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Hammerwatch Review

March 26, 2014

Dear Reader,

What a pleasant surprise.  Hammerwatch, a Gauntlet-style indie game, has captivated my buddy and I for about 10 hours (so far – we’re not done yet) for a super-cheap price (we got it for 5 bucks each).  The game is a pure dungeon crawl; the entirety of the story is “The bridge broke!” This opening line propels you and potentially your multiplayer partner (now basically essential for any game I purchase) through 4 “acts” of the dungeon, each with three floors and a unique boss.

The overhanging danger is that the game plays like an unforgiving old-school dungeon crawl.  There are a finite number of lives that, if extinguished, end the game.  It is actually possible to fail in this game, which has earned it the title of “hardcore,” but really, it’s not.  It’s just old-school.

I bought the game on a whim, moreso because it had a functional multiplayer than anything else, but what my buddy and I found was a real gem.  We’re both hard-to-please, grumpy video game veterans, but we’ve had virtually no lasting complaints about the design so far.  It is set in an old, 8-bit graphic style, but some of the old-school graphics are still really cool looking.  The different classes, too, really change the gameplay.  There are two ranged and two “melee,” though one of the melee becomes a mix of aoe ranged and melee after a few floors.

And secrets – oh, the secrets.  They are everywhere.  There are secrets within secrets, even – that’s an actual message in the game: “You’ve found a secret within a secret!”  There’s breakable walls, illusory walls, switches, short memory puzzles, and all sorts of engaging, fun gameplay that helps punctuate the huge swarms of monsters that need to be put down (seriously, there’s rooms with 200 monsters and monster spawn pits, just like Gauntlet).  The overall experience is engaging both to killers, explorers, socializers, and achievers; it’s a perfectly-balanced experience fun for all players.

My buddy and I started with a paladin, a tanky melee character, and a mage, an aoe-based medium-range character.  The paladin has a shield that can block non-magical projectiles and has high armor, which reduces incoming damage.  It later gains a charge, a group heal, a passive stun off melee attacks, and a whirlwind.  The heal made an absolutely HUGE difference late in the game.  My buddy started with the mage, who shoots a short-range fireball that has a small aoe burst at the end that ignites monsters for burning damage.  It later gets an aoe meteor storm, an aoe ice spell that deals no damage but slows, an ice shield that slows attackers, and a flame breath medium-range aoe cone.

As you can see, dear reader, both classes play extremely differently.  Since he had a tank and a healer, my buddy was able to largely ignore the CC aspects of his class and focus on the dps, and I was more able to focus on defense and movement skills so that I could move around and gather up mobs while staying a little ahead of them.

We played the game through in one shot, though of course we both died plenty (he more than me, for the record).  In the end, though, we were able to save some money and, later in the game, use it to buy extra lives.  We finished the game with more than 60 lives stored up “just in case.”

As I’ve documented plenty, I don’t often play through games more than once.  However, this game got an exception; my buddy and I both immediately decided we wanted to try the other two classes.  This time he played the second melee class, the warlock, and I played the ranged class, the ranger.  We don’t know a whole lot about the classes yet, but my buddy was, at first, very unhappy with the warlock.  However, upon purchasing his first new ability, he was suddenly much happier.  “This class makes sense now,” he said, satisfied, and since then has been a little ball of destruction and self-healing.

So if you see Hammerwatch on sale (or even at full price, if you’re not a cheapskate like I am), I’d strongly recommend you snap it up, especially if you have friends with which to play it.  I imagine that the more people that play, the more fun it is, and having one of each class could really make for an interesting experience.


Stubborn (paladin/ranger)

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