This article was originally published in 2018 for Old Grizzled Gamers. However, that website no longer exists so I’m putting it here instead.
Hex Commander: Fantasy Heroes, by developer Home Net Games, is a turn-based strategy game where you control an army on a grid of hexes. It is free to play and comes with a full campaign as well as competitive multiplayer. All of which takes place in a fantasy world full of orcs, elves, and humans. The game does a lot of things right, but never succeeded in being particularly engaging. Let’s take a look why.
First off, we have the campaign. It is strung together through a series of missions. Each has a small amount of story to inform the player what is happening and why. The missions themselves are varied. Some task you with defending a castle and others will have you charging enemies on the battlefield. Each turn you have command of whatever troops are available for that mission. These are your standard blend of archers, infantry, and cavalry. On your turn, you move your units and attack. Terrain can benefit your troops by adding an attack bonus with a height advantage or in a tower or provide extra defence within some trees. Obviously, this also applies to your enemies. At the end of a mission, you gain a star rating based on how well you performed.
This is where Hex Commander shows its roots as a smartphone game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love plenty of mobile games both on my phone and PC versions. However, the fact that Hex Commander was developed with a mobile audience in mind becomes clear the more you play. The star system isn’t a problem. In fact, SteamWorld Heist used a similar system, and I love that game. It is the implementation of the mission structure, free to play elements and the game’s overall feel.
Each mission is, unfortunately, rather dull. What is mostly boils down to is – move, attack, end turn, rinse and repeat. There is undoubtedly some nuance with positioning and making the most of the environment, but it just isn’t enough. You can put an archer in a tower and have them rain down fire, but that is all they do for an entire mission. Enemy troops only seem to move forward and attack your units along the way. They don’t often take advantage of cover or height, and when they do, it is usually by accident. This is where it feels like a limitation bred from developing for a mobile system. Mobile games thrive on being simple regardless of anything else. Whereas, if you are developing for PC exclusively then you can be complicated and obtuse. There is a market on PC for those kinds of games, unlike smartphones. This means that the developers won’t want to create challenging AI because their primary audience isn’t interested.
Graphically, this looks quite good on phones. Unfortunately, on PC it’s grey and drab with basic models. There are some nice snow effects and a few other things, but on the whole, it doesn’t grab you. The menus, unit boxes, and even the attack animations are all lacklustre. So much so, that I played 90% of the game in the zoomed out mode where the units were merely troop icons. Plus, you can only move the map by dragging with the mouse, so being zoomed out makes this more comfortable as well.
Enemy turns are a chore as well. When there are a lot of units on the field, you have to wait for each one to attack and move. This can take quite a long time when you get into the double digits. There is no way to speed up the turns either, so you end up waiting for a few minutes while ten goblins move three hexes forwards – the joys of life.
That aside, the game has other things that it can offer. Afterall, you might be entirely up for a simple strategy game that doesn’t require you to push yourself. Maybe a campaign story is enough for you. Unfortunately, you’ll be ultimately let down by Hex Commander. There isn’t any story in this game beyond, “go here”, and “do this.” There is indeed a narrative about orcs attacking humans, but it is uninspired and flat-out dull.
Perhaps, then it is the multiplayer that saves the day. That must be the thing that makes this game worth playing, right? Wrong again, my friend. The multiplayer suffers from the free to play structure of the game. In Hex Commander you have a castle that you steadily grow the more you play the game. You can buy new buildings, upgrade them and even level up your hero units. All of this costs either gems or gold. Both of which you get from completing story missions and multiplayer. Seems entirely fair, doesn’t it? The more you play, the more resources you get so, the better units and buildings you can have. You can spend real-world money to speed up this process, but through playing the campaign and dipping into the multiplayer, you can upgrade at a steady pace. The problem, however, is that Home Net Games allow players to purchase premium troops.
Premium troops break the multiplayer. They are flat out better than other units, and there is no way to obtain them without spending money. This turns the game’s economy into pay to win. If the best troops are ones that you need to spend money on, then if you want to be competitive what other choice do you have? To add to this, in multiplayer, and skirmish (AI battles outside the campaign), you have to pay gold to bring units on to the battlefield using a teleportation hex. The better the unit, the more expensive it is to teleport them to the fight.
Of this turns a seemingly simple turn based hex game, into something that feels like all it wants is your money. It feels like the only reason the campaign exists is to point to something free with one hand, while the other holds a knife demanding money to continue. I’m sure I am not the only person who is sick and tired of thinly veiled free to play games that require in-game purchases to enjoy.
The worst part about all of this is that if Hex Commander was pay X amount to get access to the entire game, I could probably recommend it as a simple and easy to play strategy game. Instead, Hex Commander throws all of its credibility off the proverbial castle tower expecting that players continue to spend money. It most certainly isn’t the worst offender when it comes to paying to win, but that is hardly a ringing recommendation.
Overall is Hex Commander a bad game? No, it is not. Does it give you a lot of ‘content’ for free? Yes, it certainly does. Is any of that worthwhile? Not really. The problem with it is that there is no reason to play Hex Commander. It doesn’t have that hook of other games. It isn’t doing anything fresh and original. It doesn’t demand that you play through doing something spectacular, either. Instead, it is a relatively dull smartphone game released on PC. All of which you can get away with on phones, but there are so many better choices on PC that you have no reason to look twice at Hex Commander.
Thanks for reading. If you want something more recent then check out my article on Devil May Cry 5.
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