What the Hex Is Wrong With You?
Back in the day, Raven Software did one thing, and they did it well: they licensed id Software’s existing game engine technology, improved upon it, and made some excellent dark fantasy-themed first-person shooters. The first of these was Heretic, which featured one of three villainous Serpent Riders and his army of demons for the player to mow his way through. The game was notable for using inventory items in an FPS and allowing the player to heal, use alternate weapon powers and fly around the landscape, but Hexen was where Raven really started rocking the boat.
Hexen did a lot of things very differently from the typical shooter: it included three character classes to choose from: a speedy and strong fighter, a weak-bodied but offensively powerful mage, and a middle-of-the-road cleric. In addition to the inventory style carried over from Heretic, Hexen featured some items that worked differently based on the class. The fighter might pitch an explosive potion, while the cleric would use the same potion as a gas bomb, and the mage would leave a timed bomb. The characters could pick up armor to improve their defense and had to manage two separate kinds of magic power (usefully color-coded as red and blue). Also, the levels were hub-based, offering several smaller (but no less labyrinthine) levels branching off from a central area. To sum the game up, it took the dedicated first-person shooter into action-RPG territory.
And it did in fact get a sequel, with all the great full-3D and fast pace the original Quake engine had to offer, even expanding in places to allow for four distinct character classes, adding a sneaky assassin to the fighter/cleric/mage lineup. It also managed to expand the worlds featured in the game from medieval castles to Egyptian and Greco-Roman-styled ruins. It also added a full leveling system – although the number crunching was mostly off-screen, so the game maintained its actiony-ness – so the more enemies you diced up early on, the better prepared you’d be for the Serpent Rider facing you in the endgame.
So where did this promising series go? Did it die with the third Serpent Rider? Are we to expect a game’s storyline to end when all its plot arcs have successfully wrapped up? Sadly, Heretic and the two Hexens (there was another Heretic game which featured the same hero from the first but in an unrelated story) are probably all we’re going to see of the series. id and Raven have gone their separate ways, id under the wing of Bethesda, and Raven has been working for Activision. And of course, at Activision, creativity isn’t so much discouraged as shipped off to a Siberian gulag and never heard from again. Are the Serpent Riders really gone for good?
Well, for the forseeable future, the answer is “probably”. Considering the two teams have gone their seperate ways, and with the once proud designers at Raven now toiling away making Call of Duty multiplayer maps, it’s unlikely we’re going to see the once-happy couple of Raven and id together again anytime soon.