Hammerwatch / Hammerwatch Anniversary Edition

A game by Crackshell for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One, originally released in 2013, with the Anniversary Edition released in 2023.
Hammerwatch is a top-down dungeon crawler inspired by the likes of Gauntlet and more recent hack and slash titles like Diablo. You choose a character from one of four classes – paladin, wizard, ranger, and warlock – each of whom has different abilities. You can set out on your own, but like Gauntlet, the game is best enjoyed with friends, and you can gather a brood of up to 4 players for online or offline hacky-slashy action through the depths of Castle Hammerwatch.

At the start of the game, you select between three difficulty levels and pick a character from one of four classes. The character you choose will impact your starting health and mana levels, your offensive abilities, and the upgrades that are available to you.

The paladin is a melee fighter with high health and average mana. He has a short range sword attack and the ability to dash forward quickly to slice through groups of enemies.

The wizard has high mana and low health. This character can rapidly toss fireballs at short range and can emit a wide blast of fire to deal out fast damage to nearby groups of enemies, although this ability consumes mana quickly.

The ranger is average in health and mana but makes up for this with long range arrows which he can fire all the way across the screen (and even a little ways offscreen). His arrows also penetrate enemies, allowing him to wreak damage across long lines of foes, which is common given that most enemies hone in on your position once you are noticed. He can also drop a bomb to damage small groups of enemies.

Lastly there is the warlock who has the highest health of all classes and a sizeable mana pool as well, but has a very small melee attack. His magic attack allows him to toss balls of energy at a medium range.

As players explore the 4 themed dungeons, they collect money by bashing open crates and jars, finding secret rooms, and killing enemies. This money can be spent on upgrades by speaking with NPC’s in the dungeons themselves, and each offers a different brand of character enhancement. You can purchase potions, upgrade your basic attack and magic strength, learn entirely new spells, and increase your maximum health and magic meters as well as your movement speed.

While many of these abilities simply make you stronger or more resistant to damage, some can offer more substantial impacts to gameplay. For instance, the ranger’s arrows can be upgraded to penetrate more enemies before disappearing, and the warlock’s magic can be upgraded to hit additional targets and even earn back mana points every time he kills an enemy.

There’s also a series of combo upgrades that rewards more daring gameplay. Once you gain the ability to combo, you can string together multiple kills to build up a combo meter. The meter drains very quickly, and it grows based on killed enemies, not just successful attacks, so it can be challenging to build up a combo in the early going.

By stringing together 10 kills, you’ll gain a temporary boost in your speed and attack power. Later, you can buy upgrades that send additional projectiles outward as long as you keep the combo going, allowing you to wade into large groups of enemies and cut a devastating swath of destruction. You can even add a healing modifier that will restore your health during combos as well, further rewarding players for diving into the fray.

Signposts point the way to nearby NPC’s and stairwells leading to other floors. A minimap is available as well, showing the areas you have previously explored and highlighting important items. However, there are also a great number of hidden rooms and other secrets that can only be found by exploring the dungeons thoroughly, flipping every switch you find, and blasting your way through cracked walls. Often, treasure caches are visible at the edge of the screen with no clear method of accessing them. Among the rewards offered for discovering these secrets are 1UPs, large coins that grant you discounts on upgrades, large amounts of money, and wooden planks… which have a hidden purpose.

There is a bit of nonlinearity, with open dungeons that let you travel in any direction you like, and online multiplayer allows adventurers to separate completely and head out on their own. However, your progress is often blocked by doors that require the appropriate bronze, silver, or gold keys to open, which means that you may need to continue exploring and then return to the area later.

As with most hack and slash games, you generally press forward in the direction of the unkilled enemies until you find something worthwhile. There is no story to speak of, with the game’s introduction simply stating “The small bridge broke behind you… there is probably no way out!” Your goal is to simply kill enemies and gather keys, while collecting gold and buying upgrades along the way.

Enemies appear in groups and will swarm your position once you get in range, or once you damage an enemy in the group. While there is some variety to the enemy types – consisting of your standard dungeon fare of rats, bats, bugs, slugs, skeletons, enemy soldiers, and the like – their behaviors are essentially the same. They will move in on your position, with projectile tossers occasionally pausing to unleash their attacks. Fortunately, you can lock your position to fire in multiple directions (8 directions by default), or you can strafe to keep your attacks focused in one direction while attacking in another, which also allows you to walk backwards while attacking. This core gameplay does lead to repetition, although this is alleviated somewhat by going in with multiple players.

Like Gauntlet, many enemies are generated from spawners, so you’ll not only need to fight off the invading forces but concentrate your attacks on their origination points as well. Later levels feature larger numbers of enemies, faster moving creatures, and a greater percentage of enemies that can fire projectiles, which makes things ever more difficult. Health and mana restoratives are few and far between, and while your mana slowly replenishes on its own, your health does not. Checkpoints are spread out liberally as well, and they track your remaining health and number of lives.

You begin with only a handful of lives, and getting overwhelmed by swarms of enemies will see your health gauge plunge rapidly. Combine this with the occasional bomb trap or insta-kill spikes, and you may not make it very far, even with friends. However, in addition to the 3 difficulty modes, there is also a “custom” mode that allows you to increase or decrease the challenge in a variety of ways.

If you think things aren’t hard enough, you can play the game with 1-hit kills, and even remove health and 1UP pickups, among other things. On the other hand, you can make things a bit easier by allowing your health to regenerate over time, increasing your basic attack power, and even giving yourself unlimited lives.

These crutches can help you to survive the otherwise brutally difficult challenges that arise, particularly boss fights. Boss creatures can attack quickly and remove large chunks of your health with each hit, and they also tend to be surrounded by supporting enemies and traps. You may slowly and cautiously work your way through a dungeon, killing enemies a few at a time over the course of an hour or more, only to come up against a boss and die in just a few seconds.

Progression is marked by travelling from floor to floor, with 12 large levels in total. The game is divided into four acts, each in a different themed area and each ending in a boss encounter. In addition, a survival mode allows players to take on waves of enemies while experimenting with the upgrade system. And the game includes a level editor that allows you to create and share your own devious dungeon constructions, and even create entire campaigns.

Hammerwatch was developed by Jochum Skoglund and Niklas Myrberg under their Crackshell label. This was the studio’s first commercial release, although both developers have previous experience in the industry, Niklas as a programmer and Jochum as a level designer. The pair worked together on Payday: The Heist, and Jochum previously did level design for the 2009 Bionic Commando 3D reboot and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2. Music for the game was provided by Two Feathers. Following this, the studio went on to develop Serious Sam's Bogus Detour.