Kickstarted in October 2013 to the tune of $2,278,255, Hex: Shards of Fate is a highly sophisticated, free-to-play MMOTCG – a massively multiplayer online trading card game akin to the likes of Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering.
The game ostensibly follows the genre staple of two champions dueling one another with preconstructed decks of 60 or more cards, each summoning creatures and casting spells to destroy their opponent. Players can make decks using five different-colored schools of magic, plus color-agnostic artifacts, and must then add appropriately-colored shards that provide the power to play said cards. It's pretty straightforward stuff, and anyone who's played other digital or physical games of this ilk will feel very much at home, very quickly.
The PvP side of the game needs little explanation. Players can battle one another in one-off games, and there's a constant stream of daily online tournaments to participate in, from constructed through sealed deck to draft. There are also greater championship tournaments, including a $100,000 invitational that's taking place in March. If you're a competitive player, Hex: Shards of Fate is very well-rounded, and offers plenty of options.
I should add at this point that playing in tournaments costs money. There's an entry fee that pays for the cards that you're essentially buying, and you keep the cards once you've finished – plus any prizes that you might garner if you place in the tournament.
However, the game isn't just about PvP tournaments. Hex: Shards of Fate also includes a fully-fledged PvE aspect in which players can create characters and level them up by participating in a series of battles against AI opponents, and this is all free to play. Basically, you start out with a preconstructed deck pertaining to the character you choose, and wander a map that features quests and contests in the form of one-off battles and multi-encounter dungeons to test your mettle. Beating opponents and completing specific quests wins you packs of cards that you can use to modify your deck, and you can also win pieces of equipment that grant different effects that can boost your character's powers – such as augmenting one of the card types in your deck.
Additionally, as you level up your character, you can choose skills that grant bonus effects, such as starting a battle with a higher life total than you normally do. This progression enables you to customize your character to augment your playstyle. Perhaps you might want to play more defensively, and take passive skills that make your character a little more robust – or conversely take skills that are more offensive in nature.
Also available in PvE is the Frost Ring Arena. This is where you take a preconstructed deck and fight through a series of increasingly challenging AI opponents. I haven't managed to complete this side of the game yet – it gets really difficult as you rank up through the game's 20 matches, and none of my decks are good enough to beat all the opponents as of yet. Still, I've had fun so far, and the Frost Ring Arena is a great way of testing out your decks and seeing just how good they are – or not as the case may be.
I really enjoyed the PvE aspect of Hex: Shards of Fate, and feel that it's a great way to learn how to play the game – beyond the fairly comprehensive tutorial mode. The decks you start with are quite straightforward, but contain cards that have interesting powers and effects, so that as you tackle PvE battles, you begin to learn the ins and outs of how the game works. Things start out fairly easy, with a series of quite simple battles with basic decks, but as you begin to delve deeper into the PvE side of the game, it quickly begins to ramp up, and you have some quite challenging opponents to deal with.
This is where modifying your deck with the cards you win comes into play. Some opponents have specific skills that can nullify certain card strategies or types of decks, and unless you tweak your deck to include creatures and spells that might help deal with that threat, you're going to have a tough time beating that opponent. This essentially adds an almost puzzle-like element to the proceedings, where you need to look at your collection of cards and decide how to best use them to overcome a particular challenge. Going through this process helps you learn the fundamentals of deck construction, which is invaluable for any player who decides to move on up to the tournament side of the game.
As I explained earlier, if you do want to tackle the PvP side of the game, you'll inevitably end up spending money to enter tournaments. That might sound a little off-putting, but this is a fairly standard business model for games of this type. While it's possible to build up a nice collection of cards through PvE, playing in tournaments is the way to garner the best cards in the game. Fortunately, tournament prizes are quite generous, and by playing in formats like sealed deck and draft, it's possible to build up quite a solid collection of cards in fairly short order. Additionally, there's an auction house where you can pick up specific cards you might need using in-game money earned through either PvP or PvE. I spent quite some time playing around in the auction house, and found it's possible to round out your collection quite nicely for a reasonable sum of in-game currency – there are plenty of bargains to be had if you're persistent.
