Hammerwatch is a brilliant single or multi-player fantasy action game with tiny characters fighting off hoards of killer monsters. It features beautiful pixel graphics, atmospheric lighting effects, RPG elements, and seriously challenging gameplay. It was created by Swedish developer Crackshell and first published in 2013. Hammerwatch is available for Windows, Linux, OS X, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and XBox One.
You can choose between six different character classes – paladin, wizard, ranger, thief, warlock, and priest – each with their own style of combat and skills, and the idea is to explore a series of dungeons, plundering loot, killing monsters, and trying your hardest not to die.
You have a health bar and a mana bar. Once your health is gone you lose a life and are re-spawned at the nearest entrance – if you have any lives remaining. Your mana is used-up when performing magic or skill moves, like a quick dash (if you’re not a spellcaster). You can recover health by finding and eating food, and mana by collecting mana crystals. Or both by paying for it at a trader. Attacking is done by mashing the attack key or button, and generally the attack rate is pretty fast. It needs to be when you’ve got hundreds of monsters coming at you. You also have a map that shows you where you are in the dungeon, plus the money you’ve collected.
Monsters tend to come at you in waves, and can keep coming at you if they’re coming out of a generator. Which is very Gauntlet-like, and Hammerwatch is very much like Gauntlet. And – just like in Gauntlet – you can destroy the generators to stop more monsters coming out of them. In fact: it’s imperative you destroy the generators as soon as you can.
Some monsters are more resilient than others, so it plays to learn which ones you have to attack carefully. Monsters with red hair are leaders and take a few hits to kill. If you’re a melee character (using a sword) then it’s safer to take a few swings at them, then back off, before returning to hit them again. And repeating the process until they’re dead. The weakest monsters can usually be killed with one hit, but if there are fifty or even a hundred of them swarming you all at once then it’s better to be cautious. You can also lead groups of monsters into traps to kill them without getting too close. Archers will send multiple arrows in your direction and can easily kill you if you’re not careful. Waiting behind a wall until they get near you, then dashing in to attack with your sword, is a wise move. Unless you can cast ranged spells and take them out at a distance. Some leaders, when killed, will also drop a banner, which will enrage nearby enemies, giving them a speed and power boost, so you need to destroy the banners quickly. You’ll know when monsters are enraged because they turn red. If you have a whole host of them enraged then you’re in for trouble!
Some monsters poison you, some spit venom at you, and occasionally you’ll encounter a mini boss who will require a more concerted effort to take down. As you get further into the dungeon you’ll meet more and more dangerous monsters. Each dungeon also has a proper boss battle where you have to deplete their life bar, and survive, to beat them.
There are also traps a-plenty and you have to watch out for these as you explore. Spiked floors will kill you quickly, so you either have to find a switch to turn them off, or run between them as they cycle up and down. There are pressure pads that activate nail guns; flame ball-throwers and arrow-spitters to avoid, and the occasional bomb inside a crate that will give you a few seconds to escape before it explodes.
There are also a variety of contraptions that shoot out destructive balls of death to avoid too. Most of them can be destroyed if you can get close enough to hit them, but getting close is not easy. Not without losing a good chunk of your health. Potions will replenish your health bar, if you can find any. Money, gems and vendor coins can be found lying around in the dungeons and these can be spent when you find traders.
One thing you do have to help you are checkpoints – small squares on the ground with a disk symbol on them. If you stand on them they will save your game, so if you die you can at least re-start from that point. Which is very handy. You only have one save per campaign, though. You can’t just make manual saves. You can, however, have multiple campaigns going at the same time – each with a different character.
Another useful feature of the game are combos. If you kill a certain number of enemies within a set period of time a ‘nova’ will activate around you, shooting purple beams out in all directions and giving you a temporary speed and power boost. You can also increase the power of these combos, make them easier to activate, or have them heal you or replenish your mana by buying upgrades at certain traders.
There are a variety of other purchasable dungeoneering aids too, like rejuvenation, or extra lives, or increasing your health or mana pools. You can buy these from traders as you find them. Later on there are also offensive and defensive upgrades too, but you have unlock the traders who sell them before you can buy them.
What I love about Hammerwatch is that it looks very simple but is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s quite a tense and difficult game underneath that cute, pixel graphics exterior. The idea when you play it, though, is to make the game easier for yourself by being careful and methodical. By playing clever. Don’t rush in and run all over the place. Work out which is the best route to get to that deadly sphere-chucker to take it out. There will be a corner nearby, which will give you a better chance of getting to it without losing much health. You’ll probably have to take out a bunch of generators and green slime monsters to get to it, but it’ll be worth it. Rather than steaming in from a distance and hoping for the best. Patience is a virtue in Hammerwatch.
A free expansion for Hammerwatch, called Temple of the Sun, was released in 2014 as a patch. It features a separate campaign that takes place in the desert and it adds new enemies, bosses, and challenges. If you buy Hammerwatch now it will come with this DLC expansion built-in. A sequel, called Heroes of Hammerwatch, was released in 2018. I’ve yet to play the sequel but it is on my wishlist.
The same dev team who made this also made the excellent Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour. I highly recommend both games.