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Hexen II

aka: H2
Windows Specs [ all ]
(prices updated 9/18 11:09 AM )

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The world of Thyrion was continuously conquered by the demon brothers known as the Serpent Riders. After two of them were defeated, the oldest and most powerful of the three, Eidolon, is the only one that stands between slavery and liberation. A lone hero must first defeat his generals, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and finally bring the fight to Eidolon himself.

Hexen II is the third game in the Heretic and Hexen series. Like its predecessors, it is a medieval fantasy-themed first-person shooter. Similarly to Hexen, the player can choose between different character classes - Paladin, Crusader, Assassin, and Necromancer (four as opposed to three in Hexen). These characters have different parameters and abilities, compelling the player to use different fighting styles when controlling them. The Paladin has high vitality and focuses on melee weapons; the Crusader is a defensive character who eventually acquires healing abilities; the Assassin gains access to a critical strike skill when sneaking on enemies; and the Necromancer is physically vulnerable but is eventually able to restore his powers from fallen enemies. Each character has access to four unique weapons during the course of the game.

The player character travels to four stylistically distinct areas (medieval European, Mesoamerican, ancient Egyptian, and Greco-Roman). Each area is composed out of interconnected stages. Switch-manipulating and item-procuring puzzles must be usually solved in order to advance. It is often required to travel between stages several times in order to complete these tasks. Enemies do not respawn when the player re-enters an area.

A new feature in the game compared to its predecessors are its role-playing elements. Each character has attributes which increase when the character gains experience by defeating monsters. Characters' hit points and mana are extended gradually and permanently when leveling up. They also gain new abilities at specific levels. Weapons can be powered up by acquiring Tomes of Power, unlocking alternate (usually more damaging) firing patterns for them. Since the ranged weapons in the game are magical, they deplete the player character's blue or green mana bars when used. Like health, these can be restored by finding appropriate recovery items.

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56 People (55 developers, 1 thanks) · View all

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Critics

Average score: 79% (based on 25 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 71 ratings with 3 reviews)

A daunting, but well-crafted and rewarding sequel to a great original

The Good
Hexen 2 is not quite the game it was once intended to be. The final chapter in the Serpent Rider arc of Raven's games, originally to be entitled Hecatomb, was supposed to continue the tradition of the original Hexen by way of totally changing up the structure, story and gameplay from the title that came before. But following John Romero's departure from id and Raven's dealings with Activision, what we got instead was Hexen 2, a traditional sequel in most senses. The graphics are better, the scope is bigger and everything is just more of the same but all a bit different.

That's not to say that's a bad thing at all. Hexen is one of my favourite games of all time, but Hexen 2 took me many years to get into. I will explain the reasons why in the next section but let me offer this one sagely piece of advice that will increase your enjoyment of this game by a factor of ten: keep a notebook. When you do this, the game's most notorious criticism becomes one of its greatest joys.

Like its predecessor, Hexen 2 features many stages where what you do in one level affects something in another. Unlike the original, however, there often aren't just central hubs with other small sub-levels branching off. Instead, the maps intersect and interconnect a lot more, and the idea of a 'hub' is less apparent.

In my last run of the game, I kept a sketch pad with one page per chapter. On that page, I'd list the names of each map I'd enter, connecting each with arrows so I knew how to return to them, and under each map I'd write down as dot points, all of the cryptic messages, keys and switches I'd run into. As I played, I'd find myself joining and crossing off each key to its lock, puzzle piece to its puzzle, until I ended up with a dense mind map showing me not just where I'd been and what I had to do, but also illustrating just how densely interconnected a journey the game takes you on.

Hexen had mostly simple visual clues for its puzzles and oftentimes hitting a switch would tell you nothing about what it was affecting or where. Hexen 2 has richer notes and lore that clue you in on what you're supposed to be doing via books, scrolls and in-game messagesā€¦ but only as long as you're keeping track. While I did get stuck looking for some things, I was never totally lost as to what I was supposed to be doing as long as I took notes.

The levels are gorgeous to explore, powered by the beauty of a slightly-modified Quake engine that's been pushed to its limits with an expanded colour palette, improved particle effects and translucent surfaces. The medieval, Amazonian, Egyptian and Roman themes seen throughout the game are truly a sight to behold sometimes, running far away from the greys and browns of Quake (though I loved them in their own way as well). While the levels can get samey, provided you don't get stuck, you'll find yourself whisked off to a brand new continent full of unique textures, architecture and enemies just as you were starting to tire of the last one.

The game also makes big note of your ability to pillage and destroy most of this beautiful scenery until you're left with naught but barren rooms and empty courtyards. Does it affect gameplay? Apart from occasionally having to bust through a wall or revealing a secret passage here and there, not really, but hey, if you're feeling bored, you can always go ahead and smash a nearby gravestone to pieces for kicks.

