HEX: Shards of Fate, An In-Depth Review

8.7 TCG RATING
Gameplay: 9/10
Sounds: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10

Unique card effects not possible with physical cards. | Regular tournaments and drafting.

Still lacking MMO elements in development. | Not yet on all platforms promised.

PC, Mac (with tablet support for Android and iOS promised)

Free to Play / Freemium. Booster packs are $2.

December 9,2014

English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Turkish

HEX: Shards of Fate is is a new online trading card game mixed with MMO (massively multiplayer online) game play by Cyptozoic Entertainment, the company behind the hugely successful World of Warcraft Trading Card Game that preceded the current Hearthstone digital game. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, HEX became one of the most highly backed video games of all time on the website.

HEX is currently in Open Beta and does not have the promised MMO elements implemented yet as they are still in development, but it is nevertheless a fully playable game platform with two whole sets of cards released. HEX is aiming to be one of the most exciting and competitive card games online, and already it is showing great promise in living up to that goal. There’s even a book novel release to accompany the game, telling the story of the world of Entrath and its occupants with more installments coming in the future.

Currently as there is no PvE (player versus environment) mode implemented which is still being worked on, there are only PvP (player versus player) modes at the moment. In the Proving Grounds, you can have a casual game with other players or even the AI if you want to test out a new deck build before trying it against another player. There are also regular tournaments scheduled throughout the day for constructed play, with gold and booster packs given out to those who finish with the highest amount of wins. Furthermore, there is a drafting mode which is really the heart of the game at the moment and what I love best about it. Read on to find out why.

Match starting

The game begins with the all-important coin toss!

Gameplay

Unfortunately, comparisons to the well-known Magic: the Gathering TCG are going to be unavoidable since many aspects of the game are nearly identical, however I feel HEX: Shards of Fate has enough unique features that prevent it from fairly being called an exact clone of Magic. The core element of game play at the moment is based around PvP (player versus player) matches, with each player bringing their own deck to the digital table. Decks consist of units called Troops, Constants which are permanent enchantment spells and objects like Artifacts, and finally Actions which are instant-cast spells and combat tactics. At first glance, this is very similar to how Magic plays mechanically; however HEX was designed with the advantages of the digital space in mind to enable all sorts of crazy effects and card customization which set it apart from Magic very clearly in my mind.

Utilizing the Digital Space

There are several ways in which HEX utilizes the digital space to come up with some interesting mechanics. Firstly, cards can carry around any stat modifications and other effect text they’ve picked up on the field with them permanently, even when they move to the graveyard or are bounced back into the hand or deck. This is in direct contrast to Magic where cards lose all of their counters and buffs when they leave the field. What this does is creates design space for all kinds of interesting effects, strategies and deck types.

Gem socketing

Placing a gem into a card’s socket will give it an extra ability.

One way in which HEX: Shards of Fate does this is by socketing cards with gems. Some cards have a socket of either Minor or Major size which allows you to put in any of the gems from the different Shards (the five factions or “colors” of cards, which are Wild, Sapphire, Blood, Diamond and Ruby respectively). These gems come with their own unique effects which allows you to customize the card you’re putting into your deck. Do you want to give it Flight, or Swiftstrike? How about the ability to only be blocked by cards of the same Shard, or the ability to draw a card every time that Troop deals damage to your opponent’s Champion? The combinations are only limited by which Shards you’re playing in the deck to begin with, but otherwise you’re free to get creative with them.

Inspire example

Here, a Troop Inspires others who come after it with a permanent +1/+0 to their stats. This buff stays with them even if they die, so you can revive them and buff them again!

