The final Hexen game on my Steam list, a terrible conclusion to a poor series. I also briefly cover the series’ previous games and how they aren’t as fun as some nostalgia blinded fans claim.
Played on PC (Steam)
I’m officially fed up with the Hexen series. I played the first installment ‘Heretic’ last year, and its sequel -’Hexen: Beyond Heretic’ was the first game reviewed on this site. Having now played most of Hexen 2, I can confidently declare that the series is not worth anyone’s time.
I mistakenly went into this series hoping it would be on par with Id Software’s legendary franchise, but I realise now that these games were no more than a poor man’s Doom.
You wouldn’t think it going by Steam and Metacritic user comments, which laud the game as a hard core great. I can’t help but think such feedback comes from behind spectacularly blinding rose tinted glasses; remembered from a time when few FPS alternatives existed. Half-Life, Halo and CoD had not yet arrived to mix up the genre.
What’s interesting is that (at the time), reviews of the series by publications were generally negative. Though no review is objective, I’m using such critical damning to back up my comments, and that those who claim the series to be a classic are refusing to accept that they poured hours into a game series they probably weren’t enjoying.
The first game in the series ‘Heretic’ was probably the most fun, likely due its similarities to Doom. The fast paced combat, the similar hellish atmosphere, some genuinely horrific enemies and old school catchy melodies. It also introduced usable items and an inventory.
However Heretic never came close to matching the quality of Doom. There seemed to be a lack of professional edge, or polish. Not that anything in particular was terrible but it emulated Doom as opposed to evolving the formula. Heretic was pretty much a reskin, with very little changed to suit its own fantasy themed world. There wasn’t as much fun in hunting for hidden rooms, ammo or fighting hordes of enemies.
Perhaps the level design wasn’t on par with Doom, or the shooting mechanics felt slightly off when firing a wand as opposed to a shotgun. It was still fun, but diluted in comparison.
The sequel ‘Hexen: beyond Heretic’ wasn’t completely terrible either but the changes it introduced had a detrimental effect to the experience. The hub type stages that allowed traversal between different levels only added confusion. For example, a switch in one level would open a door in another level, with no indication as to which door, so every level had to again be searched.
Switches themselves were frustrating to find as they shared a similar texture to the wall on which they were placed. Many of my memories of Hexen involve wandering around cleared out, barren levels, wind howling in the background, searching for the switch that progressed the map.
Hexen’s class system really only broke down to whether or not you wanted more melee combat. ‘Not’ was my answer as it was difficult gauge the distance to enemies and whether or not a melee swing would connect. Countering long range enemies was difficult if you possessed no projectile of your own.
Hexen wasn’t as much a of a copy of Doom this time and an attempt was made to try something different, but again the polish just wasn’t there for this to work in an enjoyable way and the changes only caused frustration. Ultimately Hexen committed the sins of a poor quality FPS, such as bullet sponge enemies that required the skill of attrition to beat, contained within confusing levels.
Hexen was followed up by an expansion which continued the downward trend to an astonishing degree. It included endlessly respawning enemies, impossible to predict traps and hideous level design. I care to speak of this no more.
And now I have played Hexen 2. Another entry to the series that again tried to ape ID Software’s success. This time Quake was the new FPS monster to clone, but again there was no understanding of what made Quake successful – making Hexen 2 inferior in every way.
As with Hexen, switches and hidden areas are practically invisible due to their similarity to the wall/background to which they are attached and, unless you licked the walls of every room, would certainly be missed.
These weren’t optional areas either. Level progression depended on finding these switches and doors. At one point a key is required to unlock an empty cupboard, but to progress (as I found out online) you need to break the back of the cupboard to find another hidden compartment. The barest of cracks were visible and the disgustingly brown colour scheme of the game made this difference difficult to spot, with nothing else hinting on how to continue.
Technically, it is possible to find these hidden points by scouring every part of the level, banging your weapon on every surface until you hit the section that opens the door/passage, but this is not playing a game.
If you have to sniff and punch every wall systematically until you find the part that opens then you aren’t solving a problem. It’s similar to opening a code lock by starting from 1 and working your way all the way to 999 knowing that one of the numbers in between has to work. Such busy work is just time wasting game design that requires no skill.
Quake had hidden switches and area’s too, but these were rarely required for progression and needed only brief moments of exploration to find. Switches had contrasting colours that prevented tedious searches and seldom interfered with the pace of gameplay. In Hexen 2 the majority of time spent in each level involves wandering around looking for progression points and items, with combat and world interaction being the minority.
Most of the puzzles are insanely designed and have no consistent logic to guide the player.