I've talked a lot about how the game works, but spoken very little about what it's like to play – and that's because I've been saving the best 'til last. Hex: Shards of Fate is a simply brilliant card game that's deep, complex, and highly rewarding to play. To be blunt, it's almost overwhelming when you first start playing – especially if you go straight into the tournament environment. There's a myriad of cards, many of which have quite complex and clever mechanics, meaning they can interact with other cards in many different ways. This gives rise to devastating combos and interactions that can make very powerful decks, and if you're not prepared correctly, it's easy to get trounced by an opponent who knows what they're doing.
With that in mind, I'd definitely recommend putting a good amount of time into the PvE side of the game first, to really learn the ropes and also discover what kind of playstyle best suits your temperament. This will help you when it comes to building decks and taking them into tournaments – or simply playing one-off games with other people.
One thing I should say is that like other resource-based games that have an element of luck, it is possible to have rounds where you don't get the right cards and struggle to cast spells and creatures – and this can sometimes be frustrating. But then this has always been a part and parcel of games like this. In both PvP and PvE, you're essentially dealing with a random number generator when it comes to cards dealt, and while you can work around that by balancing your resources and card costs, there is still an element of luck to the game. But it's that luck that can sometimes work for you, as well as against you, and to me it's what makes the game fun to play. You have to literally work with what you're dealt, and as long as your deck construction is smart, most of the time your deck will work as it's supposed to.
Speaking of decks and cards, Hex: Shards of Fate already has a very impressive selection available, having gone through three expansions during its Beta: Shards of Fate, Shattered Destiny, and Armies of Myth. This means there are plenty of cards to collect, which also represents a daunting prospect in terms of where to start with your collection. Again, it helps to play the PvE side of the game first to get a handle on what kinds of cards suit your style, and then you can start building around themes, perhaps going for one of the races like Shin'hare or humans, or building a deck based around burning your opponent to the ground.
In a way, this is where Hex: Shards of Fate's value really comes into play. It's a game that you can really lose yourself in, and it's possible to spend hours simply looking at all the cards available and deciding what kind of decks to build. Then there's tournament play, which can take up several hours in one go (you can't back out of a tournament once you've started unless you decide to concede from it), plus there's the PvE side, which I've already invested many hours into. This is definitely not a casual game, and is indeed one that could very well become an obsession once you start seriously getting into it.
The thing to consider is that Hex: Shards of Fate is a game that's still being built out. It's only just out of Beta – but there's also the promise of upcoming guilds, multiplayer raids, and an expanded endgame for those who hit top level with their PvE characters. Plus there will be additional card expansions added over time, which will further deepen its already-impressive pool of cards. This is a game that looks to have a good future ahead of it.
Ultimately, Hex: Shards of Fate is a very impressive TCG-meets-RPG that's deep, complex and well designed. It does have a fairly high learning curve if you want to get into serious tournament play, but its PvE and training modes do a good job of getting you set up with the basics. I've had a huge amount of fun learning to play the game and collecting enough cards to put together some pretty fun theme decks. They won't win me any tournaments, but they do well enough in the Frost Ring Arena, and can sometimes surprise an opponent when I play random games against other human players.
One of the great things about Hex: Shards of Fate is that its PvE mode gives you a really good sampling of the game without any cash outlay. However, be warned. If you enjoy games like Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering, it's very likely that it'll get its hooks into you pretty quickly, and won't let go.
Although the game's interface is quite complex, using it is generally intuitive and easy enough to pick up.
This is where the game is fairly weak. The spot effects are quite simple, and the music is average.
The card art is generally excellent, and the in-game graphics are solid.
Hex: Shards of Fate is a complex, engrossing, highly rewarding online trading card game that's incredibly fun to play. Its surprisingly deep PvE aspect offers a great introduction to the game, but it's the PvP/tournament side of the game where its long-term appeal really lies.