One moment you’re walking around the corner, weapon ready. The next, you’re retreating back around that corner, followed by a horde of insurmountable odds. This is Hammerwatch, the dungeon crawling hack-and-slash adventure that cause everyone to immediately think of the good old days of Gauntlet. With a diverse range of options to increase or decrease difficulty based on your own preferences, you can go from a walk in the park (if walks in the parks involved slaying waves of grubs, bats, and skeletons) to frantic terror where one mistake means your life (your only life, if you so choose). On one end of the scale you can give yourself MP regeneration, infinite lives, and even double damage, and on the other you can toughen up with NO MP regeneration, no extra lives, or even accepting death before it even begins by giving yourself only a single, precious hit point. With this system, players can make Hammerwatch a unique mixture of frustrating and/or casual.
As for your class of choice, Hammerwatch lets you choose from four classic archetypes: The Paladin, The Wizard, The Ranger, and The Warlock. Each class has its own attacks and special abilities, most of which are unlocked a little later than one might desire. While everyone is likely to find their own preference, each class is honestly impressively balanced with the others. The Paladin is a great close combatant, able to move across the map hastily to where he needs to be whether that be into or out of the hordes of monsters that assail him. The Ranger has high damage output, his basic bow attack able to strike enemies from a distance and will actually pierce through and strike multiple targets. He also starts with a bomb, which can be more than devastating when used with the game’s key strategy in almost every situation- kiting. The Warlock is an interesting mix of close and ranged combat, and when used effectively he is a force to be reckoned with. With only a dagger to attack with, he can also call upon potent spells, the first of which is a ball of chain lightning, which will deal high damage to clusters of foes. Finally is the Wizard, whose basic attack has a small burst radius, and his starting spell will keep him safe from incoming foes as he channels a torrent of flame in front of him. Personally I found the Ranger to be the best class to solo with, however the game’s true allure lies in multiplayer. Playing with friends is what takes Hammerwatch to the next level. The beginning of the game is rather slow progression wise, so being able to push through it faster with help from a buddy is nice. We all know simplistic games like these are always better with a trustworthy wingman or two, especially when the game was designed with multiplayer in mind. There’s nothing like running away from an army of skeletons with only 7 HP and no MP while screaming “HELP HELP HELP HELP” to your pals via Skype until they swoop in for the rescue. When you’re outnumbered 100 to 1, every additional player helps exponentially, provided they’re doing more than exactly what you’re doing – running in circles screaming for help.
As far as the aesthetics go, Hammerwatch certainly has “that feel” to it that pixel art seems to evoke in us all. It’s done quite well in Hammerwatch, all the scenery and objects very clearly defined and fluid. The other nice thing about the visuals in Hammerwatch is that you can make the game feel even MORE retro by adjusting the post process with three options. Phosphor, Dot & Bloom, and Curvature. Both phosphor and dot & bloom make the pixel art so very reminiscent of playing a game in an arcade in ways that my technical expertise cannot fully explain, and to enhance the retro arcade feel you can adjust the screen’s curvature to give the effect of a warped screen that has the center raised and the edges depressed. With all three options active at once, the effect is more than impressive. It made me feel like I should be inserting quarters every time I died. The audio for Hammerwatch is wonderful, both the sound effects and the music well composed. The only downside is that the music tracks don’t loop well, suddenly cutting off and starting over or changing as you switch zones or situations. Controls in Hammerwatch are a bit weird to get used to on keyboard, I’ll admit in a few ways they’re counterintuitive. Everyone catches on easily enough though. For the keyboard, you move with W,A,S,D, and the arrow keys are used to attack. However the direction of the arrow key has absolutely no correlation to direction. To start, the up arrow activates your basic attack and the right arrow activates your special but direction doesn’t matter. Both occur in whichever direction the player is facing. Of course you can map your own keys if you prefer something else, but it’s highly recommended that you use a controller to play if you have the option. Another tip, most people learn far too late that you can attack while strafing, extremely useful for any and all ranged attacks.
Progression is slow to start with the game, the player starting on one side of a collapsed bridge while his fellow adventurers are on the other. “Try to find a way out” is pretty much the only guidance you get, but it’s all you need. The story in Hammerwatch is what you make of it. The story of fighting for your life against impossible odds. What more could you ask for from such a simple and primal game? Players gather gold from monsters and barrels, as well as finding piles of it in random corners and rooms guarded by covetous monsters. This gold is then used to unlock upgrades and new abilities from vendors scattered (and sometimes hidden) across the dungeon levels. The game’s combo system evolves as you progress, to the point where you’re eventually chaining combos to move, attack, and cast faster with increased damage – adding incredible pace and adrenaline to the game-play equation. The bosses can sometimes be a brick wall, extremely difficult in that they have incredible health and damage. The feeling of accomplishment upon beating one is rather satisfying, however. Traps, secret passages, and hidden doors are prevalent through the game, and the developers tossed in a few simple puzzles, nothing that makes you think too hard however. The dungeons themselves are maze-like for certain, yet they are all the same across each play-through. In a time where procedural generation is becoming the norm, some players may see this as a bummer, but you can always make your own maps or play those made by others via the game’s built in editor. Long story short, Hammerwatch is most definitely a game worth the $8 most especially if you have a friend or two who is willing to splurge and play with you. A bit slow to start, it is enjoyable albeit repetitive at times, visually pleasing, and the perfect remedy when all you want to do is spam keys to slice, stab, shoot, or blast your way through horde after horde of monsters.
Genres: Indie, RPG, Dungeon Crawl, Action
Released: August 12, 2013
Version Played: PC
Price: $7.99 via www.hammerwatch.com
KKEnt’s Verdict: 3.5 out of 5