Combat, forming the bulk of your time spent in the game, is fun, if a little wonky sometimes. It's nowhere near as polished as Quake's core gameplay loop, or even the original Hexen's, but the fundamentals are strong enough to keep you on your toes between the different weapons available depending on the class you chose, to the usable inventory items that can have different effects in different hands.

The Bad
The class system of the original has been expanded with very light RPG elements that don't really extend beyond giving a bit of a boost to your max hit and mana points every time you kill enough dudes to gain a level. Hexen 2 might have pretensions of being a role playing game with its stat and ability charts, but at heart, it doesn't spread far from its FPS roots.

And for an FPS built off the back of Quake, a game legendary for its rock-solid and satisfying core FPS mechanics, Hexen 2's shooting and movement feels a bitā€¦ weird. It's like Quake, but not quite right. Play as the Paladin, the fastest-moving class, and try strafing up against the wall and watch how you're somehow able to fling yourself at 80km/h down the hallway! The kinaesthetic joy of exploding a grunt with a rocket can still be found here, but it's diluted. The gibs aren't so chunky, the spilling blood is not quite the right shade of red. Everything is just not quite as satisfying. Oh, and I hope you like spiders, because this game is infested with them, forming the bulk of your enemy encounters in the game. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head. Arachnophobes should steer clear.

And of course, while I did preface this that you can totally mitigate this problem by keeping your own notes, the game is dense, and it does not keep track of your location or objectives for you. If you miss a clue, or forget a passage of text, or just walk past a door somewhere, get ready to spend your evening wandering aimlessly from map to map over the corpses of enemies you slayed hours ago, with no idea where on earth you are or what you are supposed to be doing.

Even for 1997, we were used to games holding our hands to a certain extent, even though they took pains to obfuscate this fact from us. Ever notice how when you'd stumble on that power cell in Quake 2, you'd round the corner and find yourself standing in front of just the device that needed that cell installed in order to progress? Well, get ready for that not to happen here, because Hexen 2 has expectations of you. If you've been pacing up every hall of the cathedral for 3 hours because you forgot that you stumbled on the book three maps ago that clued you in that you needed to create a spell of wall blasting at the apothecary you were at six maps ago with the frog's eye that you found at the stables and maiden's nosehair you got from the golem you defeated last week, well that's just your problem isn't it. The expansion pack, Portal of Praevus, does introduce an objectives screen, but even that is very rudimentary and doesn't carry over to the base game.

The sheer density of the game's puzzles and the far reaching, interconnected nature of the levels, is what ultimately led to me not finishing the game despite several attempts over the years to do so -- that is at least, until I learned to keep track and pay close attention to what the game was telling me, and I was finally able to have fun and see myself through to the game's (disappointing) final battle.

The Bottom Line
Perhaps the greatest disservice by this game is not inherent in its design, but that it simply does not communicate its needs from the player. Had the game either included a fully fleshed-out objective tracker, or even just made it very clear: "Hey, make sure you remember this, you will need it later" - so much of the criticism levelled at the game for being confusing and esoteric to navigate would be dashed.

Hexen 2 is a daunting mess of puzzles, combat and exploration at first; but once you and the game are on the same page, what you will find is an intensely fun, rewarding and visually delightful evolution of Heretic and Hexen's dark fantasy worlds, and one of Raven Software's finest titles.

Windows · by Ian McLean (21) · 2018

Hexen II is unique and fun, but also very frustrating.

The Good
Hexen II is very unique, even by today's standards its "hub" system and mixture of RPG, traditional fragging, and adventure elements add up to an intriguing style of gameplay. In a way, many things we take for granted came from this game despite its relatively low profile in the industry. While the graphics don't measure up today, back in 1997 Hexen II blew everything out of the water visually. Using a spruced up Quake engine, it managed to look great and to be fair, the visual style still stands out. The audio is well done too, the ambient music and sound effects help add to the immersion and everything is recognizable, and the sound of a blade ripping into flesh or a hammer cracking skulls still sounds satisfying and helps lend a brutal feeling to the combat.

Speaking of Combat, Hexen II's combat is very fun. It may be simple, but it's very well done. Each weapon is unique and you will want to play around with the different classes just to see what different weapons and abilities they have. Each class is unique and gain unique attributes along with their unique weapons and powers, and the way they use various items is different making the game different each time you decide to pick a new class. Each monster also requires different approaches, some spells effect certain monsters, others don't. Some weapons work better than others, and some monsters even effect the playing field.

