Have You Played… HeXen: Beyond Heretic

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Hexen was released at a time when I bought just about any first-person game that I could get my hands on. In the mid-nineties that meant I had a shelf full of games running on id engines, many of which were made by Raven Software. I still have a soft spot for Raven and always forget that they’re still around, in name at least, working on bits and pieces of Call of Duty. It’s probably a step up from Soldier of Fortune. It’s not a step up from Hexen though. I love Hexen.

Is it a good game? Probably not. Not now. I’m not even sure that it was a good game back when it came out in ’95 but I completed it at least three times and not only bought the sequel but bought Heretic II when that came along as well. If somebody wants to make Hexen III using id Tech 6, I’ll buy that because, good lord, glory kills really do suit fantasy hack and slash adventuring.

The Heretic/Hexen series never quite outclassed id’s only releases but they always built on the engines in interesting ways, introducing destructible environments in Hexen II and movable level architecture in the first Hexen. Of the four games in the series, Hexen: Beyond Heretic is my favourite, but that’s as much a symptom of familiarity as it is of quality, I expect. I never did finish the game as a mage (you can choose from warrior, mage and cleric) because I enjoyed punching and clubbing monsters far too much to rely on fizzly little spells. Perhaps I should go back and play as a mage this weekend.

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  1. thak says:

    There was a version of this on N64 that my friends and I played during the Goldeneye era craze for 4 player local deathmatch. I can remember that despite the FPS being about 10 on average, it was a ton of fun. Arena shooter with magic. Seems a bit blase in 2016 but in 1998 it was amazing.

  2. BTAxis says:

    There’s a fan project to remake Hexen: link to hexenmod.net

    Their latest post is titled “We are not dead” though, which is a bit of writing on the wall.

    • RedViv says:

      The last I heard that uttered was from half the team of Nekro. Urgh. What a sorry little tale.

  3. RedViv says:

    Hexen was my Doom and I would very much welcome a similarly glorious take on it as DOOM provided.

  4. Joe Clark says:

    > Is it a good game? Probably not.


    • RedViv says:

      Hexen 0

    • Guvornator says:

      I seem to remember Hexen being very well reviewed.

    • vorador says:

      I liked both very much. While Heretic was pretty much Doom with a coat of fantasy paint, Hexen was it’s own thing. The hub maps, the traps (so many of them!) and the different characters with different weapons.

  5. wallybreen says:

    I knew how different this game was from the other FPSs but I was just a little too young to be any good at it- 10 year old me just couldn’t wrap my head around hubs or different characters to play. I remember the breakable glass windows though, and the dry leaves swirling in the wind. Blew my little *mind*

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      Thulsa Hex says:

      I was around the same age when it came out and had a similar experience. I loved the atmosphere, and could intuit that it was interesting in ways that differed from Doom or Duke 3D, but I never got very far before feeling overwhelmed. I think contemporary me is gonna play it soon, to see how he gets on now that it’s twenty years later. God, we’re all terribly old.

    • Konservenknilch says:

      Same here. It didn’t help that I almost always default to mage characters, which also usually the hardest to play.

      I did play a lot of Heretic II thought, when I had grown up a bit.

      That naming scheme though:
      Heretic II
      I actually had to google to remind myself of the correct order. And Heretic II is the odd one out, not being a Doom game. Not confusing at all…

      • Konservenknilch says:

        Damn, I mean I played a lot of Hexen 2, which should also go in that list.

        Lack of an edit function doesn’t make this any easier…

      • Razumen says:

        Well, actually it was Heretic, Hexen, Hexen 2, then Heretic 2, Heretic 2 was actually the only “direct” sequel of all of them.

        I don’t know what you mean Heretic 2 wasn’t a Doom game, none of them were, though they all used id engines.

  6. FreshHands says:

    Not really…

    Hexen2 however – damn, that was nice. I loved its gloomy world and level design which actually looked like being in a real place.

    Great memories!

    • ChromeBallz says:

      Hexen 2 was boss. The interactivity was actually pretty awesome, considering how old the game is. I never actually got beyond level 2 though :/

  7. Niko says:

    Level design in it was sometimes infuriating, but what I like is the feeling of weapons getting progressively more powerful (Especially cleric’s homing ghost shooting cross thing – using it against hordes of enemies was so satisfying).

