|Developer:||Raven|||||Release Date:||1997|||||Systems:||Windows, Mac|
This week on Super Adventures I've finally gotten around to replaying some of Hexen's slightly more three dimensional successor, Hexen II! It's been ages since I've played this one so I should be coming into it reasonably clueless. Plus it's a Hexen game so I likely didn't get anywhere in it the first time around anyway.
Hexen II is the last of the 'Serpent Riders' trilogy, following on from Heretic and Hexen, so there's apparently a story here to resolve and this game finishes it off. But just to make things confusing, Heretic actually branches off to another sequel, Heretic II, which tells the tale of the original game's protagonist returning home and fighting a plague. Plus there's the expansion packs like Deathkings of the Dark Citadel and Portal of Praevus which slot in somewhere.
But this is definitely absolutely the final Hexen... until Raven Software gets bored of making multiplayer modes for Call of Duty games and decides it's time for Hex3n: Beyond Heretic II.
I'm surprised there isn't a demo playing in the background, seeing as it was the fashion at the time. Heretic did it, Hexen did it, Quake definitely did it. This is the first game by an outside developer to make use of id's Quake engine by the way, so that's about the level of sophistication I'm expecting from it.
I gotta say though, I wasn't expecting a cutting edge 3D game from 1997 to be designed for 320x200 resolution monitors like this. It's got no problem switching to higher resolutions, but then it's even harder to read the text!
Hang on, does that say 'MUSIC TYPE: CD'? Well that's something I'll likely be missing out on with this Steam release. No problem, I'll just flip it to 'MIDI'.
I think I'll go with the Assassin, because she's the only one I can guarantee will be carrying a ranged weapon. Medieval Boba Fett over there likely has better armour, but I find that the best defence is to be way over on the other side of the room to the thing trying to hit me.
Huh, it turns out that every character has their own set of difficulty level names as well. That's a nice touch. I'll be playing on 'Cutthroat' because it sounds about average.
Also it turns out that when it said 'USE MOUSE: ON' in the options earlier, it didn't mean proper mouse aiming, but typing "+MLOOK" into the console has sorted that out. Fixing the resolution's going to be a little more awkward though (it has to be done from the command line), so while I do that, here's some classic Heretic series HUDs for you to admire:
1997 was really the last stand for the elaborate FPS HUD bar, with games like Quake II, GoldenEye Turok: Dinosaur Hunter finding less intrusive places to stick their ammo counters. The next year Heretic II joined them in dropping it entirely. And the chain of health was ended.
Speaking of console games and comparisons, the first Hexen eventually made it to PlayStation, Saturn and N64, but this one not so much. In fact it remained PC bound for almost five years until the Mac version was released, so I'll have no comparison screenshots for you this time.
Oh I see, it randomly generates a new max health for my character when I start a new game. It must think that it's an RPG!
Right, I've started off in a tiny enclosed graveyard, with only a bouncing purple flask to keep me company. There’s a path behind me leading into a dark hallway, but I'm going to grab the flask and see what’s going on up those ramps first.
They're only puny rubbish things though really, and I can finish them off with two swipes. The most irritating thing about them is how short they are.
And the brick slides in, opening up a secret passage! I'm way too smart for this game.
Though now I have to figure out what opened up. I heard something moving somewhere in this room, stone grinding against stone. But there's something else behind me, sounded almost like...
Wow I really should've seen that coming. Can't believe I was dumb enough to fall for the old 'spider jumping out of a secret passage' trick. This looks at first glance to be a little alcove for spiders to hide in, but there's no floor, I can jump down there. Getting back up might be hard again, but I trust the level designers not to screw me over here (plus I have quicksaves), so I'm going in.
I ran up and stabbed him a half-dozen times and that sorted him out, giving me the chance to grab his floating blue health vials and activate the Triforce button with my face, as is the tradition in Quake engine games.
