Game: Hammerwatch II
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Steam (Windows), PS4 and Xbox)
Developer|Publisher: CrackShell | Maximum Games
Age Rating: EU 12 | US Teen
Price: US $24.99 | UK £19.97 | EU € 24,99
Release Date: December 12th, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Maximum Games.
Hammerwatch II, A Step in a Brave New Direction
The original Hammerwatch was a brilliant pick-up and play top-down dungeon crawler. A simple action title where you and possibly some buddies explore a castle on a quest to take down a mighty dragon. It felt like a fitting successor to the Gauntlet series, a classic retro series I adored back in the day. Next up came Heroes of Hammerwatch which applied similar action gameplay only it added more of a roguelike spin on the formula.
I was excited to hear a proper sequel was coming to Nintendo Switch. But when I started playing the game this wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Once again the game maintains that top-down action feel, but goes for a much more ambitious design adding open-world exploration and much more depth to its gameplay mechanics. Hammerwatch II is good but isn’t quite the pick-up-and-play sequel fans may expect.
What Comes After the Dragon
Hammerwatch II has a much more fleshed-out plot compared to the first game in the series. In fact, the game opens with a lot of opening text which sets up the lore for the world leading up to the first game. Hammerwatch II begins right after the end of the first game. The dragon has been defeated and now it’s time to return to the hideout and put your feet up. But there is no time to rest as Blight the Horrible and his dragon army have overthrown King Roland and brought chaos to the land. So it’s up to you to take up the sword, arrow, or wand depending on the clash you pick and save the kingdom. Then finally you might get that holiday.
This time the game takes you across a much more expansive map. No longer confined to a single castle. You’ll explore a variety of locations taking on various quests for NPCs before diving into some dungeons and taking on big bad bosses. The developers have gone to great lengths to flesh out the lore and plot of the world making it quite the upgrade from the basic plot of the first game. Personally, I didn’t find myself invested in the plot. Probably because I was a bit deterred by the wall of text after a stressful week at work where my brain was fried. Still, I can’t deny the effort put into it.
Learning to Ride a New Bike
Things got off to a good start when booting up the game. I spent ages choosing a class and creating my character. Picking its name and appearance and getting ready to take on the new adventure. But unlike the first two games, I did not find Hammerwatch II to be a pick-up-and-play experience. In fact, when I started playing this game I would go as far as to say I was really deterred from the experience. After I escaped the first dungeon I felt overwhelmed by all the new mechanics in the game. There’s potion crafting, buying and selling from vendors, taking on quests. Then you have extensive menus to manage your inventory, monitor quests and level up. These are all pretty standard features in a dungeon crawler but it just didn’t click with me initially.
All I knew was I had absolutely no money to afford to buy anything and enemies were able to kill me super quickly and I would lose 20% of my gold which I lacked anyway. I couldn’t even rest at the inn since I couldn’t afford it. I felt like I was just thrown in the deep end and in all honesty I almost gave up out of frustration. But I persevered and restarted with a new character, lowered the difficulty, went slowly through each tutorial (not that that helped) and just got stuck into some dungeon crawling. After several hours things slowly started to click. I started to grasp the combat, making use of the mini-map, and did a spot of fishing and levelling up helped immensely.
The experience feels much more geared towards playing with other people as opposed to taking on the mighty quest alone. I love what the sequel is going for, a big open world to explore with much more depth to combat and levelling up. And then you have that satisfying loot. Changing your gear up for new things once you finally have the money to afford it is great. Then a dungeon later you find even better loot after defeating a boss, which is just typical.
I liked exploring the vast open world. Getting to explore off the beaten path and discover what I would find was great even if often it meant walking into over levelled dangers. I also loved how you pick everything up automatically when walking over it. It really is a deeper Hammerwatch experience from the first game but it does take some time to get there.
PC Controls on Switch
Controls are quite the mixed bag. General combat and using abilities are easy to use. But the menus feel far too complicated requiring you to use a tiny cursor to make adjustments like a PC game. Only this is a console game.
If you opt for handheld you can use touch controls which helps a little but navigating doesn’t feel like it has been simplified for the console experience. As mentioned you can map items to a quick-use button or alternatively click the left analogue stick to access a wheel of options. The trouble with using this is it doesn’t pause the action on screen so it’s advisable to have a health potion mapped to a quick button tap. Otherwise, you’ll just need to find a safe corner of the dungeon where some enemy is not trying to bite your leg off.
As for co-op, I’m afraid it’s online only which is a shame for the couch co-op lovers out there. You can play with friends or if you feel brave enough you can matchmake with random folk online or jump into someone else’s game. I attempted to join some games and even set up my own. Sadly no one wanted to help me. On the rare occasion I did join a game it often lost connection but I don’t think that’s the game’s fault.
Detailed Pixel Graphics
The graphics are fantastic. The familiar detailed pixel art style is used from the previous games but it somehow feels more alive and detailed than before. The game now has a day and night cycle as well as various weather effects that randomly occur outdoors such as rain. Lighting effects have also been put to good use. You can light lanterns in the dungeons to get a view of the surroundings. I also liked how your line of sight is restricted around corners, with those areas not coming into clear view when you move around it. It adds a bit more of a sinister feel to the dungeon’s atmosphere.
Characters feel more unique with the ability to customise various colours of your appearance. It’s not just the base colour you choose. You can pick the colour of your cape, the trim of the cape, the hood of your cape and so on. I spend ages in the character customization screen coming up with the ideal combo. The soundtrack is good, bringing back those epic fantasy vibes similar to the prior two games. As for performance, the game ran well in both TV and handheld modes.
Conclusion: It’s the Climb
To sum up I did like Hammerwatch II but it’s not a game that’s going to work for everyone. I absolutely praise the developers for not simply copying the formula of the previous games and slapping an II on the box. But this is not a pick-up-and-play experience like the prior games. It took me several hours and 3 character restarts to wrap my head around things. But once the game finally clicked I did start to enjoy myself.
Although the experience felt much more geared to co-op play. This steep learning curve will not work for everyone and I can see some players jumping out of the game out of sheer frustration. But if you can overcome this hurdle there is much fun and depth to discover with Hammerwatch II made all the more enjoyable if you can bring a friend along for the adventure.
Final Verdict: I Like it