Hexen is the 1995 MS-DOS-based sequel to Heretic and is another fantasy-themed first-person shooter utilising the Doom engine. Or at least: a modified version of the Doom engine. It was again developed by Raven Software and published by id Software, and John Romero once again acted as producer of the game.
One major new addition to the game is that you can play as any one of three playable characters, each giving a different gameplay experience. Starting a new game you can choose between a fighter, a cleric or a mage. The fighter relies on melee weapons and brute strength; the mage uses magic and magical weapons, and the cleric is a hybrid of the the two. The levels stay the same, but the weapons you get are different and their initial locations differ depending on who you’re playing. Oh, and you can jump in Hexen – which you couldn’t do in Heretic – which is a welcome addition to the gameplay. Not being able to jump (and only ‘fly’) in the previous game was a source of some frustration.
Most levels are built around portal-based hubs and require a fair bit of backtracking to complete. In fact: this is a well-known feature of Hexen and commentators still go on about it now, but personally I find this kind of exploration relatively tiring. It was innovative at the time and at least tried to do something different. Playing the game now, though, I kept wanting to give up, but forced myself to continue on, if only because I needed more screenshots for this article. The first level (Seven Portals) I thought was a bit too difficult. Monsters seem to respawn all the time, and finding the right switch to open the right door, or raise a set of stairs somewhere, is a convoluted ballache. Maybe the developers thought they would be sorting the wheat from the chaff? Less dedicated players will probably give up before they complete it… On the bright side: Hexen is definitely a challenging game for those who want it.
The graphics in Hexen are just as muddy (if not muddier) as those in Heretic. Even tweaking the gamma settings (by pressing F11 in-game) does little to alleviate the lack of contrast. To be fair to the game: the monster sprites are pretty good, and the overall design of the levels is solid and professional. The sound is this time streamed from CD-based red book audio so is a step up from the previous game.
Overall, Hexen is a decent old-school fantasy shooter. Personally, I don’t rate it (or its predecessor) particularly highly, but obviously plenty of people disagree with that because Heretic and Hexen sold well and shipped a combined total of roughly one million units by August 1997. They’re still available to buy now via GOG and Steam.