Some gamers may think that the RPG genre in video games has fallen off a ravine courtesy of over-complicated gameplay systems and various nonsensical features that seems more like filler than actual worthy additions. There are people out there who like it basic, yet solid and stimulating. Nostalgia tends to haunt these gamers like ghosts from the past, and no one can really blame them. Perhaps Hammerwatch can put a smile back on their faces for even just a little while.
Hammerwatch is a top-down action RPG made by Crackshell, and it seeks to recreate the classic loot-driven hack-and-slash dungeon crawler like the old Atari game Gauntlet, which was its main inspiration. The gameplay featured here should also feel very familiar to fans of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It’s just a multi-level dungeon full of enemies and loot, and you have to find your way to wherever is the end. The game is pretty simple in concept, but it’s this formula that had spawned games that many gamers still hold dear to their heart.
When you’re about to start a game, you get to pick the difficulty and your character class of choice, whether it’s the Paladin, Wizard, Ranger, or Warlock. You then start the game and get a message somewhere along the lines of the bridge behind you collapsing and there’s no way out. The only thing you can do at this point is to move forth and go deep into the dungeons to seek your fortunes or at least survive as long as possible. What you face then is a fairly expansive subterranean world filled with bugs to kill and treasures to collect.
The different enemy types make for a varied tactical experience. There are melee and ranged enemies that can be taken out in different ways. Despite how fun it is to kill the enemies though, you don’t really get any incentive from killing them other than for purposes of exploration and survival. There’s no character level system involved, so you don’t get experience for your trouble. You kill them just to pass through an area and so that they don’t bother you later on while you collect gold.
You do need all the gold you can get though so that you can buy upgrades from the vendors, which are scattered throughout the dungeons. Either you want to get health upgrades or be able to use combos, you can only get a few of them since they cost so much, so whatever you get better be worth the expense. This does mean that you’d want to smash every crate and barrel you see in order to find every last bit of gold in the area. This may not be to some people’s liking, and it’s possible for hardcore players to go through the game without buying a single upgrade, although that would be very difficult indeed.
If you think that the singleplayer is fun, then you could like the co-op multiplayer even more. You can play with up to three of your friends to negotiate the dungeon together and survive longer. The four character classes can take on roles, like the Paladin as a tank, Ranger as support, and the Wizard and Warlock to clear out rooms with multiple enemies. It has both local and online multiplayer, so you can boss each other around in either the same room or over voice chat.
Most gripes about this game usually falls on issues of preference. For instance, this game definitely plays better with a pad controller than a keyboard, so those who don’t have one of the former will have to settle with the latter. It’s not to say that you can’t play it with the keyboard, and perhaps some may even prefer it, but the pad controller provides the best overall experience in this game. If you have a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller, that’ll do since there are third party programs to make them work on the PC.
Also, all the shades of brown and grey that you see everywhere may not be to everyone’s liking, but that’s to be expected in an underground cave. It’s like how some people don’t like playing the steampunk RPG classic Arcanum because it’s full of brown. Maybe some people prefer the more modern action gameplay over what seems to be a little Skinner box, and some may even just dislike the pseudo-retro pixelated look, but that’s just how it is with video games these days. The good thing about this Skinner box though is that it’s mostly up to skill rather than character levels.
For just ten of your dollars, you can have this game in all its glory on Steam. That’s pretty good value, and lucky are those who get to purchase it on a sale. In any case though, if you are an RPG fan and you like to kick it old school, then this should fit the bill just right. If you have friend to play with, then even better.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 8.5/10