largest scenarios ever created for Aleph One, initially created by Forrest Cameranesi (Pfhorrest) and subsequently revised and expanded by a massive team known as the Xeventh Project, which, as of this update (March 2024) now includes more than 40 people. Besides Tempus Irae, it may be the oldest scenario still being actively developed; it was first released in 2004 and has been refined and expanded almost continuously ever since. Features include, but are hardly limited to:

  • 52 levels, some revisiting familiar locations from the Marathon trilogy and some being among the largest ever created for the engine
  • An intricately layered plot featuring dense political and philosophical themes, a tragic romance, time travel, major events from the Marathon trilogy’s backstory, complex original characters, and returning faces from the trilogy’s cast
  • A huge, acclaimed soundtrack with unique music for every level, lasting more than seven hours total, and created by over a dozen composers and arrangers (significantly expanded in 1.3 previews 4 through 6)
  • Redesigns of most of the game’s familiar cast (new in 1.3), some old foes from Pathways into Darkness, and some new faces (some new in 1.3)
  • Hundreds of gorgeous terminal images (many added for 1.3 preview 4 through 6)
  • Five texture sets, encompassing 650 high-resolution textures, 12 detailed original landscape textures, and several separate human and alien environments
  • An in-game menu system (new in 1.3 preview 6) that toggles several optional features, including:
    • Simplified overhead map views in around twenty levels (new in 1.3 preview 6)
    • A secret tracking system (new in 1.3 preview 4)
    • Auto-save the game on level transition (new in 1.3)
    • An RPG-style monster health display (new in 1.3 preview 6)
    • Shared pickups between players in network games (new in 1.3 preview 6)
    • Disabled friendly fire between players in network games (new in 1.3 preview 6)
  • More than 360 sounds, remixed or remastered in CD quality, in stereo where possible (new in 1.3)
  • Atmospheric weather like rain and snow (new in 1.3)
  • A final boss battle of sorts (new in 1.3)
  • Detailed documentation including illustrated field guides to Eternal’s weaponry, aliens, and humans, detailed credits, a meta-history of Eternal, and technical notes on how its maps and scripts work (new in 1.3)

The current development release, 1.3 preview 6 (released on 2024-03-07), is perfectly playable despite still being incomplete; it is now our recommended way to play the game. We’ll refrain from estimating the release date of 1.3 final, as we’ve overshot too many estimates to count (thank you, feature creep). The current “stable” build, 1.2.1 (released on 2021-11-07), is missing several features listed above but is still an enjoyable game in its own right.

The screenshots seen on the right are from a development release from between 1.3 previews 4 and 5 and are a reasonable reflection of Eternal’s current appearance. Although they were taken on Normal (so as to show more monster types), we do recommend playing Eternal on the highest difficulty you can manage.

1,347 downloads, 2 reviews, 5 screenshots, 5.0 rating