“Hammerwatch” has been on my watch list for quite a while, especially since my experiences with the Beta where positive overall. On that note, feel free to check out the preview I published back in February of 2013 if you have the time. “Hammerwatch”, for those of you who don’t feel like browsing between two different articles, is a “Gauntlet-esque” hack and slash adventure featuring pixel art and many, many scary looking creatures. You and your friends will be able to team up, pick a class, and wade through hordes of enemies as you attempt to clear Castle Hammerwatch from the ground up. Before we delve any deeper into how this game works, I’d like to once again thank Jochum Skoglund for providing me with review copies for the game.
The main menu will allow you to play a single player game, team up with friends in multiplayer, and adjust game options. Survival mode, which was featured in the Beta, appears to be absent from the final version. There is, however, a “Hero Defense” mode that has you fending off waves of enemies a la tower defense style…it proved interesting. The options menu addresses screen resolution, fullscreen toggle, various graphical toggles (ambient occlusion, lighting, shadows, etc.), audio sliders, controls, and some interface / gameplay settings. Not much has changed in this regard since the later stages of the Beta, but it covers everything you’d need to customize your experience as far as aesthetics are concerned. Local, LAN, and online multiplayer support are available, for those of you who prefer to game with friends.
There are four different classes in the game, one more than what was available in the early stages of the Beta. You’ll have your pick of being a Paladin, Wizard, Ranger, or Warlock, with each carrying a unique set of special abilities. While I would have liked to see more classes, these four are pretty diverse in what they do and thus keeps things interesting. They each have a primary mode of attack, but their special abilities are what makes them truly unique.
The Paladin comes across as your tank class, accompanied by a generous supply of health. The downside, as you may have guessed, is his lack of ranged support. His primary attack is melee and his secondary attack allows him to charge. While I’m not big on melee class fighters, his ability to heal and cast Holy Storm makes him a formidable character. Whereas the Paladin is buff and strong, the Warlock is a bit weaker. His primary attack is a dagger lined with poison that deals damage of time. While his main attack is melee, the rest of his abilities rely heavily on mana. With the Warlock, you’ll be able to cast lighting bolts that jump from one enemy to the next, drain enemies of their health en masse while shoring up your own, and more. The Warlock took some getting used to, but I found him to be an excellent support character.
If melee attacks aren’t your thing, the Wizard and Ranger have you covered. The Ranger has a bow and arrow that can shoot pretty darn far, with penetration to boot. Using mana, he can drop bombs and wipe out a huge group of enemies…think Link from “The Legend of Zelda”, but on steroids. He’s probably my second favorite character, as his range and Flurry ability (which allows him to spin in place and fire arrows) makes for a deadly combination…that is, when you’re not blowing stuff up with bombs. Last but certainly not least, the Wizard shoots a short-ranged fireball that does area of effect damage. He has the worst defense of the four, but makes up for it with a large mana supply and powerful spells.
Never played “Gauntlet”? Understandable…some of you are admittedly younger than old farts like me. To sum up the gameplay for you, you’ll pick a class, kill enemies, kill more enemies, pick up keys, kill more enemies, kill even more enemies, find secret rooms, kill, kill, kill, kill…you get the idea. Singing the entire score to the HMS Pinafore is optional, but is assuredly fun for the whole family (I offer no guarantees). The castle is broken up into levels and in order to advance to the next one, you’ll need to find a set of stairs and eventually, defeat bosses. The levels themselves are scripted and aren’t randomly generated, but there are benefits to this, I found. For one, you won’t have to worry about levels being too overly complex or simple. On the other hand, once you’ve played the game enough, you’ll know exactly where to go and what to do to progress to end of the game. This puts a damper on replayability, but not by much.
The control scheme and interface are easy to understand. While there is controller support, I had no trouble using the keyboard. Using the WASD keys to move and the arrow keys to attack with various weapons and spells, you’ll find it easy to know what is going on at all times through a slick and uncomplicated interface. Your health and mana are displayed along the bottom of the screen, while the keys you carry and the number of lives you have are displayed along the top. Hitting TAB by default opens a map, which also allows you to see how much gold you’re currently carrying. Potions can be picked up and consumed at a later date (which can be seen next to your mana bar)…trust me, you’ll need them for some of those difficult boss fights.
The bosses, for the most part, have a typical pattern that they follow. I still found them to be incredibly challenging, possibly even frustrating. I’ll go as far as to say that the game itself is fairly challenging as it’s very easy to die if you’re not careful, even on the easiest of the three difficulty modes. Luckily, the game allows you to choose modifiers before you play that will grant you major benefits like unlimited lives, regenerating health…that kind of thing. If you’re a much more casual gamer, these modifiers will be something you’ll definitely want to check out before playing. Likewise, you can make the game harder if so choose by enabling modifiers that debuff you and your friends in various ways.
Multiplayer is where the fun really lies, as it usually does when it comes to hack and slash dungeon crawlers. In order for me to successfully host a game, I had to brush up on my port-forwarding (port 9995) and make sure that my Windows firewall was configured accordingly. I couldn’t invite my friends through the Steam overlay, but they were able to join my game via IP address and the “browse” function. Local co-op is available, if you happen to have some extra controllers lying around. Playing with others is a much better experience, though it’s important to stress that only the host will be granted the save file (in my experiences, anyway). If you do play with others, try to make sure they are with friends with whom you game on a regular basis and that the host is regularly available.
Overall, “Hammerwatch” exceeded my expectations, but some annoying features (namely the save function and lack of in-game tutorials) prevents it from being perfect. One of the first things I noticed (and didn’t like) was the lack of a save-where-you-want mechanic, forcing you to find a checkpoint or switch levels in order to quit without losing your progress. This game is very easy to jump into as the mechanics aren’t all that complicated, but it doesn’t handhold by any means of the definition leaving you to figure out a lot for yourself. By that same token, gameplay can get a little repetitive, especially if you play it for long periods of time in one sitting. I particularly liked the ability to spend your gold on upgrades (through in-game vendors), which makes your character that much more powerful. I wouldn’t mind seeing more classes in the future, perhaps as DLC. It would be interesting to see a necromancer, warrior, and/or cleric class and what capabilities they’d encompass. A dedicated healer class, for example, would make an excellent support character in a co-op setting.
When it comes down to it, “Hammerwatch” is an incredibly fun, fast-paced hack and slash game that you won’t want to put down. It’s a solid single player experience, but it’s even better when you have friends along for the ride. Oh, and the music? Top notch. It’s well worth the ten bucks in my opinion, especially if you are in the mood for games that feature mindless slaughter by the thousands.
Final verdict: 8/10
Editor’s Note: The official website (link below), as of 8/15/13, says that the game can be pre-ordered making it appear as if the game were still in the Beta. I checked with the developer and they verified that the game is in a final state…the website just needs updated to reflect it.
You can learn more about and purchase “Hammerwatch” by visiting the following websites:
You can view video play sessions of the release version, here:
You can view video play sessions of the Beta version, here: