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'Hammerwatch' review: You're going to die a lot and that's awesome



There’s something to be said when an eight-bit game musters up more challenge and fury than most modern games with the latest in fancy graphics, immersive sound and massive funding behind them. “Hammerwatch”, a game developed by Jochum Skoglund and Niklas Myrberg offers very little in the way of storytelling (practically nothing actually) and even less in the way hand-holding but that’s what makes it interesting. The game takes you back to the time where developers didn't shy away from making games hard just to reach a larger audience. It's a bit refreshing that this game doesn't care if I get frustrated or if I die a million times. I appreciate the challenge.

Playing singleplayer “Hammerwatch” drops you into a castle and immediately establishes that you've been separated from your friends, then it's time to murder everything in sight. Players can choose between Wizard, Warlock, Paladin, Thief, and Ranger and start with two basic attacks. The classes function much like you’d expect from a game using these character types. Wizards have low health, high mana, and can cast deadly fireballs and shoot flames. Rangers have long-ranged arrow attacks. Paladins are beefy tanks that shoot in with a dash move and then hack like it’s going out of style. Warlocks carry a bleed and a secondary magic attack with a high cost to use. Thieves seems to be able to throw a ton of daggers out. They've also got a nice area-of-effect slash that’s fun too. Controls use the standard W, A, S, and D for movement and arrow keys for attacks.

The art design feels nice, and the enemies go from manageable at first to slightly imposing to outright mortifying in their onslaught. More times than a few I've been literally encircled by angry bug creatures and or murdered by a homing spell from some angry lich monster. The game requires a little tactical thinking in order to maximize your effectiveness when you’re horrifically outnumbered. Running is a great tactic, as well as using corners and environmental objects for blocking or trapping. Every now and again I've noticed some enemies will have a hard time dealing with the fact you’re hiding particularly well, or on the converse they’ll seem to zero in on you from way out of distance but this occurrence is fairly rare and never really interrupts the mayhem.

The music in the game has a nice feel to it but unfortunately it’s not as varied as I like. While it may be nice, it would be a little more fun to have the music loop four or five tracks instead of one and maybe even be triggered by things you do on the level.

The big thing to realize about the game is that it’s equal parts merciless and equal parts fun. If you don’t like being defeated stay away from this game because you’re going to be reloading and dying a lot. The game requires a fair bit of focus, as sloppy movement will quickly mean your unceremonious demise. There’s lots of quick finger action required to dodge enemy attacks and kill enough enemies to trigger combos that you get from random vendors that lurk away in the dungeons. Often you have to disable a trap of some sort to get to them just to have the honor of browsing their selections.

The upgrades are purchased with money that drops from enemies and seems to be stashed in just about box and crate in the dungeon. To mix up the monotony of blowing up random things for money they've stuck exploding bombs which have nailed me two or three times when I've gotten careless. Different vendors will offer you upgrades to base states, attacks, defense, as well as consumables.

Still, I think I’d much rather avoid the "Diablo III" type of lunacy of hunting for loot while serious things need to be done, mainly getting the heck out of this horrible castle. I’m alright with the treasure chests and rooms that seem to be made to store cash but I’d love it if I could just continue on with the game instead of hunting for coins to make my fire blast have a longer range or do more damage. There's not a whole lot of engagement in burning down boxes looking for cash.

The cooperative play in the game is perhaps where it really shines, and where it needs the most work. Currently the game supports four players co-op in several modes, including the traditional campaign you find in singleplayer, a hero defense type where enemies will try to get to a specific point all the while ignoring your completely, and a customizable survival mode where it seems you face a whole lot of perpetually spawning pain until you manage to clear the boss.

Don’t get me wrong, the cooperative is a ton of fun, but there’s a bit of a lag issue sprinkled with random disconnects. When you manage to find a stable game though it’s good fun, especially the survival mode where players can take breaks to go to a safe area and buy new gear if they all go together in a group. Unfortunately it can be a tad difficult to communicate with people seeing as there’s only a basic text chat which is nearly impossible to use while dodging all manner of sorcery and foulness. Still, when you manage to win you feel like you've actually accomplished something.

On a scale of one to ten I'd rate the game at a seven and half out of ten with an easy eight if the multiplayer kinks gets worked out. The game is available for ten dollars on Steam. Hack away!

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