One other such example of the digital design space is the Inspire mechanic: any card summoned after the Inspire-giving Troop with the same or higher cost will gain the boost that the card provides, which might be Flight, Swiftstrike, or a +1/+1 increase to their stats. Since these cards will retain those changes even after they leave the field, you can revive them from the graveyard again and again and they will maintain their modified status. Other ways in which the digital space is used includes effects which target cards in decks, creates new cards to put into decks randomly, or searches out cards of a particular kind and gives you one of them randomly. A particularly cool card even changes Troops in your opponent’s deck into weak zombies, whereas another makes bomb cards that blow up when your opponent draws into them! These kinds of effects are just incredibly fun to play with, and it makes the game feel like an evolved form of Magic: the Gathering with many more effects going on to play around with.

The kinds of combos you can pull off with these effects is just crazy, and really what makes it so much more of an enjoyable experience than playing Magic for me. It’s clear that the intention was to focus on these elements from the very start, and subsequently the base set has been designed to be full of cards that work in ways that you just couldn’t play in the physical world with paper cards. Finding new ways to exploit these digital effects is a great joy of mine when deck building.

Deck editing

The sorting and filter options make deck building much simpler.

Draft Mode

In my opinion, the best mode currently available is drafting. If you’re unfamiliar with drafting, players start with three booster packs each and one by one, select one card out of the first pack before passing it to the player next to them. Draft picks continue until all of the cards of the first boosters have been picked, then players open their second and third packs and pass it around the alternate way. At the end of the draft, players must then construct at least a 40 card deck around all of the cards they picked. There is a lot of strategy in which cards to pick, as early on people tend to stick to a specific Shard or two and take all the cards from those, so you have to get smart with “reading” what’s being passed to you so you can think ahead.

Drafting is incredibly fun in HEX: Shards of Fate due to the extremely balanced nature of the first base set released in the game. Between the five different Shards, there is a whole range of strategies to go for when drafting. I find the excitement of drafting new booster packs with the challenge of constructing a playable deck out of your picks to be one of the most intellectually challenging and rewarding aspects to the game. If you do well enough in the 8-player draft tournament (both Swiss style and Single Elimination knockouts available) you can win even more packs than it cost you to play, and thus go what is called “infinite” if your skill is good enough, where you never have to pay for packs and can continually play draft tournaments using your winnings as entry.

Draft Mode

Deciding which cards to pick in draft mode is half the strategy. The game has already begun…

First Glimpse at PvE: The Frost Arena Update

HEX: Shards of Fate‘s MMO and PvE elements have been delayed longer than expected, seemingly from slower development times than the Cryptozoic team accounted for. Some people are unhappy with the state of the game at the moment because of this. However, it is still officially in Beta so the full implementation of all features is not an expectation that can be fulfilled at this stage.

Nevertheless, Cryptozoic have now released the first glimpse at what the PvE elements of the game are going to look like, and it’s quite exciting so far. The Frost Arena is not quite like the PvE dungeons that have been promised, with multiple pathways across as map as you fight unique encounters; regardless, the Frost Arena does have individually scripted enemies with their own decks, effects and PvE-exclusive cards to play against.

hex-frost-arena2

The custom battleground is a nice touch and hopefully a sign of things to come. It is rendered in 3D so you get subtly evolving frost animations while you fight.

The premise of the story is that a reclusive wizard named Hogarth has re-discovered an ancient battling arena set up by an esoteric order from long ago. He has restored it to its former glory and sent out a challenge to all the inhabitants of Entrath to come and challenge his fighters.

As you move through each encounter, you’ll fight a random enemy that can appear at that tier from a large database of possible enemies. Each has their own deck,  custom starting life amounts and unique passive and activated effects. You’ll have to work out the strategy for each one and attempt to defeat it while using the same deck all the way through a single Arena run. Hogarth will occasionally pop up and throw in some random benefits to your opponents, while reluctantly giving you some buffs as well depending on how well you are performing.

The goal of the Arena is to collect gold as well as the PvE equipment and card sleeves that are unique to dropping off of certain enemies, so you’ll be able to “grind” the Arena for content repeatedly.  Most excitingly, some PvE equipment is now available for use on your character and cards, which is the real first look at how the PvE equipment looks and feels to use. It’s very appealing and reminds me of why the idea of HEX was so enticing to all of us when the Kickstarter campaign was first announced.

