Review: Hexen II [1997]; Paladins, Assassins and spiders – oh my!

Cᴏɴᴛᴇɴᴛ Iɴᴅᴇx —

an exploratory (and nostalgia-heavy) piece by the Raven.

Hexen II

SPOILER LEVELS at MODERATE

We’ve got to go down memory lane for this one. So before we begin, let me take you back to the year 2000, when I was just about 10 years young. My cousin brothers from abroad were staying over for the summer, and brought down a bunch of cool video games with them. It was just another Saturday afternoon and I clearly remember firing up Hexen II on my creaky Compaq desktop PC for the very first time. This was my first proper introduction to a first person video game, and my oh my… I was instantly hooked. Scared and simultaneously drawn in; exploring this environment was just hauntingly exciting. It was a brave new world. And strangely — I’m still drawn to it. To this very day. Over two whole decades later.

In contrast, the other games I was playing at the time were more age-appropriate titles such as Rollercoaster Tycoon and DK Multimedia’s My First Amazing World Explorer (just a tad bit more vanilla, don’t you think?) but I wasn’t put off by the hard-core nature of Hexen II — I was quite mesmerised. Sucked in. Instantly. The game’s aesthetic, design, plot and character structure was so well done that even as a child I just knew there was something elevated about it. It felt so real, so dense compared to anything else. It was rather enveloping and actually quite (dare I say) scary

Let’s dive right in; Hexen II is a really beautiful, dark, gothic game set in a semi-decaying, explorative world. It is the third and final game in the Heretic series by id and (wait for it) Raven Software. The game is built by the same masterminds behind Wolfenstein (which is considered to be the grand daddy of FPS’), as well as the infamous Doom and Quake series.

When you start, you can choose to play as the Paladin, the Assassin, the Crusader or the Necromancer, and must make your way through four hubs: Blackmarsh, Mazaera, Thysis, Septimus and then back to Blackmarsh for the final confrontation. The character you choose to play with determines your weapons, defence system and how you navigate through the world. Based on your chosen character class, you’ll be appointed with either high speed, extra fire power or higher jumps. These work differently as you level up through the worlds, which range from Medieval, Egyptian, Mesoamerican and Roman styles.

The main plot is this – your job is to beat the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (death, pestilence, famine and war) and their leader Eidolon — who is the antagonist of the game, and also the most powerful and oldest of the “Serpent Riders” (he has two siblings who were overthrown in the earlier games, Heretic and Hexen).

The horror factor of:

  • mutant spiders spurting copious amounts of blood
  • ravens constantly watching and sqauwking at you
  • a ghastly swirling sky of grey and red
  • heavily armoured Dungeons and Dragons-esque characters running out at you from every corner 
  • being stuck in the middle of a desolate ruined castle surrounded by a never-ending forest 
  • a host of unpredictable mystical magical beings casting spells at you

— wasn’t exactly something you’d expect a geeky little girl to enjoy. But oh, I did. Very, very much indeed.

However, the beauty of the game doesn’t lie in the plot, it lies in the gameplay. The game design allows total immersion into a lush symbolic world full of texture heavy-environments. The stitching of floor mosaics and a swirly smoky sky make for something so engulfing that it changed the way I thought about video games in general. It felt complete. I can almost imagine this game in a VR setting (I do hope they come out with something like this in the future) because Hexen II‘s just so perfect for it.

There are many levels in the games, all packed with symbols, hieroglyphics and sequential puzzle modes, which basically positions this title as a game changer for its time.

(Click here for a full list of all 37 levels)

Hexen II almost creates its own strange new genre which combines strategy, action and explorative narration all in one. It allowed a player to be in control, yet have a structured, limited world through which they could combine fantasy and action; while still exercising a good amount of free will. The sequential nature of the game sometimes forces you to redo certain puzzles, making sure to activate switches in the appropriate order. While some find this annoying, I think it’s rather specific and alluring in this case.

Hexen II is quite like a book in how imagination heavy it is, and there are loads of items, artefacts and weapons to choose from. They all have quite evocative names and art to boot, which makes this a memorable experience whether you played it then or now. Speaking of playing it now, the game was released on Steam on August 3, 2007 (its original Windows release was August 31, 1997 and January 1, 2002 for Macintosh).

The game also comes armed with lots of detailed literature (in the Chronicles of the Deeds). Just like Doom and Heretic, there are loads of secrets in walls, floors, buttons, windows and wooden barrels. The music is just incredible, and there are patches available by Activision so you can upgrade your version of the game. There are cheats too. For instance, you can walk through walls, which is pretty cool, but you can also turn into a sheep and kill demons. Yes. A sheep. You even get a congratulatory “sheep kill bonus” message for any kills in this mode. There is also a 5th character class, the Demoness, who is only available in a mission pack — Portal of Praveus. The max health and mana is also different, and experience increases, but is slower for certain character classes as opposed to others. Assassin and Demoness are the two female character classes, and the rest are male.

It helps to always kill as many monsters in as possible, in order to level up your characters experience points and capabilities — the values are intelligence, wisdom, dexterity and strength. When you are being shot at, it helps to always do SOMETHING, and to be on guard for surprise attacks too. Needless to say, this game is not for the faint hearted. Especially if you aren’t particularly fond of red spiders.

So as a young user, it was very all rounded and felt like I was entering an entire universe. Read the Chronicle of the Deeds. It is well written and contains lots of information. Hexen II is very experiential and an oldie but definitely a goldie. The environment is highly interactive and rich, which makes it relevant and fun to play even to this day. A good storyline lives forever, and that’s something the team behind this game got just right. Give it a go and enjoy this oldie whenever you have the time. Needless to say, I know I’m hexed for good. 

— till next time.


Final Ratings

THE RAVEN: 9/10


Here’s the official poster:

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