Early last year, I wrote a review for a digital card game who had just made their official ‘release’ called Hex. I rarely do these sorts of review updates… but sometimes it proves necessary. My initial review cautioned people to not get suckered in by their promises as the game’s non-standard elements were still very much lacking, while offering strong praise for the game’s competitive elements – the more traditional things that make a ‘TCG’ run.
Almost a year has passed since then, and Hex Entertainment has been busy. They have released a plethora of new cards, and are on the verge of releasing another set as we speak. They have revamped their tournament structure, taking strong advantage of the digital framework they’ve built to explore new territory. They have expanded their free to play offering, revamped the difficulty curve, and significantly enhanced the reward structure. So, given all of the above… how does the game look now?
This review will utilize some TCG jargon without explanation. If you’re unsure what the terminology means, I recommend looking here as the definitions are fairly good.
Quite frankly, I am spending more time on the game than I ever thought I would. But let’s take a step back and look at the game’s various facets and how they stand now. I’ll be referencing my previous review a bit, since while a lot has changed, some things remain the same.
I’m going to be blunt… as a competitive game, Hex is still as good as previously. They’ve released new cards at a good pace, they’ve introduced new mechanics regularly, and they’ve maintained the Constructed tournament scene in a healthy way to ensure there are goals for the upper echelon of players to strive towards. That being said, things aren’t perfect and they’ll have to make a few overall changes if they really want to push Hex into e-sports territory. The two things that I see as being big areas for improvement: Constructed lacks a middle tier of competition and Limited gameplay lacks something to strive for.
The big tournaments we see make a great end-game, as it were, for the best Constructed players to keep interested. There’s just a nebulous area in the middle, a place for people to grow from ‘playing the ladder’ to ‘competing for the Cosmic Crown Showdown’, where there’s no real substance. And the ladder – which I’ll discuss more later – offers a great set of incentives for people to enter the scene.
On the Limited side, we have a similar situation, although shifted a bit. Again, the ladder offers incentives and the means for people to take their first steps into the Limited scene. Additionally, they’ve made their Limited formats approachable by taking good advantage of the advantages of an online environment to allow people to play at their own pace. The built-in rewards structure of both sealed and draft offer that ‘mid-tier’ that is missing from Constructed right now. However, there’s nothing for the best Limited players to strive towards – even though you can qualify for the Cosmic Crown via Limited gameplay, it is essentially a Constructed tournament which will not appeal to Limited players(for those unaware, here is a description of the first Cosmic Crown Showdown which is held every two months).
I wanted to offer a bit more context on a Limited format, since I’ve spent a fair bit of time on it lately. Particularly the Evolving Sealed format, which I consider to be one of the best decisions Hex has ever made. The Evolving Sealed queue is an interesting format in which you start with an extremely small set of cards from which to build your deck but as you win you unlock more cards to use by opening additional packs. The format features a lot of high points, and creates a very good positive feedback loop. You get to earn rewards at multiple points during the tournament, you get to open packs multiple times, and you get the opportunity to potentially build multiple completely different decks depending upon the cards you get. It is a huge part of the reason I’ve spent as much time as I have on the game, as it is cheap, fun, and has an extremely satisfying rewards curve.
The game’s PvE offering has evolved as well. They took feedback to heart, and made a variety of changes to help adjust the difficulty curve in the start zone and removed the dungeon lives concept that made a lot of the harder content extremely frustrating. They’ve also released a new section of their campaign, more than doubling the amount of PvE content available. More importantly, the new content has a pretty good difficulty curve, with only a few outliers. They’ve also recognized that it is important to provide adequate messaging when they’re adding an optional challenge section. The overall offering is still a fair bit on the short side, but it has come a long way and is vastly improved over what it was even a year ago.
One big problem I see is that they still struggle with some aspects of the rewards structure. In some ways, Hex Entertainment has made great improvements. They have added relatively accessible ladders to both limited and constructed play which offer relatively approachable rewards. An account leveling system has been implemented that goes a long way to rewarding people for the time they spend in the game without simply being a grind. But PvE rewards are still very lopsided. On the one hand, the overworld rewards are all once per character – and there are some unique cards that are tied to race acquired that way. This means that people have to just create throwaway characters and grind through to earn their 4 of each race specific card – an extremely monotonous task. On the other hand, the dungeon rewards are still completely backloaded.
Comparing where the game was a year ago to where it is now shows that the developer has a clear picture of where they want to go and what they’re aiming for. You don’t get the level of widespread improvements that Hex has seen without a good understanding of your game and your players, which leaves me very hopeful for the future. And, in its current state, with the game having a solid foundation for both free PvE content as well as competitive content, I see a strong future for the game if they keep improving at the rate they have been. They’re not there yet, but the game has definitely been one of my largest off-stream pass-times recently, and that says a lot.