Every single step I had to look up online because the hints were unreasonably obscure or just non-existent. Check out this quick walkthrough of the second zone from Game Faqs:
The general objective in Thysis is to find the Lower and Upper
Crowns of Egypt, in order to maketh Ra smile upon thee and open
up thy way to Pestilence’s Lair.
However, to reach both of them, we require the four Canopy Jars,
since they hold the way to the Lower Crown and the way to manipulate
the Sun Dial, which is the key to open up the chamber which holds the
Staff of Nefertum, which can open up the now hidden device to manipulate the Wheel of Time, which keeps the Upper Crown.
There is almost no ingame context, characters or indicators that would make any of this logical. Such contrived key finding and contextless nonsense removed any reason for me to care about anything in the game.
The lack of a freelook makes combat frustrating and clunky. You need to hold down a button in order to look up and down with the mouse.
Compare this to the original Quake whereby you could freely look with the mouse, resulting in a quicker combat pace where you could aim, shoot, spin around and generally feel skillful enough to react quickly and strategically to enemies.
Holding down a key to look in Hexen 2 adds unnecessary weight to the action. Aiming with melee weapons was particularly clumsy, especially when fighting short enemies. Trying to aim down at a scorpion or spider and attack, while also holding the freelook button, was an awkward mess. Enemies dodge quickly, so you need to take an extra step to consciously recalibrate your aim after each miss.
Other enemies require a large amount of firepower to kill; enemies which are also fast and devastating on the first encounter, requiring constant save scumming to drag out and kill with the hope that you can survive without losing too much health or ammo (which is sparingly provided).
One may argue that Heretic 2 isn’t necessarily a fighting/shooting game. Even so, going by what I mentioned above, it’s not a puzzle game either, and from what I say later, it’s also not an RPG.
There was just no flow to combat; every encounter was a sloppy frustrating chore. It was difficult enough to aim with the robotic mouse mechanics, but there were other combat design issues.
Inadequate feedback was given on how much damage you delivered to an enemy. Projectiles had difficult to predict trajectories (such as the grenades or the staff that fired explosive scarabs). So even if you aimed correctly the projectile may not land as expected or will simply be dodged by quicker enemies.
Conversely enemy projectiles were either too quick avoid or very difficult to see. The normal routine for most enemies would be to enter a room, get killed and reload as many times as required in the hope for a more fortunate fight.
Game breaking bugs and amature level design mistakes were common. I jumped into a shallow pool to fetch some ammo but the pool’s ledge was higher than my jump distance, permanently trapping me and requiring a reload.
A movable wall which hid a puzzle piece bugged and wouldn’t open. I had to type ‘noclip’ into the console to get through it. Cheating was literally required to continue progress.
One boss failed to enter the arena because a bug prevented it’s entry door from opening. I again had to noclip through the wall and kill the boss with melee attacks. It never went hostile either, probably because the door was a trigger for it’s attack state. So I just stood there, whacking the boss while it stared at me with it’s lobotomized grin.
Dead enemies remain solid, which in itself isn’t a problem unless the mob dies mid air and stays floating as an obstacle.
Your choice of class determines the weapons you possess and your defensive stats. Your character can level up but it’s pretty much pointless. You always pick up armor when it’s available and stat increases occur automatically with no input from the player, with little effect on game play.
Story wise Hexen 2 is just like other games of its time whereby most of the story is written in the manual and mid hub text dumps with little relation to what you experience in game. However, as this was generally the rule at the time I’m not going to nit pick on this flaw.
Quake was superior in every way. You could again argue that Hexen 2 wasn’t trying to be Quake, but even so – Quake was and is superior in EVERY WAY.
Enemies and situations could be reliably studied to develop tactics. Switches weren’t so painfully invisible that gameplay had to stop dead for you to progress. Mouse aim was smoother and facilitated quick and skillful combat. Ammo was plentiful enough for you to comfortably progress after a fight without feeling the need to reload to try and save a few more bullets. The hub world was just a way to choose an episode as opposed to an obnoxious way to keep you searching for a door that may or may not have opened in a completely different level.
There was great variation to the weapons in Quake, all of which had a situational purpose, none of which ever became useless and in general worked.
In Hexen 2 your best weapon is the quickload key.
I quit playing 12 hours in, not too far from the final boss. Nothing was going to make me start enjoying the game and I wanted to be rid of the series from my list. I can only advise that you avoid the series altogether. I realise I had a somewhat positive Hexen review, but in the scheme of things it’s barely a mediocre game when compared to many others that were released both way back then and more recently.
Hexen 2, and the Heretic/Hexen series aren’t worth any of your time or money.