The Frost Arena restores some lost faith in the Cryptozoic team, showing that they do have the know-how to fully implement the promised PvE content. We just need to give them a bit more time to ensure they deliver the fully polished experience they promised us from the start. No one wants a half-baked product, so I’d rather wait a bit longer for a quality game than to pressure them into releasing something sub-standard. While not a full PvE dungeon per-se, the Frost Arena is an enticing glimpse at what is to come.

hex-frost-arena3

The only other screen you’ll see in the Arena, which outlines how far you’ve battled through the tiers at the top and how many wins / losses you’ve racked up against the enemies.

Final Thoughts

Special note should also be given to the sound design on this game. The composer has created a range of intricate and dramatic orchestral themes to accompany game play and I don’t find these repetitive even after many hours of playing. Each card is slowly being given its own unique sound effect as well with each update. This really helps immerse you in the game when you summon a powerful dragon and can hear it breathing fire all over the place. The sounds really make each Troop and spell come alive, and is a nice touch on the overall player experience.

Cryptozoic Entertainment has got HEX: Shards of Fate off to a really strong start, but we are all waiting for the PvE mode with baited breath. Given the high quality of the game so far, I am sure that they are working their hardest to deliver the most professional and rewarding experience possible. Currently, even without PvE mode, HEX is one of the games that I just can’t seem to stay away from. With such incredibly unique card designs and fantastic artwork, HEX is already at the top of its game and it isn’t even fully finished yet. If you have any desire at all to lose hundreds of hours in building and drafting decks to play with while triggering all kinds of crazy combos, this is the game for you.

For more screenshots, click here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by

Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

  • James Christie

    1 thing to keep in mind before spending money, the lawsuit going on with Wizards of the Coast (Magic)

    • MoreJunk

      Just an update to those coming along later.

      The lawsuit has been settled. The only real change to the game is that the champions now have different starting health.

  • Jon Olsen

    Hex is a great game and I love it.
    BUT it is far from finished, there is atm very few aspects of an MMO in it. But if you are mainly a pvp player, HEX is great.

    • ZacPhoenix

      Yes, we’re still waiting for it to be finished… but I believe it’s going to be amazing when it is. 🙂

  • Marco Hansen

    Played it for a couple of hours now. While I really enjoyed the battlebunny-theme I have to admit that in the end this game could be much better.

    Positive:
    – Easy to get into if you know other TCG’s.

    – Nice Art and solid game mechanisms.

    – Free to play.

    Neutral:
    – You have effects that would be hard to reproduce in a regular TCG. But so far it doesn’t really change the game or add mechanisms that I haven’t seen elsewhere before.

    Negative:
    – Many TCG’s nowadays allow to play any card as a mana-card or to just up your mana by 1 each turn automatically. Shards is going back to the roots. In a bad way. Having 2/5 of your cards mana-cards means that you can draw really bad and not get enough mana… or ONLY get mana… or the wrong mana (if you play more then one color). Although (obviously) drawing lucky or unlucky is part of all TCG’s, I dislike those games that add MORE randomnes to the mix by having mana cards mechanisms like shards.
    Since this is a game mechanic I highly doubt they change it (or want to change it). Might be okay for many people but (as you can probably tell by now) it just frustrates me if I loose by drawing not enough mana… and it’s always a shallow victory if you win because your enemy just didn’t draw more then 2 mana.

    – The playmodes so far are lacking. You can play the frost arena against AI oponents for gold and items, or you can play people or AI for the fun of it. You can also play tournaments… IF you pay for it (but not with the gold you earned in the arena… you have to pay real money). While I understand that the company has to make money somehow there are other TCG’s out there that are just way more satisfiying in the way of what rewards you get for playing. Be it cards or ranking or whatever. Now this might be something that will get redone in the future… but right now its a bit dull.

