A Paladin, a Wizard and a Thief walked into a bar. “What do we have here?” the bartender asked. “A group of Gauntlet veterans?”. “No!”, they replied, “We’re from that Hammerwatch. Now get us a pint.”
Of course, that didn’t really happen and the idea that I was going to start with a joke most definitely sounded better in my head, but in some weird alternate universe it is quite probably pretty much par for the course.
You see, it does go some way in telling how close that videogame classic, Gauntlet, and the latest hack ‘n’ slash romp, Hammerwatch, are to one another. In fact, it is hugely obvious that the latter has been massively influenced by the former. Not that that is a bad thing at all. In fact, it has worked out pretty damn well.
Hammerwatch is a retro themed hack and slash loot grabber in which you must slowly make your way through two differing campaigns, a survival mode or a wave destroyer, in style. With a glorious visual polish that more than does the job intended of it, and a quite frankly brilliant audio system that delivers a stunner of a soundtrack, everything is looking good in Blitworks’ garden.
But it is hard. And there are times when the amount of backtracking involved is hugely frustrating. But thankfully the good parts far outweigh the bad.
Character wise and there is a decent variety too. I have to admit that the glorious Paladin, with his quick swiping sword, high defensive options and appreciated dash is head and shoulders above the others, but depending on how you want to play Hammerwatch, there is pretty much a character for all occasions. With the ranged Wizards, Rangers, Priests, and Sorcerers of this world taking care of those who like to sit back and attack from distance or with magic, and the Warlock and Thief accompanying the Paladin with close combat action and different mana uses, Hammerwatch more than caters for different playstyles. I have to admit to being at a loss to understand why the Ranger is thrust out there as the ‘newbies’ character, mind. I’m sure others will disagree though.
With a retro-y pixel-y art style, the two campaigns included – Castle Hammerwatch and Temple of the Sun – are thoroughly decent too. They are deep, spread across many floors, filled with enemies, come complete with plenty of secrets and will have you navigating their mazes for many an hour. On a personal level I’ve had a huge amount of fun in just battling my way through the masses and discovering little secrets without a care in the world, but should you wish to stop and have a chat with a vendor, you will find that the occasional character is standing by ready to be hit up in conversation. Thankfully many of them deliver precious upgrades in the offense, vitality, defense, powerup and combo departments too, and so it is vital to spend time searching for as many coins as possible. Because the further you get, the more damn enemies will be spawned your way.
There are also bosses to take down and whilst you’ll not really need to use much tactical nous in order to take down the minions that fill the adventures, anything that is considerably bigger than you, protected by hundreds of slaves and armed with their own unique attacks, will need a decent degree of thought and wit before battle should commence.
The campaigns are good and will keep you going for many an hour, but there are also some survival and wave options that sit in place ready for you to spend a few minutes with as well. Admittedly they aren’t as addictive as wondering where the dungeon crawling tales will take you next, and once you’ve taken in their wares a few times, you will probably see them as filler, but they are good filler all the same and particularly vital should you wish to learn the ropes of a specific character.
So, you may remember me mentioning that Hammerwatch is a fairly tough playthrough, and that is most definitely the case – you will not be breezing through this game in an evening. With limited lives and continues available, there is next to no chance that rushing in without a plan would ever be the best course of action. But should you still be finding things too tough – or even, somehow, too easy perhaps – then easy, medium and hard difficulty levels bring variety.
Even more level and difficulty options come about with the inclusion of modifiers, with you able to add in extra challenge, or ‘crutches’ to help you out should you see fit. These include being able to head on in with no extra lives, just the single health point, no mana regeneration or more. Obviously with these in place, Hammerwatch goes from hard to downright impossible. But the crutches in place allow for the opposite, and whilst they limit your achievement and gamerscore collection, infinite lives, double damage and more chances of succeeding before being thrown back to the last checkpoint will always go down well in this era of gaming.
Hammerwatch also supplies the required experience should multiple players wish to go looting together. Catering for anything up to four players, the local cooperative option in place works just as well as the solo adventures, letting players team up in order to take down the hordes and work together in order to grab the most loot. It’s a shame that there are no drop in/drop out capabilities though, and the promise of a free update to see an online multiplayer format take hold isn’t yet with us. When the latter of those appear, you may well struggle to find a better, more encompassing online-enabled loot filled hacker than Hammerwatch.
If you’re looking for a cheap new adventure to get your teeth into, or are just after a loot collector that will invoke memories of the classic hack ‘n’ slash era, then Hammerwatch will happily ply you with the content required.
And that’s no joke.