We spoke to Cryptozonic's CCO while going hands-on with HEX.
HEX: Shards of Fate is a unique take on the online trading card game genre, mixing MMO PvE aspects with the traditional card gameplay. Still in its beta phases, the game has been steadily progressing as more content and features are added in. Most recently HEX saw the launch of the Frost Ring Arena, the MMOTCG's first PvE environment that pits players against seven AI bosses in a four stage gauntlet.
We spoke to Cryptozonic Entertainment's Creative President and CCO, Cory Jones, recently about what HEX has accomplished since its highly successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign, the unique features of the TCG, and what players can expect in the near future.
"I don't like to call HEX free-to-play. Free-to-play games are designed specifically about giving you a great experience to start with and then slowly ramping up the pain until you want to spend money. That is not what HEX is. HEX is free-to-play in the sense that it doesn't cost you anything to start; you can use the cards that we give you to start with endlessly—to play in the Arena, to play against your friends.
"You can earn gold and buy everything you possibly want out of the Auction House, but the game isn't tailored around hand-holding you through a free-to-play experience. It's more open-ended; it's more of a platform."
On the surface, HEX: Shards of Fate plays like a fairly typical TCG. The tutorial is easy to follow, running players through the basics of offense and defense, as well as utilizing the resource shard system to build up charge and play cards of the same shard type. Creature units are exhausted after an attack and vary in defense and offense, leaving the player to decide how to strategically use them against their opponent. Some units grant special bonuses to aid in the gameplay, and the player can also employ quick actions to gain the edge in battle.
"At this point we're quickly growing; I think we'll be the biggest visual TCG out there. We're slowly moving toward putting in all of our campaign content, which at that point, I think the game will explode because there's just nothing [else] like it."
As you delve into the deck builder, you'll begin to notice the MMO elements of HEX. Your champions can be equipped with armor; at this time, six different slots for pieces are available, and a wide variety of armor can be obtained. Within the builder you can also socket cards with gems; this allows you to assign various effects depending on the gem type and number of sockets, which enables players to basically make their own unique take on a card. A great place to pick up some pieces, and yet another MMO-like element, is on the Auction House. Cards, packs, and equipment are all available for sale here, with both bidding and buyout prices set by the players listing the items.
"One of the things that's very important to us—one of the thing I feel is sort of the backbone of good game design—is creativity. If you play an MMO, you know there is a lot of creativity in how you make your character, how you level them, in what equipment you use. If you play an RTS, how high you build your base or do your build-out... if you play an FPS, what weapons you use and how you navigate a map. All of those things are, at their core, about creativity, about how you want to express yourself in that game."
"When you say 'MMO' most people think third-person action RPG, which is not what HEX is. HEX has a world you'll explore, dungeons, people you'll meet, faction systems and everything, but one of the most important things about HEX when we say MMOTCG is the community. It's about having a friends list, being part of a guild, having a functioning auction house."
Opening booster packs in HEX has been transformed into an engaging experience. Once all of your cards are revealed, a random treasure chest of varying rarity rises from the fount. You can open, stash, or take your chances by rolling the Wheels of Fate to see if you can obtain either a different chest or another prize.
"We made a decision early on that HEX would be digital-only. By making that decision it allowed us the opportunity to take advantage of everything that a digital platform could do."
"We're just trying to figure out how many things can we pack into that opening [of treasure chests] experience to make is as fun and visceral as possible. Rolling on these chests, which are filled up with different prizes from the campaign PvE side of the game, gives you one more additional thing to open as part of that."
It wouldn't be a TCG without tournaments, and HEX has plenty to join. Varying queues are available to join at all times, and later this year there will be a $100,000 prize tournament in its California-based finale. All players can participate in regular ranked duels to earn points toward further participation, and several qualifying rounds will narrow down the tournament playing field.
"The game is launched in the sense that there will be no more wipes. There's tournaments that can fire off, scheduled events that go on weekends at times, we roll out big prizes. We recently announced our first eSports initiative where we have a $100,000 prize purse. People that qualify will get to fly to Irvine—our office—and be part of a live broadcast event. It's a piece of competitive TCGs."
The Proving Grounds provides one-on-one games, either against a player opponent or the AI. More experienced players would also enjoy the new Frost Ring Arena, which challenges you in a gauntlet run of seven bosses, offering various prize rewards based on your participation. The content is repeatable and just the start for PvE gameplay.
"When you get to the PvE side of the game—when we finally get in all of the campaign [content]—you're going to be able to make your own character. You'll pick a class and a race, have an incredible skill tree, and as you level up you'll get points to spend on making your character customized just how you want them. It's pretty incredible in the scope of affecting a TCG."
"The way Frost Ring Arena works is there's four different tiers. You fight four regular guys and then a boss; if you get more than three defeats you're kicked out. As you beat them you're going to collect sacks and chests, and eventually when you finish the entire thing you'll hit a reward screen where you can open those up. If you are defeated it ends, but you get to still collect the sacks and chests that you gathered up along the way."
Next month players can expect an update that will add over 300 new cards, more starter decks, and new equipment. Keep tabs on the HEX: Shards of Fate community forum for future news and updates, and download the client for free.
We'd like to thank Cory Jones for taking the time to speak to us and give a guided hands-on of HEX!
Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor