Hexen: Beyond Heretic
Once again, Raven delivers an engaging dark fantasy action game.
The guys at Raven made a name for themselves with their Serpent Riders saga, a series of dark-fantasy action games that started with Heretic (1994) but really came into its own with Hexen. Although by no means a traditional role-player, the grim fantasy setting and magical weapons do give it a particular (if mostly superficial) RPG vibe. For one thing the plot is largely irrelevant. Just know that evil has befallen the lands of Cronos and you must bash demon skulls aplenty in order to set things right. Hexen primarily stands out because of it’s non-linear ‘hub’ approach to level design, although in most respects in plays like a traditional shooter.
The game world is divided into multiple levels that the player must traverse by solving puzzles, finding keys and defeating monsters. Most of the time you begin in a large central map that branches off into separate levels, the point usually being to explore everything and activate switches to solve the puzzle within the parent map. The first hub (Seven Portals) serves as a good example, where you start in a large courtyard leading to many different sub-levels. The theory behind Hexen’s hub system is that it allows for deeper gameplay by making the game less linear, and to some extent it actually succeeds.
The levels themselves are as detailed as the modified Doom engine permits. Besides being complex from a pure gameplay perspective, the levels are swarming with lots of clever details. Themes vary greatly and give some sense of variety, depicting putrid swamps, magnificent cathedrals, grand castles or arid canyons. Swamp-themed Darkmere with its broken buildings, withering trees and thick fog is a good of example of a Doom engine stretched to its limits. Upping the visual ante was Raven’s way of compensating for what was already a dated engine by 1995, and they’ve done a good job.
The game can be played as one of three available characters – Fighter, Cleric or Mage. Each has a somewhat different style of combat but the real juice of it all are the weapons, with Fighters preferring an in-your-face arsenal of axes, swords and such while on the other end of the spectrum you have fire and ice spells wielded by the Mage. In all there are twelve weapons but only four of them will be available per character. This is quite a damning limitation as you’ll have to play the game three times over just to get a taste of the entire arsenal.
Compensating for the lacking armory is a clever inventory system. A pool of thirty-two items are to be found, and these range from healing potions to an artifact that morphs enemies into defenseless swine (aptly called the ‘Porkulator’). Then there’s the ‘Flachette’, an explosive elixir that works differently for each class, be it a grenade or noxious time bomb.
There’s something that you might call a puzzle elements, but its mostly just a series of glorified switch hunts, which is fine within the game’s context but liable to generate frustrations – getting stuck here is much easier than in Heretic or Doom. In spite of it all, Hexen is damn fun to play and easy to run, and anyone in need of a retro dark fantasy shooter will enjoy it.
System Requirements: Intel 386 Processor, 4 MB RAM, MS-DOS 6.2
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