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    Captain Narol says:

    I have very fond memories of both Heretic and Hexen, is there some recent games of that kind but in third-person view ? (apart from the more fighter-oriented “Shadow of Mordor” which I enjoy to death !)

    • gabrielonuris says:

      I don’t know, but Enclave comes to mind… you could try that old Lord of The Rings too: War in The North, I think.

  9. Umberto Bongo says:

    Come on, both of the Raven Soldier of Fortunes were awesome!

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      AutonomyLost says:

      I remember being intensely interested in, and impressed with, the amount of gore the SoF games rendered. The fact that the second game had something like 25 individual hit-boxes which, upon shooting, would in-turn trigger violent and sometimes appalling death animations and/or abhorrent videogame-human misery (see: disembowelment courtesy of a shotgun blast to the nether-regions), was so “wow” and “cool” to me. Part of that feeling is still there, I can’t lie, but now it’s mostly just disturbing to think about.

      Regardless, I liked the games way back when, and wanted to at least thank you of reminding me of the fun time I had playing them.

  10. gabrielonuris says:

    Yes, I have. Hexen and Heretic were my first pc games, back in 97 (I think I was 14 yo back at the time). It was 2 of the only games I could run on my old Pentium 200, with 16MB of Ram. Ah… the memories.

  11. Kinsky says:

    Raven was a great studio. Even their last dying gasp, Singularity, had some soul to it despite tellingly reusing Call of Duty assets. Now they make parts of the CoD multiplayer suite… it’s a real shame Activision has subsumed them so utterly. The developer responsible for Jedi Knight II did not deserve such a fate.

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      Singularity deserves a clap. Great little game there from Raven.

  12. Razumen says:

    Definitely, Hexen (followed by Hexen 2) was one of my favorite games. It didn’t quite have the frantic action of Heretic, but it made up for it in atmosphere, exploration and puzzles-the inventory system itself was a priceless addition to the series.

    I’m actually trying to get back into level design, and am recreating the first level in UE4. It’s crazy just how much the design process has changed from then to now, from simple 2D sectors in the Doom engine to games with static meshes that have more polygons than multiple games of the 90’s combined.

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    Thulsa Hex says:

    I miss that old Raven, too. Shout out to SoF II, Jedi Knight II, and even Elite Force. They were genuinely good at applying cool themes to a solid PC FPS. I’m sad that they didn’t survive the PC slump, and the rise of the first true mainstream console generation.

    • int says:

      It is a shame they seem to be relegated to making CoD’s multiplayer; not that they’re doing a bad job, quite the opposite. However, I dream sometimes of a new Take No Prisoners and SoF.

      Singularity was their last full game. Pretty underrated.

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        Thulsa Hex says:

        I didn’t even realise Singularity was their work until today! 2009/2010 represents a fairly odd gap in my industry knowledge as I didn’t have a console or gaming PC at the time (college, socialising, and music took over). I played the likes of Mass Effect 2 and Arkham Asylum a couple of years after the fact, but some of the smaller profile releases past me by entirely. Is it still worth looking at?

        • MrRoivas says:

          Yes. Its only good for one playthrough, but for that one playthrough its goods. Just a bit disappointing. Not because its bad, but because the skeleton of a much more ambitious game peeks through a lot of the design before they inevitably had to cut it away during the design process.

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            Thulsa Hex says:

            Cheers! That does sound worthwhile to me. I’ll keep an eye out for it next time I’m partaking in sales.

  14. Blake Casimir says:

    Excellent game, first person “action dungeon crawling” goodness. Why is no-one making games like this any more? Hexen might be a “Doom-engine” game but it’s a fark sight more immersive than any nu-Tomb Raider, Uncharted, God Of War etc etc

    More first person dungeon crawlers with melee combat please!

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I thought Hellraid by Techland looked promising, but’s been put on hold.

      Hexen/Heretic is one of the games I missed at the time, that I will some day buy at GOG and play through. However, I currently like modern games too much to bother with the wonkyness and annoying design decisions of old school games.

      • Kinsky says:

        Play it in ZDoom or GZDoom, when you add mouselook they play at least as well as any modern FPS.

        • Razumen says:

          Mouse and keyboard makes the game so much easier, especially when I used to play them solely with keyboard when they first came out-circle strafing required a crazy amount of dexterity!

