Hammerwatch II Review
Hammerwatch II, the long-anticipated sequel of the hit dungeon-crawler Hammerwatch, released in 2013. Developed by Crackshell and published by Modus Games, it’s a gorgeous pixelated throwback to a simpler time in gaming, built from the ground up to play with friends. Unfortunately, the dull single-player experience, often pointless dungeons and the simple lack of fun to be found in the game make it hard to enthusiastically recommend Hammerwatch II.
The original game had been on my radar for quite some time. It was a classic-style ARPG dungeon-crawler that benefited from some modern-day game mechanics. With that being said, the original, coming out back in 2013 when I was just a mere junior in high school, went by me un-played.
Hammerwatch II released in August of 2015 to much acclaim from its cult following. I was excited to give it a try, hot off of WAY too many hours into Diablo 4, the quintessential modern dungeon-crawler. I came away with mixed feelings.
Let’s dive in
I would be remiss to not say that the opening track to the main theme is — simply titled “Main Theme” — as the kids would say, an absolute banger. I have listened to it outside the game at least a dozen times. Having a grand opening theme sets the stage for a sign of good things to come.
The pixelated art style is gorgeous and blends old-school design with new-school technology. The colors are vibrant, and hearken back to the pixelated art style of old-school ARPGs. The soundtrack is bouncy and entertaining.
Developer Crackshell was kind enough to give us two codes to experience this game with a buddy. Did you ever play Gauntlet on the N64 by yourself? Didn’t think so. So, I took some time building my ranger, Halt (shoutout to all of you John Flanagan fans) while my buddy Matt got to choose between warlock, paladin, rogue, or wizard; but finally decided on paladin.
On Nostalgia and Friendship
After getting the extremely helpful recap of the plot of the original Hammerwatch, I was deposited straight into a tutorial dungeon in the game. It transported me immediately back to December 24th, 2008. Ahh yes, 2008….simpler times. You know, minus the housing crash and everything. Every Christmas, my entire family would gather at my grandma’s house to enjoy a Christmas Eve dinner (ham, of course.) This particular year, I am 12, and I am finally allowed to join my older brother and older cousins in playing Gauntlet on the Nintendo 64 that my grandma kept in her basement. My cousins, brother, and I would spend the next several hours playing Gauntlet. These times, these memories, are some of the best that I have. Hammerwatch II took me back there in an instant. The nostalgia here is strong.
The plot is your pretty straightforward old-fashioned “kill the dragon and save the world” narrative. Exactly what you would expect from this type of game, no more, and no less. The true story is the friends we make along the way…or something like that.
Seriously though, the best times I had in this game were when I played it with Matt. A particularly strong boar comes along and gores me out of nowhere. An arrow trap lies directly ahead of me and I wander directly into it. Matt attempts to revive me. He dies by arrows to the chest, not unlike Boromir in Lord of the Rings.
Houston, we have some problems…
Hammerwatch II’s tutorials could use some significant work. Maybe I would feel differently had I played the original Hammerwatch. It took Matt and I at least five hours to figure out that there was a grappling hook you had to use to bridge certain chasms. If it weren’t for Google, I am not sure we would have ever found that out. I want my games, particularly dungeon-crawlers, to have a fair amount of difficulty and “figure it out as you go along” gameplay, but it often is too much here.
The game also too often commits that heinous sin, backtracking. I traverse the whole way through a dungeon, a quest-giver then tells me to return directly to the sewers, only to have to IMMEDIATELY go right back and parse through said dungeon again. Inevitably, with no new loot to show for it.
The game, sadly, often feels like a slog, The single-player is quite dull and a hard-to-recommend experience. Multiplayer is the main format of this game. On Normal difficulty as the Ranger class, the game is nearly impossible. My wolf is the only reason I am able to make it through.
Cameras, wasps, and broken things
Camera angles are often inexplicable…sometimes with a roof over a pathway (see below picture) so you literally cannot see your character at all. Situations arise in these types of corridors where you fight enemies, and the overhead roofing makes it impossible to see. There is no minimap on the HUD. To access the minimap, you have to hold down left tab. This quickly gets obnoxious because you need the minimap constantly. When pulling the minimap up, it covers your entire HUD. The opacity can be adjusted in the settings, but it is still cumbersome. The absence of a minimap built into the HUD quickly becomes glaring.
A big gripe I had is the inability to change difficulty midgame is truly nonsensical. You can pick up a multiplayer game without your partner, but you cannot change the difficulty of said playthrough. I truly do not understand this decision. Additionally, charging money, while typical for this type of game, also becomes extremely frustrating; because you are going to die…. A LOT.
The bloody wasps will go down as one of my most hated enemies in gaming. I find the hook shot and cross the river. The wasps are waiting for me on the other side. I will have nightmares about wasps for the next decade.
2023 is such a banner year for great games, but this is not one of them. It saddens me that I cannot recommend Hammerwatch II. It is, at best, enjoyable for a night or two with friends.
***PC code was provided by the publisher for review***
- Gorgeous pixelated art style
- Bouncy, enjoyable soundtrack
- Can be a fun experience with friends
- Often pointless dungeons with little to no payoff
- Some inexplicable design choices
- Often lacking in the fun department