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Graven is what Hexen 3 would have been if Raven Software had a time machine

Graven, unveiled during today's Realms Deep online event, is a spiritual successor to the Hexen games, but it promises a much deeper experience than its predecessors. "Graven is Hexen 3—kind of," 3D Realms chief Frederik Schreiber told me during a recent preview session. It's the game that Raven Software would've made in 1998, if 1998 was now.

Schreiber describes Graven as an "action-adventure puzzler, with a few RPG elements here and there," including quests, spells, and upgrades. It certainly looks like an RPG at the outset: As a priest of the Orthogonal Order, you're convicted of a crime you didn't commit and cast into the midst of a heretical conspiracy, when your death sentence is interrupted by a divine being who's not supposed to exist. You wake up on a boat sliding through a thick, dark swamp, which eventually deposits you in a city, where your adventure begins.

After wandering around and smashing some stuff on the docks, which rather oddly doesn't seem to bother any of the bystanders in the area, Schreiber took us to the game's first quest-giver, who wanted us to rekindle an old lighthouse that's slowly sinking into the bog. This is where Graven starts to demonstrate that despite appearances, it is not an RPG: There are quests to complete, but your real job is to shoot, whack, and hack a whole lot of creepy monsters.

You'll have a variety of ranged and melee weapons at your disposal—my preview featured an auto-firing crossbow and a big sword—each of which will have three upgrades that can be purchased over the course of the game. You'll also wield a staff and spellbook, which unlike weapons cannot be dropped or swapped around. Interestingly, while magic is a central part of the game, Schreiber said it's more of a "strategic" tool that's not really meant to provide offensive firepower.

"[Spells] do deal some type of damage, but if you only want to deal damage, using weapons is better," he explained. "For instance, you can use the Enflame spell to melt stuff, you can use the Discharge spell to electrify or stun things and so on—and then switch over to a sword and kill them while they're stunned."

Spells will also take advantage of some of Graven's more complex underlying systems, enabling the sort of emergent interactions that simply weren't possible in the days of the original Hexen. "At later points in the game, the lightning spell Discharge can also be used to magnetize igneous rock, which can pull away enemy projectiles if they're metal, and can also be used to suspend gates open and things like that," lead designer David Queener told me.

It will be up to players to discover most of these possibilities for themselves, which is where the "puzzler" part of Graven comes into play: The developers want to do just enough handholding to set players on the right path, while otherwise leaving them to their own devices. That'll also be true of the game world itself, much of which will be hidden from players who don't take the time to explore.

Schreiber and Queener cited some unexpected influences on Graven: Hexen, obviously, but also Symphony of the Night, Grim Dawn, Stalker, and even Dark Souls, although Queener emphasized that it's not a Souls-like. At the same time, 3D Realms aims to keep Graven as "authentic" to its roots as possible, which means sticking to a limited color palette and "very strict rules" about textures and triangles, Schreiber told me.

They're taking the opposite approach with everything else, though. Graven may look like a relic, but the goal is to make it feel like a very modern game.

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"The idea was, what if we were back in '97, '98, and we have the additional 22, 23 years of game design innovation and knowledge in our backpacks, and we would now make a new game with the technology from back then—maybe a little bit enhanced. We're doing a lot of things that still look like back then but are way more detailed," Schreiber said. "That's kind of our philosophy: What if we gave those old guys at Raven superpowers and they didn't have to think about the CPU and 3Dfx cards?

"In terms of the openness and how big you can make the levels and enemies and mechanics and so on, we're just going to take it as far as we can take it."

Graven is expected to be out in 2021. Here are the first 30 minutes of gameplay, from the publisher:

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.