Hands-on with HEX: Chronicles of Entrath’s PvE

What do you know about HEX: Shards of Fate? If you’ve ever played it, probably more than me. But what do you know about Chronicles of Entrath? HA! I’ve got you there. I spent a day at the HEX Entertainment studio, hobnobbing with developers and hearing all about many aspects of the long-awaited PvE expansion. There was plenty to take in, from the AI to the art to the history of the game.

Oh, and I got to play! That was something you should have seen: I didn’t lose a single match.

My takeaway from the experience is a desire to dive in and play more. And that’s coming from someone who has never touched a TCG before, on or offline, and was honestly a bit intimidated by HEX. Once the patch goes live next week, I’ll encourage everyone else to jump in and check it out, whether you are an old pro or newbie like myself. Here’s why.

HEXWhy HEX?

The start of the day was a little history lesson on how HEX came about by CEO Cory Jones that I found pretty interesting. After the WoW trading card game that he created (and Cryptozoic published) was discontinued, Jones — a self-described TCG fanatic — wanted to make a TCG in-house. Jones explained that HEX came from both a place of wanting to invent as well as to fulfill a need. Since he felt like he’d aged out of the whole TCG all-nighters in the hobby-shop scene (due to family, work, and the like) but his passion to play had never diminished, Jones needed another way to indulge in TCGs. HEX became that way.

Jones also wanted to merge the new game with MMO elements. Obviously a TCG would never really have players running around in a 3-D environment, but there are other aspects, like guilds and auction houses for buying/selling/trading, that MMOs are known for and would work well in creating a social experience. Early on the decision was made make HEX in digital space only. Jones explained, “We decided to not make a physical version because I felt that all of the design space that was possible as digital only gave us the chance to be something brand-new.” This allowed for many interested aspects of HEX such as 3-three sided cards, raids, socketed cards, talent trees, putting cards in your opponent’s deck, and PvE. It’s a way “to play a TCG that [players] have never played before.” Jones emphasized how these the creative aspect these features allow players to really personalize their play.

Playing PvE

Of course, the big reveal of the day was the PvE content. Jones pointed out that this next big update would be delivering a portion of systems that were promised in Kickstarter, yet this is only the first of the PvE patches. Chronicles of Entrath will introduce dungeons, characters, skill trees, equipment, and storytelling; more dungeons, more systems, and more storytelling will happen in future patches.

Ben Stoll, director of game theory, expounded on the upcoming changes. For example, the game starts with a better tutorial to help people get on-board. There are cinematics and visuals that lead you to the next place. After the tutorial is the single-player campaign, which teaches you more about the game and delves into deck-building. The devs were pretty open about the fact that these changes really improve the new player experience, something that’s been much needed.

HEXAs for the play itself, players will choose between two different factions, a number of races, and three classes. Which faction you pick influences which races you can play. Factions also have different gameplay in the campaign, such as dungeons only that faction can access. Which race you play also matters; each race has inherent talents, and each will be treated differently by various NPCs. Each race will start with a tailored deck; the number of cards in each deck will be small, with only a certain number of each type allowed. However, as the character levels up, that allowance is increased.

Class, according to Stoll, remains the most important decision. Each player will have race-specific traits that are tailored to each class. Each class also has a special charged power that can be used during the matches. Currently, there are three classes heading into the game: warrior, cleric, and mage (mage being the hardest to play initially). Stoll noted that three more classes will be introduced later. Can’t decide? That’s OK: There will be 10 different character slots to play a variety of combinations. And since the beginning is really steeped in lore, you just might use up your slots playing the many variations.

Once you get in and start playing, you will note that while you are on the adventure map, defeats don’t really have any consequence beyond needing to try the battle again or (as in the case of the piranha swarm), turn around and choose a different path to follow. However, when you are in a dungeon, life matters! You have only a certain number of lives before you are forced to start the entire dungeon over.

Speaking of dungeons, this next fact was one of the most fascinating to me: The raids in game actually evolved from the way Jones played with his friends. He’d build decks for three of them and have them all face him at once; in HEX, three players will face off against a boss.

The PvE content also has a great deal of new art, from the animated battle boards to the panoramic cities. Art Director Tyler James and members of his team showed the process from the initial concept art to the completed assets. You really should see the finished product! The depth and details of this art gives the game an organic feel of being in different locations.

HEXAll hail the AI

One of the most fascinating topics of the day was the development of the AI that players will face in PvE. The AI in HEX has no three-dimensional form, let alone any animation, so how on earth do you give it personality to make it an interesting foe to face?

Lead Engineer Chris Woods shared the answer. Getting AI to play a card game is pretty much just a giant math equation. All the information of every match that has ever been played has been recorded — who won, who lost, what was played, and in what order. So while the AI won’t ever know what is in your deck, it can play the statistics gleaned from all previous matches.

