Every now and then, the opportunity arises to preview a game that makes me go insane. I get obsessed, and go way too hard at the limited experience without coming up for breath. I forget I'm playing a demo, pulled in as though I was playing the full game. The last time it happened was with Weird West; the developers said it would take me four or so hours to get through the demo, and I played it for 12 hours before finally pulling myself way. The same thing has happened to me with the incredible Hammerwatch II. The preview build I’ve been playing is purported to contain two-three hours’ worth of content. I’m eight hours in and show no signs of stopping. Hammerwatch II has got its hooks in me, deep.
So what am I doing? Dorking around and getting to know the game. I never played the first Hammerwatch, but Games N Moorer’s Joseph Moorer and I went hard on the roguelike spinoff Heroes of Hammerwatch. Still, the ebb and flow of the base franchise was something of a mystery to me. I knew that the game had ARPG roots, but that was about it.
I might have Diablo on the brain, but when considering how to explain the flow of the game, that’s the closest comparison that comes to mind. You visit towns, pick up quests, and then set off into the world to dive into dungeons and kill hordes of monsters. Hammerwatch II feels like Diablo for hardcore old-school gamers. I don’t mean to imply that Diablo isn’t hardcore, but the folks at Blizzard are certainly more concerned with onboarding new players than the developers at Crackshell.
Don’t expect this game to hold your hand through its opening moments. This is an indie game to the core; there is an element of “sink or swim” at play that can hinder the opening moments a bit. Still, a bit of commitment to swimming instead of sinking can go a long way. Come to Hammerwatch II with the mindset that you might be tinkering with the controls and digging into menus a bit to get the hang of the interface, and soon you'll be blasting through hordes of monsters with the best of them.
Of course, all of that discovery work is academic; the moment to moment gameplay of Hammerwatch II is spectacularly fun. I jumped into the main questline, and was immediately swept away. Hammerwatch II starts with a fairly lengthy recap of the first game, giving the player several screens to read through to establish the parameters of the story. But then it drops the player into the world, removing all blockers and letting you go nuts and explore.
My first time in the game, I somehow missed the opening town and wandered smack into a pirate’s cave. This was an error. I was quickly swarmed by pirates and dispatched with ease. Upon respawning, I decided to look around a little more, and that’s when I discovered the very conveniently placed town, full of shops, citizens with quests, and a starter dungeon that could help me prep a little before diving back into pirate-world.
Players start the game by picking a class; I went with the Warlock, who has some great starting powers. I can shoot poison bolts, and after a bit of leveling, they now bounce from enemy to enemy, chewing through any group that comes at me. I can also teleport a short distance – enough to escape danger when I’m overwhelmed. And if I do get surrounded, my wolverine-claw attack can usually take out enough baddies for me to escape long enough for a quick heal.
Combat in Hammerwatch II is quick and intuitive. Players move with the left stick and aim with the right, firing off powers with the triggers and face buttons. While combat flows smoothly once you get leveled up enough to not get killed with one hit, there are some pretty weird control decisions – particularly when playing with a controller – that are a bit head-scratchy.
For example, to use potions and items, players have to press down on the left stick, then navigate the subsequent menus with the right stick, which is tough as hell when you are in the midst of a battle. This breeds a certain mindset that has you kiting enemies around, maintaining enough distance that you can escape for a moment or two of healing, rather than doing it on the fly.
The pirate cave that slayed me without mercy the first time is where the bulk of the demo takes place. If this cave is an indication of the dungeon size in Hammerwatch II, players can expect to spend hours exploring a single location. These are not 30-minute Diablo dungeons. I was shocked when I discovered that the dungeon had regions, and that some doors and stairways led to sub-dungeons, and in some cases, directly connected into entire other dungeon systems. I followed the Pirate Cave into the Northwest Pirate Cave, and then into the Tunnel Beneath the Pirate Cave, and suddenly I was in the Wolf Cave. It's a lot. These are the sort of dungeons that you make excursions into – delving in, clearing an area, and then coming back out to refresh your supplies and re-gear with stuff you found.
So yeah, I’m still not done. I discovered a boss fight with the pirate captain last night and was promptly destroyed. I’m determined to level a bit and beat him. I also need to investigate crafting and some of the other systems in the game, which I’ve eschewed in favor of exploration and pirate murder. I'm having a blast, and I've gotten enough good gear that I'm a lot less squishy than I was when I started. I don't want to stop playing the demo, but I’m also caught a bit between the push and pull of putting more time into the game and the pending save wipe, which is the bane of all game previews.
Hammerwatch II feels like a great blend of new-school and old-school gameplay mechanics. Despite all of the early gaming conventions in Hammerwatch II, there is no question that this game is addictive beyond addictive, and once you get the hang of things, you'll never want to stop playing. If you are at all interested in the franchise, or if you enjoyed any of the previous games, don’t hesitate to jam on the wishlist button. All indications are that this iteration of Hammerwatch is going to be spectacular. Hell, it already is.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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