    – The cards. Especially in the arena (where you HAVE to fight if you want to improve unless you are willing to pay real money) you have oponents play cards that have a LOT of different abilities. Per card. Add a couple more different cards and it gets quickly to the point where your not longer able to take note of all the different abilities going on. Sometimes less is actually more.

    – The auction house. Now one thing you CAN do with your gold is to buy stuff in the auction house. Sounds good… but works quite horrible. The sorting mechanisms are lacking and in the end you always end up with several pages to go through… which would be greatly reduced if they would group up numerous listings of the SAME card (for example just list the lowest price for that card and make it expandable so you can see how many are offered). Worse yet, when you DO bit for a card you raise the price by one (1). You cannot set a max price and have the program automatically raise your offer like in ebay. Instead you have to check back every few minutes to raise it once more… by one (1) GP. Probably (hopefully !) something that will get changed before the final release.

    – Finally the AI. Since you play a lot against it I have to say that in comparison to other TCG’s its just bad. It ONLY blocks attacks if it’s blocking creatures will survive it… if not it will just let you pass EVEN if that means you win the game.

    ———————————————————————————————————–

    All in all it might still be worth a look (it’s free to play after all) but unless some parts will change for the better I will satisfy me TCG needs elsewhwere.

    • ZacPhoenix

      Some of your points are extremely valid – I need to remind you though that it’s an open beta, and the major features of the game aren’t even implemented yet (the PvE campaigns/dungeons especially, which was the idea for the whole game in the first place).

      The shards did start out very similar to lands in Magic, but with the second and third set releases, there are many more mechanics and different resource cards that do different things. It’s no longer as simple as it was with the base set (while you’d be playing with in the starter decks as a new player).

      I understand the gripes about having to draw resource cards, and you’re right that a lot of more modern card game designs do away with resource cards entirely. However the game was based on starting with the Magic system and then exceeding it in various ways.

      If you have a problem with it, then you also have a problem with Magic’s system, and there is a long defense for why Magic’s system is still a good one and helps both newer and more skilled players chances at getting better at the game through deckcrafting and luck variance.

      • Marco Hansen

        Thanks for the reply !

        I’m quite aware that it’s still a beta and I hope that some things will get better / redone.

        It’s also important to note that not every game can be loved by every person. Many things are a matter of opinion. While some things in “Shards” ARE bad (the AI and the auction house UI for example) those are clearly things that are likely to be improved.

        The basic mechanics are a lot less likely to change… but they are not “bad” in general… just bad for my taste of playstyle.

        If the rest of the game improves I might still be having quite a bit of fun with it despite that one mechanic I don’t really like.

        So I’ll probably check back from time to time and dust off my relentless army of furry samurai to see how things are going 🙂

        • Johannes Rice

          Am 18.09.2015 um 21:10 schrieb Disqus:

    • yup this shard system is so crappy , it is the worst thing with this game , many draw you cant to crap due to no mana or no units to play ,so unfun

  • Fleshbits

    I have never hated a company more than I hate HexEnt.

    -More than 2 million dollars on Kickstarter, none of the promises fulfilled in over 3 years.

    No Raids, No Campaign…They have one act..one scipted, peice of crap act.

    Also, Free to play? My arse…It takes some 16 hours of hitting F5 and F10 against the same monotonous Arena bots with the same decks to even get one tournament ticket, which, if you are lucky, might get you a usable rare.

    And then there is the CEO himself, Mr. Gimmie that Magic Money, on Steam Video #2 calling it a Free to Play MMO with a full campaign in which you can aqcuire anything in the game. Still lying his buttocks off to this very day.

    The entire game is just designed to steal your money through lies, from concept to its implementation.

    • Fabio

      You want a really good CCG like magic? Eternal Card Game is the anwser.

  • Fabio

    You all want a really good CCG like magic? Eternal Card Game is the anwser.

  • Benny De Roeck

    You really need to recheck Hex, they made a huge PvE zone and are increasing in size/cards rapidly.
    There is NO PvE campaign in any TCG/CCG like in hex and compared to many other TCG’s/CCG’s its free to play

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