The first few minutes of Heroes of Hammerwatch give a surprisingly accurate representation of the entire experience. As you look through the multitude of classes, multiple customization options and somewhat overwhelming overworld, it instils both a sense of dread and intrigue. Heroes of Hammerwatch – Ultimate Edition can be a little daunting, but there is just so much to love here.
Upon startup, you can access a Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Witch Hunter, with the option to unlock four more character styles later on. These give you a nice mix of ranged, magic and physical attacks to fit your playstyle. For instance, the Paladin is tanky and has a roll move to get out of danger whereas the Warlock focuses on regenerating HP and mana. The class system promotes trying out different styles until you find your own in interesting ways.
After picking a class, you are greeted with a small village called “The Outlook”. The Outlook is a previously abandoned mining town complete with multiple villagers going about their day. This little town is something I look on very fondly after a multitude of hours with Heroes of Hammerwatch. It starts off as a small underdeveloped town with a bug problem in its mine, but it becomes so much more as you grow alongside it. Your level 1 character picks up their sword/bow/staff and makes their way into the mine, leaving the comfort of the town behind you.
Most dungeon structures, like that of the mine, are randomly generated in regards to design, traps and loot. You must fight your way through three floors initially, squashing bugs and figuring out puzzles. These reward you with gold, ore, and items. You fight by using your central attack button and a secondary magic-based move that uses mana. As you battle your way through floors, you must keep an eye on your HP and mana for fear of being killed without knowing. The combat of Heroes of Hammerwatch works like that of a traditional twin-stick shooter – left stick to move and right to aim whilst the triggers activate your basic attacks. Its roguelike nature starts to shine as you find “Miner Oliver”. You can’t go back to the surface at any point during a run. You must die or beat every floor to resurface. To keep your gold and ore, you must send them up with Oliver where they are taxed in return for the privilege of stowing items.
Once you inevitably die, you are shown the city once again but your ore and gold supply have now been updated to include your new loot. This loot can then be spent to upgrade your town in a multitude of ways, unlocking new buildings, upgrades, and skill trees. Traditionally, ores are used to upgrade the town and services whereas gold is used to upgrade your character. These can include permanent upgrades like stronger attacks or higher defence, or upgrades that only last one run like gear. The items you have on your character are lost upon death, meaning you could either stock up for that one big run or spend a little bit each time. The balance of RPG to roguelite is made abundantly clear with this and the level system. You level up as you kill enemies and points can be used to increase the power of skills. Whilst the luck of runs can majorly affect the minute-to-minute gameplay, Heroes of Hammerwatch’s permanent upgrade structure means you have a constant sense of progression even when you don’t feel like you do.
In a sense, this nails what works so well about most roguelites. The sense of uncertainty to roguelikes is so addicting but roguelites manage to curb the boredom that sets in when your skills stagnate. While most roguelites tend to show their hand in regards to the amount of content available, Heroes does an excellent job at obscuring this. It isn’t content with giving you an upgrade tree and finishing it there. It instead gives you a multitude of ways to upgrade your run and those levels of customization are increased evermore as you realise each class has a different upgrade path.
This is before mentioning NG+, NG++, and so on. Mercenary mode is given to you once a character reaches 20 – that gives you a maxed-out character with a ton of gold and tells you to make your way through Heroes’ levels. If you die, it becomes game over. This adds a true roguelike feel to each run as you don’t keep your progression and instead rely on a combination of skill and luck to make your way through.
The single biggest flaw in my time with Heroes’ has been with its online connectivity. When multiplayer works, it adds a nice level of teamwork as you work out puzzles and draw out large groups of enemies. Unfortunately, with both parties having a good connection, players are kicked out of lobbies consistently. Due to this, Heroes becomes an almost exclusively single-player affair. This could be due to any one of multiple issues and might be something that needs looking at on Xbox’s end, so this is worth looking into personally if you are searching for a co-op game to play with friends.
In my time with Heroes of Hammerwatch – Ultimate Edition on Xbox One, it has managed to separate itself from other roguelites and has solidified its role in my games library. It has a ton of content available at launch and offers something a little different to what I’ve played before it. Whilst there are multiplayer issues, it helps that it’s an all-round solid single player title. I hope to play it for hundreds of hours in the future and, for its price point, it’s hard to find anything better on the market.