What if: Hexen got a Doom style remake?

With the developer, rights-holder, and engine now under one roof, a good Hexen remake is a real possibility

The mage blasting demons with blue magic in Hexen

Come in, weary gamers. Huddle around my candlelit face as I regale you with a story of three forgotten heroes. You may not have heard of them, not least because they may not have had names. But those of us who knew FPS games when they were dank, murky, and existed in two-and-a-half dimensions, know of the fighter, the cleric, and the mage who used to rip and shred their way through the filthy labyrinths and dungeons of Hexen.

It was a simpler time, before shooters concerned themselves with meaningful stories and choices. But though we may not remember why our three heroes embarked on their rampageous quest back in the dark times of 1995, we do remember breaking the skulls of many-headed beasts with our spiked gauntlets, the lightning-imbued hands of the Mage, and Wraithverge – the staff that sent forth furious spirits to tear apart our foes like an unholy BFG.

In agreeing to purchase Activision-Blizzard for $68.7 billion last month, Microsoft acquired the Hexen IP as well as Raven Software, the creators and developers of Hexen (and its predecessor Heretic). That’s not all. Raven Software is now under the same publishing roof as id Software – which was snapped up as part of Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition last September – the original publisher of Hexen as well as the creators of the id Tech engine on which it was made.

The original id Tech engine (or Doom Engine as it was known back then) was a perfect fit for the original Hexen back in ’95, so what if the latest iteration of that engine was used to resurrect the lost classic. What if Hexen got a Doom style remake?

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First, there’s the self-evident marketing appeal of a dark-fantasy Doom, which instantly gets suckers like me breathing heavily at the prospect. I’ll leave the marketing malarkey to Microsoft, though in anticipation of this game coming out I may create an NFT for the tagline ‘Swords and Slaughtery’, written in sharp steel and bone with animated blood dripping from the letters. Maybe Microsoft will buy it, and I’ll fill my newly hollowed soul with undeserved millions. Maybe.

Going in for a glory kill in Doom Eternal

But the obvious Doom parallels shouldn’t obscure the fact that Hexen was a very different kind of shooter. It was much more in your face; a first-person brawler well before the mechanics really existed to make that a good idea. The fighter character’s loadout is entirely melee-based (though some of his weapons can be thrown), the cleric has a mixture of close-up and ranged weapons, and even the more rangey Mage needs to get right in there to cast his shotgun-like Frost Shards.

Seeing a pinkie demon so close that you could count its pixels in Doom was usually bad news, but in Hexen you wanted to close the distance on those Ettins, Centaurs, and Chaos Serpents so you could smash their stupid grinning faces.

Its commitment to up-close combat did, in truth, make Hexen pretty repetitive. Each enemy had just a single attack animation and there was no blocking, so victory came by way of running in and wildly swinging your weapon before ducking out of range. It’s safe to say that first-person melee combat has come a long way since then, with some of its biggest innovators like id Software and Arkane now under that green Microsoft umbrella. A more involved melee system, with blocking, kicking (preferably of the Dark Messiah variety), and countering would be a must.

Hammering demons to death in Hexen

Speaking of evolved melee combat, how about the glory kill mechanic from the recent Doom games? Zooming around levels, chipping away at enemies with ranged attacks, and then homing in on them for a gruesome execution that showers you with health, armour, and ammo drops feels like a perfect fit for Hexen. You can be sure that if these mechanics existed back in the ’90s, Raven would’ve implemented them.

A modern-day Hexen would also benefit from some RPG-lite trappings. A remake could stick to the game’s class system – although I’d love to see the sequel’s necromancer class in the mix, too – but have a branching skill tree for each hero, with enough variety to let you effectively create subclasses or hybrids.

Perhaps you could maximise the mage’s damage by combining complementary elemental attacks, or build your fighter out into a berserker or a shield-wielding monolith. It should all hew more closely to a slick, ultra-violent FPS than an RPG, of course, and we’ll settle for nothing less than a chugging Mick Gordon or Andrew Hulshult soundtrack, in which industrial axle-grinding and piercing synths fuse with palm-muted guitars and Gregorian chanting.

Casting spells in Hexen

The original Hexen was a pioneer of hub-based exploration in first-person shooters (you’re welcome, Doom Eternal), with each level having several distinct sublevels connected via portals. An expansion on this, allowing for some non-linear exploration with a friendly home keep where you can chat with NPCs, pick up side-quests, and upgrade gear, would do wonders to flesh out the lore of the mysterious, largely unstoried world of Cronos. I want to know what secrets lurk in its muggy marshes, grim keeps, and derelict cathedrals.

In its own way, Hexen was more of a precursor to modern Doom than any previous game in the series. It deserves to be revived through that framework, and for the first time in decades it actually can be.

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