The boss fights are great, the battles against the four horsemen play out just how you think they would; Famine drains your life and mana, Death lays instant-kill traps and spells, you get the idea. The final boss fight against Eidelon is worth mentioning as well. These fights are even more fun with friends, and while co-op games are hard to set up in the modern age, they are definitely worth it because the co-op is much more unique than say in "Doom," because each player takes on the role of the different classes.

The Bad
As fun as Hexen II can be, it's marred by massive flaws. Most of them all add up to confusion and frustration. After killing your enemies you'll notice something strange: You have no idea where in the name of god you are supposed to go, what you are supposed to do, and where you are to begin with. The hub world is messy, the only indicators of where you are being signs to other levels. You may eventually learn to recognize each level, but it can become tedious running across levels trying to find out what you are supposed to do. Cryptic clues can help, but the clues often lead to more confusion, and it doesn't help that when you finally achieve something, there's no indication of what you have achieved or what it will change until you brush against an object or destroy an object and something happens. An objectives screen would've been nice; coincidentally enough they added this into the expansion pack.

Because of the aforementioned confusion, Hexen II can be very frustrating as well. Sometimes you will have broken your back figuring out one puzzle, going to an obstacle you have yet to figure out, and finding out that what you broke your back doing earlier had no effect here, which often results in swearing and the game being shut off to blow some steam.

Another thing that can set in is boredom, while the game is immersive enough to keep things going, when the aforementioned confusion/frustration combo is in effect and you are lost in the game, if you are lost too long it's easy to get tired of the game. It doesn't help that you will have often killed most of the monsters by now, meaning that when you have to return to another level they will be devoid of nasties. This is one of the rare instances where respawning enemies would have been welcome, to at least keep the combat flowing so the monotony doesn't set in so quickly.

The Bottom Line
Hexen II is a strange brew .. it uses the lifeblood of a shooter, throws in a few adventure and 3D platformer games, and then peppers it all with light elements taken from RPG games. Even today it is hard to classify. Hexen II is by no means a classic, but if you are patient and willing to put up with the confusing design, it can be very fun as long as the flow keeps going.

Windows · by Kaddy B. (777) · 2009

Hexen 2 adds up to Hexen 1 with better graphics and more variety.

The Good
Hexen 2 carries the torch from Hexen 1 by allowing the player to choose from different classes. Unlike the original, that had three, Hexen 2 has four (five with the expansion pack, or the New Hexen source port). The four classes, Paladin, Crusader, Assassin, and Necromancer, all play different enough to add some replay value. Chances are, however, that you won't be going through the game all four times. For starters, the actual beating down of monsters is fun. The core gameplay of Hexen 2 is great - run, shoot, kill. The flavor of the game is impossible to describe here - you'll have to try it for yourself. The puzzles in Hexen 2 are much more cohesive than the puzzles in Hexen 1. The game does supply hints in the form of readable tablets found at the walls of the beginning of a level. Hexen 2 does a much better job of giving you new and interesting things to kill than it's predecessor. Each new Hub presents you with new types of enemies, totally different level design, and a new weapon for the first three. Unlike the original, the hubs don't tend to have a center level from which all smaller levels are connected. You'll spend a lot of time running about in Hexen 2, but you'll almost never find yourself going back to the same area to get to the next level, much unlike Hexen 1. Hexen 2 ends each of its hubs with a boss fight. The bosses themselves all look very much alike, with the main differences between them being the weapons they use and the arena you fight them in. The boss fights do seem a little bit rehashed, but rest assured they're all fun as can be, especially the final boss of the game, which gets my credit for one of the coolest bosses ever. Setting up multiplayer games in Hexen 2 was very easy. Playing through the game with a friend will double your enjoyment of the game, especially with voice communication involved. Tomes of Power make a return in Hexen 2, giving your weapons a massive boost of power and a totally new effect.

The Bad
Hexen 2 has some very, very annoying puzzles. Even moreso than in Hexen 1, you can and will get stuck frequently in Hexen 2, looking for the next switch. What's especially boring about these portions is that monsters don't respawn. You could be wandering about with nothing to kill and nothing to do for a very long time. This is the critical downfall of Hexen 2. Unless you like reading guides, or you have a friend to play it with you, you'll spend a lot of time feeling awfully lonely in the game.

The Bottom Line
Hexen 2 is an improvement from the original Hexen, but at it's heart, it's still the original game. If you liked Hexen, you'll love Hexen 2. If you didn't like Hexen, you'll hate Hexen 2. It's as simple as that. This game is best enjoyed with the New Hexen source port.

Windows · by WJAndrews (32) · 2004

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by DarkTalon.

Macintosh added by Terok Nor.

Additional contributors: Xantheous, Apogee IV, Dae.

Game added January 31st, 2000. Last modified September 14th, 2023.