“You hear a door across the room open,” the game informs me, which is a big help. It must be a door on the other side of those metal pillars though as I can't see any exits in here. I'm guessing that light on the left is a magical teleporter because otherwise I'm totally stuck in this room.
I can't help staring at that sky though. There's two separate layers of clouds blowing past each other and it looks so weird and unnatural. The effect worked in Quake because Quake's sky was purple, but here it's adding negative realism to the level. Plus it doesn't help that the cliffs and castle walls are all exactly the same height, giving away the fact that the sky is actually a flat ceiling.
Anyway I think the knights out here have noticed me so I'm going to run out, grab the crossbow, and go be a big damn hero.
Anyway, I've pacified this room, so now I have to decide which way to go. The path on the right leads to a door with 'The Mill' written next to it, which will probably take me to a different level, so I'll go investigate the other path first.
Though hang on, there's another Triforce switch down here. Seems I've stumbled across another secret.
Oh hey, the librarian's an evil mage and now he's teleporting around the room and shooting things at me! Probably skulls, knowing what evil mages are like.
I think I must have backed up into a teleporter as I was making a strategic retreat, but it's the opposite of a lucky escape as there's another skull launching warlock in here, and this one's backed up by spiders and knights! Basically I am the worst at running away.
Hang on, this secret room leads to the secret door I opened with the Triforce button in the secret dungeon at the start! I've apparently found the 'Tomb of Loric' down here, so... that's nice. I eventually managed to kill everyone and flick all switches, and got a floating grail for my trouble, so I guess I'm done down here now? I'll go find my way back to the lava pit library then and kill warlock #1 as well.
Fun fact: when you kill a warlock they explode into spiders!
YOU NEED THE BONE DUST OF LORIC TO COMPLETE THE SPELL AND CREATE THE POTION OF MITHRIL TRANSMUTATION.The bone dust of Loric huh... hey I collected that from his tomb! Wait, no I have the bones of Loric. So I need to grind these bones to dust somehow.
Hang on, I remember passing a door earlier leading to 'The Mill'. There's another exit to this lava pit room leading to a place called 'Barbican', but I'm going to backtrack a bit to see what I can do with these bones.
Nice trees by the way, for 1997. Games like Blood and Shadow Warrior were still using sprites at this point, but these wonky trees are fully polygonal.
Chasm: The Rift last month. I guess Goldeneye was ahead of its time with its huge open snowy Severnaya levels.
Castlevania level, except with more spiders.
I suppose I should be grateful they're not poisonous. I just wish my crossbow ammo lasted long enough to kill them from a distance. Most of the time I've been stuck knifing enemies up close, which is a bit of a shame because either the melee combat is terrible or I'm just terrible at it. There's no blocking, so I either run around enemies getting quick stabs in when I can, or just stand next to them hacking away.
I eventually managed to open up an exit by backing away into a lever again and accidentally ringing a bell, and the passage took me right back at the start of The Mill. I still haven't found that mill key though so I'll do one more lap of the place and if that doesn't work out I'll head back out to the previous zone (which I've learned is called Blackmarsh). There's still that 'Barbican' door next to the lava pit I haven't tried yet.
You know, this would be so much easier to explain if I had an in-game map I could pull up.
With no other way to get through I decided to climb onto the catapult to follow the sheep over and... nothing happened. Maybe I have to hit a lever or something? Or...
Fortunately I didn't need to aim for a mattress on the other side. My Assassin isn't quite Mario, but she handles long falls pretty well.
With no other options I dived into the moat and found it led to... another branching tunnel. Fortunately I was able to find a place for my Assassin to surface again before she drowned and discovered she was on the wrong side of a medieval toilet seat. They've tricked me into swimming through a sewer level!
Oh, and guess what? I need the castle key now. I only came here in the first place to get a mill key! In a lot of first person shooters, combat is the main challenge, but in this it's figuring out where to go next. A bit like a 3D Super Metroid now that I think about it, if it was really stingy with the ammo... and didn't have a map.
