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SummaryTrue to its name in many ways... frustrating, somewhat fun.
The GoodI've always thought that although id can make darn good engines, they can't seem to get the gameplay right themselves. For example, while I (still) dislike playing Doom, I (still) somewhat enjoy playing Heretic. Heretic, the game's prequel, was essentially the same game as Doom-- but with a medieval fantasy theme, more interesting weapons, more cleverly designed levels, and more atmospheric artwork.
HeXen is based off of the Doom II engine, essentially a very high-quality total conversion. But it's amazing seeing what this game can do and comparing it to either of the Doom games. The levels in this game are so well designed, you'll forget that they aren't truly 3d. Bridges that cross over dark chasms grumble and shake as you walk across them. Traps spring out from all sides. Ice falls away from underneath you as you walk on it. Leaves flutter off of trees. Glass flies in all directions when windows are shattered. Bells ring when you hit them. A plethora of atmospheric sounds play, unique to the varying locations of the game. Creatures freeze and then shatter when hit if they are bombarded with enough Ice Shards. The game's atmosphere is actually on par with the some much more recent titles, and that was truly hard to do at the time.
The game offers 3 classes to play instead of Heretic's sole player option; the Warrior, the Cleric, and the Mage. Each one has different armor, speed, health and magic, and each one requires a different playing style. The downside is obvious-- each class doesn’t get a full set of weaponry, and has to make do with a considerably smaller arsenal. This is quite okay, however, because the various items you can find throughout the game are all so interesting and powerful it really does seem like you're getting a full set of weaponry with each player. Many items act differently when used by the different classes; for examples, Flechettes can be hurled at enemies by the warrior, but when used by the mage they act as a time bomb.
HeXen is indeed beyond Heretic in all these aspects.
The BadThe level design, while atmospheric, is insane.
Apparently the designers decided they needed puzzles in their levels. However, puzzles work best with things like hints or clues, or at least some kind of pointer to tell you what you need to do. But instead, you're thrown into absolute insanity-- single ‘hub’ level branches off to 7 others, each with hordes of doors, keys, and switches, and its crazymaking trying to decide what you even need to do next. Unless you either have extreme patience or are very good with these types of puzzles, it's unlikely you'll even be able to struggle to the end of the game. Even walkthroughs couldn't save my poor Mage.
HeXen is also beyond Heretic in level design-- it goes from interesting to insane. Myst is easier to solve!
The Bottom LineHeXen proved 3 things, in my opinion:
1- The creators of all of the Doom games did not tax the engine(s) to its/their full potential, and if they had it could have been far better. 2- Action and RPG can merge quite well. 3- Poorly integrated puzzles can ruin even a very well made game.
I recommend buying this game if you can deal with the puzzles. Otherwise it's really not even worth the $5 you'd find it for in a bargain bin.
As a side-note to those who still play this game: Playing it with the Doomsday engine adds a whole 'nother level of enjoyability. Highly recommended if you enjoyed HeXen the first time.