Hexen II Mission Pack: Portal of Praevus Preview

Portal of Praevus will bring a new character to light, a new area to explore, but in light of user comments, it will also reduce load times by "probably around 30 percent."

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"There are a lot of things even play testing doesn't find," John Zuk, lead designer of the Hexen II mission pack, Portal of Praevus, says. "We almost have to see what people think of it."

Zuk is explaining some of the additions the mission pack is going to bring to Hexen, most notably a sharp decrease in load times. He talks about the month between the time Hexen II shipped and work was begun on the mission pack, time he and others spent trucking through "hundreds of pages" of user comments, discussions on Usenet, and magazine reviews. Portal of Praevus will bring a new character to light, a new area to explore, but in light of user comments, it will also reduce load times by "probably around 30 percent."

The time shaving comes from reorganizing how the game caches. "We looked at a lot of the ways things are cached in, we realized that in single-player mode it was caching in all four characters. So we took it and we fixed so it was only caching in the character you'd chosen." There was also "a lot of code optimitization that they didn't ever really get to finish."

So the speed will be better as you cruise through 15 new levels and hubs, specifically those in Tulku, the Tibetan-inspired new area. Tulku, Zuk elucidates, is the Tibetan word for reincarnated body, a concept that works well with the Serpent storyline of Hexen II. And although the area has its own very distinct Eastern feel, the graphics are predictably gorgeous, colors clear and lush in Hexen II style.

"We thought people would like to see some new things...to keep interest in the game going," Zuk says. The demoness is one such new item. In addition to the necromancer, the paladin, the assassin, and the crusader, you now have the option of playing as the demoness, a strong character who, like the necromancer, is after Eidolon, not to be a hero, not to save the world, but rather for personal and particular reasons. She is an antihero, and one possessed of large wings. She also has two special abilities, the first being her ability to float. Originally designed as an innate ability then later designated special for the sake of balance, floating "allows you to jump a little bit farther than other characters - not higher necessarily - but farther." All that you do is jump, then when you start coming down, you press a button and the wings give you a little extra oomph to push you slightly farther than any other character would be able to go on a jump. Her second special ability aids in fighting: When she's low on hit points - say 20 or below - and she receives a blow, she does take the damage, but she gets a comparable amount of mana so that she can strike back at the enemy and potentially survive a dangerous situation.

The demoness has several new weapons as well, and though their names and descriptions aren't official yet, several things are known. The spell will stretch the demoness's normally curved fingers straight as she projects a deadly golden red substance from her hand and into her enemy. The staff will shoot lightning bolts, and the first of two orbs held in the right hand will glow green with runes and project a sizzling green acid from the left hand. The second orb will be made of red runes and will cause the demoness to shoot fireballs that trail flaming particles.

Activision may well release the optimization as a patch downloadable from the site, so that everyone, not just Portal owners, can cut the load times down. But anyone interested in the demoness or Tulku will simply have to wait, then buy the mission pack when it comes out later this spring.

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