Hammerwatch 2 is an old-school RPG that wears its inspirations proudly up its sleeve, not shying away from some in-depth adventuring beneath a layer of beautiful pixel art. It’s a direct sequel to a well-received game from 2013, which means that we have a decade separating the two releases. This is a great excuse to see how the series has evolved in the meantime, intentionally ignoring the rogue-lite spin-off Heroes of Hammerwatch.
A Big and Mysterious World
The choice for the campaign starts with the obligatory class selection, with five stereotypes on offer: Wizard, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, and Warlock. Will you pick a ranged, melee, or balanced class? Choose wisely, as there is no turning back, only evolution from this point forward. Before setting out on adventure, tweak your tiny pixel hero in colored features such as hat, robe, shield, coat, and so on, depending on the type of character. For comedic purposes, you can create a gruff male from the basic facial features customization and add a female voice, something that will surely leave a mark during the adventure.
Forsaking the Ranger from my first impressions, I decided to go with a punk-rock Wizard, again for the ranged possibilities. However, the ability choice gives you the options to mix and match in most cases, with a blast that hits nearby enemies. Switching some items gives you different prospects, encouraging experimentation with character builds. There are several stats to upgrade as you level up, and at regular intervals you can find a unique NPC to raise your experience and unlock new abilities, beginning with Apprentice and going through Adept and Expert, all the way up to Master. A respec is also possible and extremely recommended so that you can reassign your points to the most useful abilities.
With one of the dragons of the first game defeated, it’s time for you to escape the ruined castle and discover a huge world ripe for exploration. There’s some interesting lore to follow if you like to discover all the details, but most of it can be safely ignored, as many side-quests don’t really bring much that is essential to your progress.
The starting Hammer Island may look tight and quaint, but as you leave the safety of the small village you will find many dangers roaming the land. From wolves to pirates, there’s not a moment of rest as you slay creatures left and right while collecting all kinds of resources to use in crafting, cooking, and other standard RPG activities. Don’t let the cute looks fool you, there is plenty to learn and do in Hammerwatch 2.
It’s beneath the surface that this island and other locations show the game’s true scope. The pirate hideout is a good example of a massive web of underground areas with various floors connected by passages that aren’t always easy to spot. The equivalent to Diablo’s dungeons, this is where your skills are put to the test and your experience levels rise with the hit counter going into the hundreds, soon thousands, as you try to clear every corner of the map. More than a simple skill test, it’s also an observation challenge that requires closely watching for entrances, cracks on the wall for secret loot, and locked doors that are going to drive you insane as you fail to find the corresponding buttons.
Little Girls and Toy Horses
Quests aren’t exactly brimming with creativity, but some of them are quite interesting to follow. My favorite is the one where a girl gives you a poorly drawn sketch showing where her toy horse was buried, asking you to retrieve it. This is in fact a two-part quest, first requiring you to purchase a shovel, and then interpreting her drawing to find the marked place. It’s easier than it looks but requires focus.
The worst thing about quests is that the log isn’t as helpful as it could be. Keeping some details hidden is good for the sake of the challenge and to prevent extreme handholding, but when quests start piling up and you can’t tell your Scalem from your Switch Town, a lot of backtracking is required and it becomes tiresome. Failing to mention the name of the character to deliver the quest is one of the issues, let alone the location where we should go to complete it. The exclamation marks on the map are useful, but only when you’re within a small radius of the NPC, meaning it’s not that intuitive.
Villages are bristling with NPCs walking around, selling all types of wares, going to their houses to rest for the night, and even challenging you to a game of Gadir. Think of it as a mix between Battleships and a card game, where you place walls to protect your castle while using the cannons to damage the opponent’s one.
While you can’t shoot any villagers, the political correctness of the game stops right there. Nothing prevents you from staring at that cute cat and suddenly zap it, collecting the raw meat. Even sheep and chicken don’t get a safe pass, with the latter being burned to a crisp for the sake of collecting eggs, something that for some reason reminded me of Fable and its Chicken Chaser achievement, but in a chaotic evil approach.
Combat has this addictive nature to it, with the core mechanics perfectly oiled-up and the variety of attacks providing some decent strategies. Don’t expect anything overly deep or complex, just a fun and enjoyable system where movement is vital, and the enemy diversity and elemental affinities throw some twists into the battles. One of my favorite moments happened when I drew a group of thieves from the safety of their hideout and into the forest, forcing the wild boars to attack them while I watched the two sides struggling for their lives, popcorn in hand.
A Fantasy Feeling of Déjà Vu
If there’s one major complaint about the game, then it’s the lack of a mini-map. Having to constantly open the larger map to check my location and potential destination becomes excruciating after a few hours of play, and this could have been solved so easily – besides, each entrance could have a text description saying the place it leads too, saving us the guessing game. The inventory maps are pretty much useless, giving you a very vague idea on the main cities so that you know where to head off to, but ignoring everything in terms of obstacles such as lakes, rock formations or thick forests forcing you to take another route.
I’m also at odds with the lasting appeal of Hammerwatch 2, as my incessant capers through “mysterious caves” – exactly their name – ended up on the repetitive side. In most of them, there’s little incentive or lore to support another venture; it’s just for the grind and eventually a good item if you manage to notice the stealthy cracks on the rocks. Sure, you may find the purple pillars that are crucial to the story and require a full exploration of these places, but this is another thing that pushes me into thinking that this is a game where breaks are not only necessary, but strongly recommended.
As a final quibble, the design choice of having the health, mana, stamina, and experience bars on the two sides of the screen is a strange one. This significantly shrinks the gameplay area, making it more of a square than widescreen, and not in a good old-school way. Having these bars at the bottom left and right of the abilities would have been a much better aesthetic and effective choice.
In a sense, Hammerwatch 2 feels like it was optimized for cooperative online play. You can join a party of four players and have some great fun, balancing ranged spells with melee swings and go in terrific adventures together. There may be some disputes over who gets the loot if the players aren’t really cooperating, but the joys of fighting bosses with a couple of extra hands is utterly more enjoyable than going at it alone.
The PC version comes with full mod support, and while we couldn’t experiment with it in our review build, the potential seems grand. You’re not limited to the RPG template, you can even create car racing and strategy games, so it is definitely a big plus.
Hammerwatch 2 is a delightful old-school RPG romp that suffers from some of the timeless predicaments of the genre, namely a feeling of repetitiveness and some odd design decisions. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, especially in cooperative mode, and it also helps that the pixel graphics can be magnificent at times. Play it wisely as to not become tired of its expansive maps, and that’s how you’ll enjoy the most of it.
- Amazing pixel art graphics
- A fun and uncomplicated combat system
- Huge world with lots of traveling to do and dungeons to explore
- Cooperative mode for four players is a blast
- Mod support for PC version
- Some questionable UI choices
- Gets tiresome after a few hours
Hammerwatch 2 review code was provided by the publisher. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.