Honestly, given a choice between good combat and exploring mazelike levels, I'd rather take the good combat. Don't get me wrong, I love Doom and Quake, but what the Hexen games do with its level design isn't really my kind of thing.
This bit must be fun for players who've picked a melee focused class, as they'd have to put up with a knight up on the walkway firing down on them the whole time with no way to fire back. Then again those Warriors have had it easy so far, with their big-ass swords that can smite everything in just a few hits without needing ammo, so fuck 'em!
A WHILE LATER.
I've been running laps of this bloody castle for ages, figuring that I must have missed something really obvious. Turns out it wasn't all that obvious after all.
I kept shooting at the tower opposite until it blew up revealing there's a teleporter inside! Then I jumped into it and teleported right over to the mill key! Also something called a chaos device, which I'll leave in my pocket for now. My inventory's filling up with mysterious power ups like but I'm getting on just fine with my trusty crossbow (and the occasional health flask), so I've had no need to experiment with them.
Right, what am I doing now? Oh yeah, I'm unlocking a mill.
So I ran through Blackmarsh to The Mill to unlock the mill so that I could use Loric's bones to make bone dust. Then I ran from The Mill back to Blackmarsh to turn the dust into the potion of mithril transmutation, and now I guess I have to find somewhere to use it.
Now I have to remember where that locked door in the castle was. First though I'm just going to slam my head into my desk a few times.
LATER, IN KING’S COURT.
I'd turn it off right here, but this place looks nice so I'm going to go look around first.
Enemies usually flinch a bit in this when they're hurt, which is a step up from Hexen, but this thing's an unstoppable Terminator and I don't like it. Fortunately he's also a slow Terminator that stomps around so I should be fine if I don't get cornered.
I've pretty much lost my will to keep playing though, as I'm back to the 'explore everywhere, run into dead ends' phase of gameplay, where nothing I do seems to get me anywhere. So I think this is as good a place as any to end this.
I think after a few hours I'm liking Hexen II more than its predecessor, but only because I prefer mild boredom to frustration. Plus the Quake engine's a lot more suited to the visual style; it was basically made to render dirty browns and greys, so it's come out a lot less murky and grainy looking. Though another consequence of the engine switch is that the levels have been less imaginative and dynamic so far, with the floor usually behaving itself instead of collapsing into lava or pulling some other trick. Catapulting a sheep is as wild as it's gotten so far.
The trouble with the game is that it's inherited its predecessor's passion for making players run laps of the levels trying to find the switch or secret passage they missed the first few times around. I suppose having connected hubs makes sense when the engine it's using requires the levels to be a fraction of the size of a typical Doom map, but the thing about Doom... is that it has a map. In games like Fallout 3, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Hexen I could tell at a glance where I hadn't been yet and what corridors I'd overlooked, while this expected me to double check every room and keep the layout of multiple connected levels in my head. Unless I was supposed to break out the graph paper.
It's great when games are more than just a set of corridors leading straight to an exit, but I find that action games like this work better when you're rewarded for finding the secret doors instead of brought to a complete stop when you don't. I mean this isn't exactly a La-Mulana style test of the mind here, it's just being awkward!
Plus developers in the 90s struggled to make first person melee combat fun and this really isn't an exception. It's building on Quake's strong foundations so dodging around and shooting stuff feels great... it's just that they've taken all the guns and thrown them out! I've found just 2 weapons in all the time I've played it so far, including the one I started with. There's actually 16 in the game, but like in Hexen they're divided between all the characters, so you only ever carry 4 of them. That doesn't lead to a lot of interesting tactical decisions, especially when it's stingy with the ammo.
If you're a fan of Hexen and somehow haven't played this yet I don't imagine you'll be disappointed, as it's very much following in its footsteps, but personally I'd still rather play the relatively straightforward Heretic.