Quake receives a dark fantasy makeover.
Raven’s fantasy first-person spectacle Hexen brought out the best of the Doom engine, and in an overcrowded genre managed to create a distinct look and feel. That game’s design and atmosphere gave it a look akin to a role-player but with the vicious feel of a first-person shooter. Now, utilizing a modified version of the original Quake engine, Raven has struck gold once again.
Admittedly, if you didn’t like Hexen, or don’t like puzzles and exploration, you won’t like this game. Hexen II is a combination of the action of Quake with the atmosphere and intelligence of Tomb Raider (the influence is more than a little subtle). But in opposition to Quake’s rather monotonous levels, the areas you’ll visit in Hexen II are brimming with detail and variety – Hexen II moves from gloomy medieval halls to Egyptian pyramids, Roman temples and fiery South American altars. The entire game spans four chapters as part of a central quest to rid the lands of Eidolon.
To do this, you’ll travel through four different worlds, each with its own theme and workings. There’s a medieval theme, an Aztec theme, Egyptian and a greco-roman theme. Each of these four worlds is home to an evil lord that you’ll need to defeat before moving on to the next chapter, and so on until you face off with Eidelon himself.
Dark Army of Four
Hexen II can be played from the viewpoint of one of four available characters – a Crusader, Paladin, Necromancer or Assassin, essentially unlocking different weapons and mildly shifting gameplay styles between melee and ranged combat. Raven threw in a role-playing element as well, but the concept is merely paper-thing. Levels are attained as you kill off monsters which raise your attributes accordingly, but you have no real say in the matter, making its inclusion pretty pointless (you can monitor character stats but can never tinker with them directly).
The worlds featured in Hexen II are large and complex. Puzzles are generally straightforward and involve locked doors or simple ‘find item x and use it here’ contrivances that require thorough exploration. And some of the levels in Hexen II become capricious to the point of forcing the player to explore every obscure room and hidden passageway to advance. Written clues from books and scrolls can be helpful in giving some sense of direction, but they’re few and far in between. The idea is that you’ll get stuck lots if you simply carve your way through the levels, axe first and eyes second.
Like Quake, Hexen II dropped the ‘Use’ key and reduced interacting with the world to plain old bumping into things. This isn’t a fatal handicap, but its a resounding step backward which makes the game a tad more confusing than it should be. When your intuition tells you that a puzzle item might be of use, you literally have to stumble around the place until a message appears letting you know what just happened.
Possibly the most pressing issue in Hexen II is the lack of a mapping system. I had to backtrack through the game’s maze-like levels again and again because it couldn’t give me a meaningful way of understanding my surroundings. I get that creating intuitive 2D maps of 3D levels isn’t easy, but any solution, even a hackneyed overhead sketch of the area, is better than running around blind.
Bag of Withholding
One final note has to do with puzzle items. Instead of throwing combat and puzzle items together in one pile (as was the case in Hexen: Beyond Heretic), the game stores them in separate inventory menus. No doubt this would have been a fantastic approach to inventory management if quest items were more clearly laid out. You simply pick up an item and it’s stored in your inventory panel (TAB) while a message announces what you’ve grabbed. For a time, I simply assumed the game doesn’t label these items but apparently they’re shown by pressing the obscure “Info/Frags” key, default Q. It’s easy to miss that.
Rough edges and nitpicking aside, Hexen II is still an enjoyable action-packed fantasy shooter. Combat is generally fun and the levels, with all their blocky simplicity and lack of proper proportions, have an atypical atmosphere to them reminiscent of retro dungeon crawlers. Dark tombs, sacrificial altars and monstrous Were-Jaguars await should you enter its realm.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 Mhz, 16 MB RAM, 120 MB HDD, Win95