Welcome to the more personal side of Online Role playing. When I first received Hexplore, I played the first level by myself in the single player mode and I had a really good time. I fought monsters and recruited an archer and a warrior to go with my adventurer character. I explored a town and purchased a better axe for my warrior, and I learned a lot about how the interface works. Overall, it was a very helpful experience.
Unfortunately, that is also about the extent of the usefulness of the single player version. The multi player version, which I moved to next, is much more entertaining.
GiN received two review copies, so I handed one off to GiN Editor John Breeden II. John is almost always willing to play computer games, so it’s not very hard to convince him to take a few minutes off from for working on the rest of GiN to try out a new title. We tried a direct connect game, and it went fairly well.
We each took out two of the characters. And went back through the areas I had already explored and then we went on a little bit further. The only problem is that it’s hard to use the different weapons available to each character with few players. In other words the fighters need to rush forward and the mage and archer need to hang back. Controlling two characters at the same time then becomes difficult. Not a big deal at the lower levels of the game, but it becomes a problem later.
Having tried out Hexplore both in single and 2 player modes, the next step was to play over the Internet. Through a site like MSN Gaming Zone (www.zone.com), Hexplore can be played by up to 4 players. And I have to say; Hexplore really shines over the Internet. Get a group of 4 players together working towards a common goal and you will have a really great time. The first time I played I met one of my friends online and we met up with two other players and started to explore. We each picked out a character that we liked and we headed out from the beginning of the game. We had all played the first level so after we got to the town we split up and went through the town really quickly and then met up again at the other side, and headed out for adventure.
When I played that time, we were the epitome of teamwork. We stayed together and used coordinated attacks. But even if you don’t have quite as good a group, the game design does a good job of forcing cooperation. The easiest example of this occurs early on in the game. You arrive at a point in the game where each character must perform an action, before the way to continue the game is opened. Experience is handled in a similar way. While gathering experience appears to be a free-for-all, once you are raised to the next level in hit points and skill, you can’t advance any more until everyone else catches up with you.
Hexplore even take this one step further by making almost all of the equipment unique to one character. If the mage finds a quiver full of arrows, they will do him no good, so he must pass them along to the archer. Or at the very least, he should leave them on the ground. And there are a few items such as potions and bags of gold that may be used by anyone. Combat works somewhat the same way. There are spots where you will not survive without everyone there to help out. Even then, a detailed plan of attack is often necessary to overcome vastly superior numbers of enemies. There are a few more neat features about the game, but the part I continue to find the most challenging are the puzzles. It’s not that they are particularly ingenious, they are certainly not on a par with games like Safecracker by Daydream Software, but without knowing what everyone else has picked up along the way, they can be frustrating. For example, I saw a well and I knew that it was important, but I did not have a clue what to do. One of my friends had already picked up a coin, but never ran across the well. It took us forever to get by that challenge. [You have to throw the coin in the well.] For a single player, it would not have been a challenge, but for us, it was the most time consuming and frustrating of challenges. I also like how they handle saving a game. In the single player version, you save a game like you always do, but in the multiplayer version of the game things work a little bit differently.
When you save a game in the multiplayer version, your are actually saving the equipment that you have picked up so far for that character, but the level you start at is dependent on what starting point you select next time you play. For example, if you have two groups of friends, and you play the same mage with each group, one group can be just starting out but you will have hit points and weapons equal in power with everyone else, even if the other group you play with is at a super high level. You can also start a new character out on the highest level of the game, but I don’t recommend this, because while you have the hit points, you will not have the variety of weapons and equipment to survive for very long.
My biggest complaint with the game is that once you solve it, it’s done. I have a kick butt mage and nowhere to go. I have played through the game, and while I could go back and try out one of the other characters, I already know all of the puzzles, so it wont be as much fun the second time around. My only hope it that Infogrames comes out with some new add-on adventures. But I am not too hopeful in that area. Looking at a couple of the multiplayer gaming zones over the past few weeks, there seem to be very few players in the Hexplore rooms. This is unfortunate, as they are missing out on a good multi-player cooperative experience. This is where Hexplore could really compete with Ultima Online. In Hexplore, the object is to help your fellow players out, while in Ultima you are just as likely to get a dagger in the back for your trouble.
Hexplore gets a favorable 3 1/2 GiN stars.