Large statistics are dry and can get predictable, but the devs have a plan: The AI mobs in HEX actually have profiles based on the lore of the game. The mobs players will face have their own sets of psychoses. No, I’m serious! Racial hatreds, fears, and so forth are programmed in and will make the AI act in ways that might not be the most strategically sound. For instance, an AI that hates Shin’hairs (read: adorable bunny race) will use any of those in its deck as cannon fodder no matter how beneficial they may actually be. Then there is always the possibility that the mobs will get enraged when confronting a player of that race. Some mobs might go berserk after you get their health down to a certain level, some might protect a certain race at all costs. When confronted with certain situations, AI will make irrational plays that are consistent with its psychoses. The variables of personality traits that AI can exhibit is huge, so part of the trick is learning which ones have which traits.

Now, add to that an an element of chance. The AI won’t automatically make the best strategic decision; instead, the system knows the top three choices and will roll on which is played, with an 80% chance that the best option is picked, and a 10% chance for each the second- and third-best options. On top of all this, the AI can also make mistakes. And in raids, minions will have separate AI from bosses, so you can manipulate that to your advantage by actually changing minions’ behavior to the boss! Doesn’t sound as predictable and sterile anymore, now does?

HEXBye-bye beta, hello hands-on

For anyone who was waiting for the game to launch before trying it out, this is your time. Jones announced that the game will no longer be called beta as of this patch. He emphasized, however, that the game is definitely not finished — nor will it really ever be since it will just continue building and developing. But there wont be any wipes, and a core of systems will be in. It will be a good time for those who’ve never played to give it a go.

Speaking of giving it a go, I got to do just that. I spent a chunk of time checking out the game’s campaign mode. And I enjoyed what I played, even though I started as the ultimate clueless newbie. Although I did not do the new tutorial (I’m saving that for a special Stream Team episode!), the campaign mode was manageable after my crash-course lesson with devs. I started to get the hang of the basics. HEX gives you visual cues for each step of what you need to do, so even while learning, you don’t have to worry about being completely lost. I’d go on a bit here about the suspense of the game and the thrills of victory, but I’ll just invite you to jump in and check it out for yourself once the PvE patch hits. I know I’ll be right back in: I didn’t have the chance to actually add any of the critters I faced to my own deck by taming them, and I am determined to do just that!

On top of that, I am looking forward to mingling with the HEX community and even delving into the PvP portion when I feel a bit more confident. Jones told me that the community was really the most valuable thing to come out of the Kickstarter campaign. In fact, the devs noted that the forums are positive and polite and that vets are often helping out the newbies. You can go see it if you don’t believe it! That gives me hope that even when I am defeated soundly, and I know I will be, I can still walk away from the experience with a smile. And isn’t that why we game?

Disclosure: Travel to and lodging at this press junket were provided by Cryptozoic. The multitude of airline delays that resulted in MJ’s red-eye into Syracuse afterward were provided by the storm gods.
Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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Andy Sim
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Andy Sim

Picky guy coming in…it’s Shin’hare not Shin’hair.

TogashiKokujin
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TogashiKokujin

crawlkill TogashiKokujin No, Frost Ring Arena looks like it’s here to stay – and yes, the matches there were really good. You could literally see how the AI got smarter with time. About the only complaint I had was that it did get somewhat repetitive, if you played it often, but then, what doesn’t… 

So I guess I’ll be ignoring the Frost Ring for a while and enjoying all the new stuff ;-)

crawlkill
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crawlkill

TogashiKokujin aw, are they removing the Frost Ring Arena? I played a few matches in there and they were TENSE.

Paraxamos
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Paraxamos

TogashiKokujin Oh wow, that’s so cool. I am a backer and waited for PVE. Glad I completed the Trials yesterday since they are going out.

TogashiKokujin
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TogashiKokujin

And the best news is that the PvE patch is released today!

Chronicles of Entrath Launch Patch 1/26

At long last. I enjoyed the previous incarnation of PvE, the Frost Ring Arena, but now with dungeons, quests, levelling and way more PvE cards and equipment, this will be a feast.

CloakingDonkey
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CloakingDonkey

My favourite part about it is just that the art is getting better and better… I already thought set 3 had some amazing artworks but this PvE stuff has raised the bar even more. Totally love it and can’t wait to dive in with a fresh account tomorrow =)

enamelizer
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enamelizer

Looks cool, even tho I bounce off most TCGs really quickly. Hoping the RPG elements and the added depth to the game systems add some stickiness.

MJ Guthrie
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MJ Guthrie

I noticed that one of my favorite little tidbits about raiding was accidentally edited out, so that is added back in. Raiding actually evolved from Jones’ play with his friends!

MJ Guthrie
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MJ Guthrie

Zophie Winters I am excited to get in and play more as well!  It was fun. Didn’t hurt that the devs found my character name amusing. hehe Can’t wait to make it live!

MJ Guthrie
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MJ Guthrie

AlexPavlik Those are all game assets from the company — I didn’t get to take any screenies for myself. (Also, just a hint for future reference: Not a Mr. =P)