Hammerwatch is the perfect example of how much fun small independent games can be.
We don’t need grand plots, visual masterpieces and a perfectly composed sound track to have a great time; sometimes, all we need is some simple gameplay and a friend or three to share the experience with. The geniuses behind the development of Hammerwatch are Jochum Skoglund and Niklas Myrberg, two very talented Swedish videogame enthusiasts who, we’re guessing, are massive Gauntlet fans – because Hammerwatch oozes influence from games of that genre and time.
You’ll start off by picking your difficulty (easier, medium and hard) and your class. There are 4 classes to choose from and each one brings something different to the table, whether it’s a higher portion of HP or some devastating damage, each class has significant pros and cons. The classes available to the player are: Paladin, Ranger, Wizard, and Warlock (a fairly typical high fantasy duo). Once you and your friends have chosen your characters you’ll jump into what can potentially be hours or seconds of fun depending on how well you and your friends can manage your lives.
The story in Hammerwatch is simple if not non-existent. You start off on the wrong side of a broken bridge, your NPC companions look at you from the safe side and say something a long the lines of “Oh no, the bridge is out, try find a way out. Bye!” and that’s about it. Brilliant? Not really, but that doesn’t matter; who cares about the story when there are bats to kill, keys to find, puzzles to solve, stairs to climb and bosses to kill?
The controls are pretty simple: you move around with the usual WASD keys and make use of your skills with the arrow keys. If you don’t fancy that control scheme or you really want to hone in on those nostalgic Gauntlet memories, there is the option to plug in a controller instead. Using these simple controls you’ll almost immediately find yourself facing armies of large scarabs and swarms of bats, but you’ll soon find that they don’t pose any significant threat. Next up are some large maggots reminiscent of what you would find in Act II of Diablo 2 (possibly also a great influence) followed by some skeletons and then some multiplying slimes and so on.
Hammerwatch is constantly throwing new things at you to keep you on the edge of your seat, and as soon as you find yourself feeling the slightest bit comfortable with an area, the game ups the ante by throwing in any number of the tricks it has up its sleeve – whether it’s spike traps, flame spitters or one of the may ‘enemy spawners’ that will continually throw enemies at you until destroyed. Eventually you’ll find yourself hacking up enemies, dodging wall spikes, weaving in between poison arrows and keeping your eyes open for food to heal yourself with – a complicated yet unbelievably enjoyable task that only gets more difficult as the game progresses.
There are ways to alleviate the steady increase in difficulty though, and throughout Hammerwatch you’ll find numerous vendors that have different things to sell you. Not only do these vendors sell potions but also class upgrades. Rather than having the traditional skill tree method of improving characters, Hammerwatch lets you buy new skills and upgrades (such as an increased mana pool or extra base damage) with gold collected from barrels and chests, the gold isn’t shared though so watch out for sneaky teammates dashing for gold during battles (there’s always that one guy). Another way of improving character stats is through killing the bosses and more powerful enemies in an area, once they are dead they drop items that permanently increase everyone’s stats – a nice reward for a job well done. Combo Mode is another way of making things a fair bit easier on yourself. Kill 10 enemies in quick succession, and something special happens – by default it will increase your base speed and damage and give you invulnerability for a short period of time, but the player can change what it does via the vendors.
The core gameplay of Hammerwatch will have you and your friends looking for different kinds of keys to unlock doors that ultimately lead to stairs. These stairs are how you progress further in Hammerwatch (much like in the original Diablo) and players will be climbing further up over 4 acts and 4 bosses. There are many things to do across these 4 acts though and it’s easy to miss the many secrets and puzzles when surrounded by mayhem.
Hammerwatch is a solid videogame (albeit tough) that is best experienced with friends. The pixelated graphics are actually appreciated rather than despised and the simple retro music and general sound effects are a nostalgic pleasure on the ears. Meanwhile, longevity and replayability are enhanced by the extra game modes (survival and defense), to ensure that players have something else to do when they grow tired of the traditional campaign.
If you like hacking at hundreds of bad guys through dungeons, you should definitely consider picking it up, but the deciding factor for Hammerwatch depends on if you’re planning on playing it cooperatively. If you’ve got a friend or two who wouldn’t mind playing through the game with you and you enjoy ‘mindless’ hacking and/or slashing, then Hammerwatch is the game for you.