    • PancakeWizard says:

      Was Dark Messiah one of those? Early Source game.

      • Kinsky says:

        Dark Messiah of Might & Magic was a great game, but holy shit the voice acting was a special class of terrible.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          I really liked the voice acting in Dark Messiah, but that’s perhaps because it was so overdramatic and cheesy.

          Hexen 3 would be cool, but a Dark Messiah 2 or something would be even better.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          A fairer take would probably be that its voice acting was variable. It had some fairly competent moments. It had a lot of mediocre bits. It had one or two that were so bad it’s hard to believe they made it into the game. Honestly the thing I find odd about it’s voice-work is Xana. When she’s a human her voice-acting is pretty much the worst in the game, not helped at all by some pretty terrible lines, and yet, on the rare occasions when she’s outright being a succubus, she seems much more convincing. Weird.

  15. thelastpointer says:

    I liked Heretic better. But daaamn, a Hexen III would be so great…

  16. outofdiskspace says:

    Finally! Everybody always talks about Wolfenstein and Rise of the Triad but Hexen is never mentioned. I loved it. And am I the only one that played Blake Stone back in the day? Another great throwback that never gets any love.

    • Kinsky says:

      DIE, HUMAN!

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      Thulsa Hex says:

      One thing I love about RPS is that I’m periodically reminded of a game that I completely forgot existed, but definitely played as a kid. Blake Stone is today’s :)

  17. PancakeWizard says:

    It’s weird how your memory plays tricks, as before now I would’ve sworn up and down that Hexen was proper 3D when it came out.

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    gritz says:

    Hexen’s hub structure always appealed to me as being more like System Shock/Underworld in terms of making an early sandbox style believable world, rather than a series of levels.

    In practice though, I found myself thinking it was kind of a slog to do all of that backtracking and having a better time with Doom/Heretic’s discrete levels that can be played through in a sitting or two without detailed note taking.

  19. Kaeoschassis says:

    Hell yes I have.

    I love a lot of things about the series as a whole, but what stands out for me in Hexen specifically is the magic. Sure, the mage only actually got two spells, but they were kickass spells. Up until Dark Messiah came out, Hexen had the most satisfying, most kinetic first-person spell-slinging in any game. That meant a lot to me.

  20. Spacewalk says:

    Hexen is one of those games where I can close my eyes and retrace nearly every map from memory. The Castle Of Grief and a few bits of the Heresiarch’s Seminary since there’s two parts to it are the only places that I have to look up. I try doing the same with Deathkings but I always end up with a bottle in my hand trying to drink away the nightmares.

  21. Caedus says:

    Read about it a lot in the day, but never got around to play it. Seeing this did remind me of the Witchaven game—which was the first CD-rom game I played I think, and it had a cover I loved—but after checking Hexen on Youtube now, I’m afraid it doesn’t compare. Still, it’s hard to beat nostalgia.

    • kalirion says:

      Well, Hexen used the Doom engine while Witchhaven used the Build (Duke 3d) engine. Of course Witchhaven would be technologically superior and look better on video.

  22. kalirion says:

    Played it, loved it. My favorite pre-Duke 3d FPS.

  23. wu wei says:

    Ziggurat is probably the closest we have to a modern equivalent.

    • April March says:

      Yeah, I bought Ziggurat mostly because I was attracted to a FPS in which you fired magicky things instead of gun things. (I still like Tower of Guns better, though.)

  24. malkav11 says:

    I loved Hexen in particular (which was gorgeous, at the time) and Heretic to a lesser extent. Some of my favorite pure FPSes of all time. They’re probably not as purely excellent in raw terms as Doom, but I liked them better for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, the transition to polygonal 3D wasn’t kind to the franchise and I never got into Heretic II or Hexen II.

  25. Unsheep says:

    First-person Fantasy games have never really worked for me, unless it’s a slow-paced game like Wizardry or King’s Field.

  26. laserbrain says:

    “Greetings mortal are you ready to die?” I never forget this epic greeting in that demonic voice

  27. Arnulf says:

    It is still good to me. Recently with all the Brutal Doom craze I installed GZDoom 2.0. And this works with the Hexen/Heretic Wads, too!

    Fondly remembering the times when I was co-op’ing with a friend. Hexen worked very well in this regard.