With Hexplore, I-Motion has designed a role-playing game for Diablo fans that has left out much of which made Blizzard’s game so thrilling. In Diablo, for example, combat is so challenging that the player’s character is often killed. In Hexplore, combat is so easy that characters seldom die – a useful move for players who are new to this kind of game, but hardly the stuff for die-hard Diablo fans. Hexplore does get it right in some areas, with plenty of story, plenty of characters to talk to, and good graphics, music, sounds, puzzles, monsters and environments. The game is primarily mouse-driven, with movement and combat that resembles Warcraft II.
You begin the game as Mac Bride, but soon are able to add an archer, a warrior and a spell-casting mage to your party. Even better, in co-op multiplayer 2-4 players can take on these roles and play and chat together, with gameplay being essentially the same as in the single-player game. Each level consists of a variety of maps to explore, monsters to kill and puzzles to solve. You may only begin a new chapter by discovering its entrance in the previous chapter. Travel is effortless with teleports available everywhere. There are also an abundant number of healing and life potions available, as well as healing fountains.
Unfortunately, the game does have one giant flaw – it uses a half-assed experience system, so the way you earn XP by clobbering hordes of monsters is very awkward. During any of the game’s ten levels, your characters may collect experience points by walking into the sparkling stars left behind by dead monsters. However, characters that have already filled their experience bars are prevented from collecting any more. When all four characters have maxed their experience bars in a level, dead monsters no longer even leave stars-making further combat nearly pointless.
Another disappointment is that Hexplore (unlike Diablo) doesn’t allow for any shopping. Occasionally you can find a bag of coins to trade for an item, but there is little gold in the game and no opportunity to buy and sell weapons, armor or magic. Finally, characters may find and wear armor, but for some unknown reason, armor disappears. Perhaps it just wears out, but there’s no useful signifier in this regard, like a durability stat. Outside of these deficiencies, the game is a laudable effort. The interface has been thoughtfully designed. Players can easily control and move a single character or all four of them at the same time with a single click of a mouse, and the movements feel responsive.
Hexplore is also a bit akin to Nox in that it offers more puzzles than the original Diablo ever did. They’re pretty simple to solve, fortunately. To open the game’s many doors, you must first look for a key. Other doors may open when the warrior uses his strength to manipulate a wall switch, the adventurer manipulates another and the mage reads a wall incantation. Some times all four characters have to almost simultaneously step on four different pressure plates in a room. Others puzzles involve triggers that reveal invisible bridges necessary to cross water.
In many ways, Hexplore is a decent game, but one can’t help but feel that it is just short of being great. With the addition of a more thoughtful experience system, a difficulty slider and better focus on inventory management and trade, it would have been much more fun.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win95