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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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