Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hex: Shards of Fate

Back in May 2013, a Kickstarter project was launched to build a new digital customizable card game. The project was described there this way:

HEX is a free-to-play game that combines the compelling collectible and strategic game play of a trading card game (TCG) with the amazing community and storytelling aspects of a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) to create an entirely new gaming experience: the MMO/TCG.

People were enthusiastic about this idea - Hex: Shards of Fate was fully funded in less than a week, and ended up with more than $2 million in pledges.

I wasn't one of those backers, largely because the backer rewards weren't geared toward the single-player experience. The traditional TCG aspect of Hex doesn't do much for me - I've been there and done that with Magic and various other games, and settled on the simpler variation that is Hearthstone. So I more or less ignored Hex until they got the single-player aspect worked out.
I did try out Hex at one point during the 2.5 years that the single player experience was in development, out of curiosity. The reason I was curious at that time was that Hex was in the news due to its owners, Cryptozoic, being sued by Wizards of the Coast, who own Magic: The Gathering. The lawsuit basically said that Hex copied Magic, then changed some names and added a few extras - which is copyright infringement. The lawsuit was settled out of court eventually. When I tried out Hex and played a few games, I could see where Wizards was coming from - playing Hex does feel a whole lot like playing Magic. Enough so that I had no interest in playing the game as a traditional TCG. If I want a game where I lose regularly due to drawing not enough/too many resources, there's already plenty out there.

The reason Hex is on my mind again now is that they've finally gotten around to the single-player experience that interested me back when the Kickstarter first launched. You create a character much like any other RPG, choosing a race and class and name. There's a talent tree to customize your character's abilities, and an inventory for items, which you can wear to modify how the cards in your deck work. You start with a basic deck that matches your class, and find new cards as you move around in the world and fight various enemies, with each fight being a card game.

There's not a whole lot in the way of story or world to explore. You basically just move around the map from one pre-set point to another, having encounters which might give you quests, discover new cards, or have monsters to fight. There's a story-line, but it's nothing particularly interesting. Feels like something just thrown together to have a place to hang the encounters. Having said all that, I still find it moderately interesting simply because most TCGs don't bother with having story at all. It's nice to have a game provide some reason to be holding all these card duels.

I haven't found any kind of traders yet where I can buy or sell cards/items. So customizing your deck and items depends entirely on rewards from quests, battles won, and the occasional friendly character. You do accumulate gold, but the only place to spend it is the auction house where other players are selling their extra stuff. Most things are very expensive, as usual with that kind of setup. There's also a platinum currency obtainable for real money, usable to buy packs in the game store, but as far as I can tell you don't get any of that by playing the game.

There are occasional dungeons which consist of several fights in a row, where you have to use the same deck for all of them. That adds an interesting dynamic since you can't swap out specific cards if you run into a particularly nasty enemy that requires a specific type of response. And there are such enemies. Some encounters feel completely unfair and unwinnable with the basic deck, but can be handled with some deck modifications...if you have the cards.

I doubt I'll stick with Hex for very long, at least as the experience currently stands. If they make some modifications to how you can obtain more options for deck customization, and expand the explorable world to feel less linear, I might come back to try again. Nevertheless, I'm glad that someone is trying to figure out how to make this genre work, and I hope they can perfect it.

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