Hex: Shards of Fate features everything you’d expect from a free-to-play trading card game: tournaments, drafting, sparring, and an auction house to sell cards and packs. But Hex also features a heavy PvE environment in the form of a campaign and arena that allow players to level up heroes, selecting talents and specializations with various race/class combos, and travel around a map collecting packs and currency. This world features overworld encounters and dungeon crawls, and players take on everything from puzzle-like encounters to standard beat-down brawls. The PvE content and drafting opportunities are the most compelling offerings Hex has on display, and they’re both a blast to engage with.
Hex provides interesting ways to play even for seasoned trading card game fans, whether you’re looking to load up your opponent’s deck with a ton of spider eggs fueled by the arachnid Vennen, lead a swarm of bunny-based samurai to victory with the Shin’hare, or use the power of prophecy to create a powerful shifting deck with the Coyotle’s powers of foresight. Many these avenues take advantage of the fact that Hex is a digital-only offering; it would be practically impossible on a tabletop to track the insertion of spider eggs and other random effects that add significant zest to the game.
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In addition to unique class mechanics like cleric blessings and warrior brawls, equipment slots add yet another layer of customization and complexity to the game. Players find weapons and armor as rewards from their travels, and slot them into the paper doll. Unlike classic RPGs, this gear doesn’t add more hit points or damage to your hero. Instead, it adds special effects to specific cards in your deck. These can be insanely powerful (like doubling the effect of a spawning Shin’hare or turning cards in your hand to life gain sources), incentivizing players to use cards they might not otherwise, or facilitate new playstyles and deck options. This additional layer feels great on top of the other decisions in deckbuilding and talent-selection for adventuring and dungeon-crawling.
The campaign experience takes a fairly standard fantasy approach, with a basic story and standard quests. Things are tied to your race and faction, which changes who you interact with and where you travel, making it worth your time to explore several different characters. Players that already have huge collections will find the existing campaign fairly easy with their full resources at their disposal, but I chose to tackle the content with the fresh decks provided for the campaign, using only what I found and collected during my travels. This made for a fun progression experience that occasionally had me repeating content to acquire more cards, but it was fun to complete the encounters with a limited and slowly-growing selection of tools.
Most encounters are entertaining and offer variety. A handful are frustrating, like the Wormoid desert, or those that basically require you to pull a perfect hand (which means you chain-concede until you have the right stuff). You have an unlimited number of attempts at overworld content, but in dungeons you have only a certain number of lives to complete the entire thing for rewards – a neat mix that allows both experimental play in the overworld and rewards careful planning for a romp with burning zombies or toxic goblins.
Hex has been rolling out sets of cards for a while now, and these are where players not interested in the PvE portion of the game have been coming for some time. The selection of modes is robust, from large constructed-deck tournaments to on-the-fly sealed deck and draft offerings. One of the things I found frustrating in the traditional tournament formats is that when you’re between rounds, you’re unable to open packs, play PvE, or do much of anything else within the client. You’re essentially trapped there waiting for the clock to tick down to the next round; it would be nice to be able to enjoy the other aspects of the game while waiting around. There are also a number of UI quirks and the occasional freeze to deal with, but it’s nothing dealbreaking.
Hex lacks some of the features initially promised in the Kickstarter campaign, like multiplayer raids, guilds, mercenary allies, and “endgame” PvE content. Even without those features, it is a well-designed, robust digital trading card game with a wealth of exciting content offerings. With several sets that take advantage of the digital-only environment and an enjoyable campaign already available, the future looks incredibly bright for this card-slinging soiree.