Hex: Shards of Fate is a free-to-play card game that I found floating around on Steam. Card games usually aren’t my forte because the rules can range from being overly simplistic to so complicated that players would probably need a full college course on how to play them. Hex surprised me though, by bringing interesting elements to the table to stand out from the crowd of f2p card games while not being overly difficult to understand. During my experiences I found it engaging, interesting, and addicting to play.
There is a story to Hex: Shards of Fate, but I’ll cover that in a moment. The basic concept is a shard of the Hex Moon has fallen to Earth. This puts the player, aka their chosen “Champion,” in charge of searching for this shard in the fantasy world called Enrath.
The Champion has to undergo an arduous journey to fight back the opposing faction from taking control of the shard. What follows is a card battle journey filled with monsters, friends, quests, and exploration.
Refreshing Elements to a Hit & Miss Genre
Hex doesn’t pull any punches with its mechanics, but it also knows how to combine tried and true elements to make them work with each other. RPG elements are added into the game to keep the card play interesting and engaging. It also provides players with a motivator to actually play and get good at the card game while also telling a story.
One of my favorite aspects was the factions, which there are two of to choose from. The Ardent consist of the major surface dwellers of Enrath while the Underworld faction consists of races that live underground. Each faction also shares the same four classes to choose from, which are Cleric, Mage, Ranger, and Warrior. The classes and races are pretty basic in comparison to other MMOs I’ve played, but at least there’s a bit of variety here.
There are the classic human, dwarf, and elves who that are available in Hex, and there are also other races present like the Coyotle race that appear to be coyotes with heavy Native American influences. Each race also has its own history and culture that it draws from, which are explored during the campaign. I chose to go with a coyotle ranger and had some pretty fun encounters during my journey.
The Hex card game does have a steep learning curve but not in a negative sense. There is an optional tutorial to cover the basics of how the card game is played, but it can be skipped. I accidentally skipped the tutorial so I had to figure out things on my own, but after a few games I was actually able to get the gist of it through trial and error.
Steep But Challenging Learning Curve
Essentially, the Champion that the player chooses will affect how they approach the card game. Each Champion starts out with a certain amount of life and a starter deck that matches their race and class. To play cards, there are resource shards that can be played once per turn. The greater variety of resource types the more card options that players have. Having a variety of resources is necessary to play certain cards, but all of the shards count towards the total resource pool.
The main goal is to take down the opposing Champion’s life points and bring them down to zero. The cards that attack are ‘Troop’ cards and any amount can be played each turn as long as the player has the right amount of resources available. Troop cards can attack the opposing Champion directly or be saved to defend against an oncoming attack next turn. I liked the Troop cards because they can all be used to attack the same round, but on the next turn they become ‘exhausted’ and can’t be used to defend. This creates an extra element of utilizing offensive tactics effectively and knowing when to hold back for defensive purposes.
How the RPG elements are applied for the player’s Champion in Hex is handled well and plays a big part in how the game can be played. Each class has its own skill tree and when the Champion levels up, players can choose skills to improve. With the Ranger class, I chose to power up my summoned pet beast by picking talents specific to it. Players can choose to build a variety of skills for a well-rounded character or to specialize in just one.
The other RPG element is using gear to further specialize a Champion. These are called ‘armor’ cards and can be applied to the Champion just like normal armor in any other MMO. Armor cards can have special abilities that apply to the player’s deck, add additional power ups, cause some cards to turn into others, and much more from what I could tell. This adds even more strength and allows players to build a fully customized deck to fit their playstyle.
During my time with Hex I could also do quests, capture and tame ‘wild’ cards from opposing Champions, and explore more of the story. My ranger even went on a spiritual journey at one point to learn more about his quest and even befriends an elf who gives him a special card to tame certain beast cards. There’s a lot of ground to cover and I mainly focused on playing through the campaign with one race and class, but I expect that each class has a different journey.
I can’t believe I’m saying this about a card game, but the artwork in Hex is amazing. The Champions can’t be decorated because they’re not avatars, just pictures, but how it’s done is beautiful. Each class for each race has its own artwork and it’s the same if the player chooses a different gender for their Champion. At times, this made it feel like I was playing a tabletop RPG instead of a card game.
One gripe I do have with card games is that the playing field for the matches themselves can usually feel generic. Understandably, with a card game there’s not going to be a huge focus on graphics or artwork except for the cards themselves. Here though, Hex does go out of its way to at least give the player something to look at while they play.
When I was in the forest facing down a bear Champion I noticed the style of the playing field had changed. While it did have the same basic layout, there was a stream underneath surrounded by lush grass and even a few butterflies fluttering around in the corner. Again, it’s nothing grand by any means, but these small touches do add to the ambiance of each match.
While the world map can be a bit lacking in terms of what to look at, even then there are some parts that look gorgeous. When I entered a dungeon there was a brief description given of the area I was entering. During another sequence my ranger entered a dream state and was presented with several branching paths to explore. The colors were vibrant and gave me a sense of being in the stars.
Perhaps my only gripe with Hex is that the music and sounds can be hit and miss. There seems to be Norse inspired instrumentals that float around along with clearly Native American inspired themes. The cards also have their own sound effects, but after several hours of hearing certain cards howl when I play them it did become repetitive. However, this certainly wasn’t game breaking and after a few more hours I ended up not noticing.
Hex combines the classic elements of an RPG, tabletop experience, and card game with a sharp learning curve. The story and skill trees give players the motivation to win their matches and progress through the campaign.
While there’s nothing ‘new’ brought to the table, the combination of different elements from classic game genres is done pretty well here. There are a thousand different ways to customize a Champion, deck, and to let players develop their own play style.
The community for the most part is pretty quiet, but I did notice a little hostility between players. It’s not horrible, and I mostly ignored other players during my experiences, but don’t except anyone to offer advice when first starting out.
The artwork for the Champions is gorgeous and the cards are well designed too. However, the world map did feel a little too generic most of the time except for when entering a dungeon or doing a few specific quests. While I enjoyed the music, it didn’t stand out when compared with other MMOs.
Value for Money 10/10
Hex is free-to-play; what’s not to love? Players can pay for more card packs, but they can also be bought with in-game gold. Not to mention players can also win card packs through matches and may even have a chance to ‘tame’ other cards from enemy Champions that will appear in their deck if they win.
Overall Score 8/10
Hex is a well-polished, free-to-play card game that delivers a new experience. There are refreshing elements brought to the table that are familiar but executed in a way that brings them to life. I can tell a lot of thought and effort went into this game and the final product proves it.
+Good amount of content
+Combines familiar elements to make them engaging
-Lack of positive in-game community
-Steep learning curve
Related: CCG, Fantasy, HEX Shards of Fate, Review, RPG