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A new series feature introduced in Hexen is the choice of character class. Players may choose to play as a fighter, cleric, or mage. Each character has unique weapons and physical characteristics, lending an additional degree of variety and replayability to the gameplay. The fighter relies mainly on melee attacks and is tougher and faster than the other characters. The cleric uses specialized weapons, some of which have limited range or healing effects. The mage uses long-range weapons, whose reach is counterbalanced by dealing relatively little damage and the fact that the mage is the most fragile of the classes.
Hexen introduces the concept of "hub" levels to the series, wherein the player travels back and forth between central hub levels and connected side levels. This is done in order to solve larger-scale puzzles that require a series of items or switches to be thrown. The player must traverse through a hub in order to reach a boss and advance to the next hub.
Hexen uses a modified version of the Doom engine, which allows jumping, network play with up to 8 players and the choice of three character classes. It also popularized the "hub system" of level progression in the genre of first-person shooter games. Unlike previous games, which had relied purely on MIDI for music, Hexen is also able to play tracks from CDs. The game's own CD contained soundtrack in audio format that was exactly the same as the game's MIDI soundtrack but played through a high quality sound module. However, the most significant improvement was the addition of wall translation, rotation and level scripting.
"Polyobjects" are the walls which move within the game. Because the Doom engine uses the binary space partitioning system for rendering, it does not enable moving walls. Hexen's moving walls are actually one-sided lines built somewhere else on the map and rendered at the desired start spot when the level is loaded. This enables a pseudo-moving wall but does not allow moving sectors (such as seeing the tops of moving doors). This often creates problems in sectors which contain more than one node, explaining the relatively limited use of polyobjects.
Whereas Doom, Doom II, and Heretic rely on lines within the maps to perform simple actions, Hexen also allows these actions to be activated via Action Code Script (ACS). These scripts use a syntactic variant of C, thus allowing special sequencing of game actions. Programming features such as randomization, variables, and intermap script activation enable smooth hub gameplay and are responsible for most of the special effects within the game: On-screen messages; random sound effect and monster spawning; sidedef texture changes; versatile control of polyobjects; level initialization for deathmatch; and even complex environment changes such as earthquakes manipulating floor levels and textures.
In 1999 the source code of Hexen was released by Raven Software under a license that granted rights to non-commercial use, and was re-released under the GNU General Public License on September 4, 2008. This allowed the game to be ported to different platforms such as Linux and OS/2 (EComStation).
Hexen is compatible with many Doom source ports; Hexen's features are also compatible with Doom WADs made for source ports regardless of what game they are being played on.
The score was composed by Kevin Schilder.
Deathkings of the Dark Citadel is the official expansion pack that was released for Hexen. It features three more hubs, for a total of 20 new single player levels and a couple of deathmatch levels. Unlike the expansion pack for Heretic, it had to be purchased in retail stores or by mail order. This was unusual at the time, as most non-free expansion packs also included other new or revised gameplay elements. Also, this expansion pack did not initially include nor enable any music. Music could be fully enabled by applying a patch, specially released to address this issue (usually found online under the name "dkpatch").
The names of the expansion hubs are as follows:
* The Blight
* The Constable's Gate
* The Nave
Each of the hubs features new levels, one secret level per hub, and new puzzles based on the quest items from the original game (no new quest artifacts were added). The difficulty of the puzzles is mostly on the same level as in the original game. The overall game difficulty is slightly higher, as is typical for game expansions. The final level of the expansion, the Dark Citadel itself, is an arena-like level, which features teleporting waves of monsters and three bosses (Fighter, Cleric, and Mage clones).