Heroes of Hammerwatch Review – Better yet Worse
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Release: 1st March 2018
Hammerwatch was one of the best coop of recent years. Despite its flaws, repetitivity and many other little things, the amount of fun that can be had by playing with friends was a treat. Unsurprisingly, Crackshell just had to develop a sequel, dubbed Heroes of Hammerwatch, it marks both a n evolution and devolution to the base game.
Focusing on a cooperative experience, Heroes of Hammerwatch offers up to four players the option to try their luck and fight their way to the top of its mountain. Chosing from seven heroes (three of which are locked until certain conditions are met though), the game offers a pretty solid rogue-lite gameplay.
Similar to Hammerwatch, the combat remains pretty basic for every character, one attack button and no combos. Instead, it relies on abilities. The paladin can dodge, block missiles with his shield and pretty much everything expected from a melee fighter, while the sorcerer can throw ice rocks and alike. As other great coop games, Heroes of Hammerwatch is an easy to understand but hard to master game. Sure, the easy controls can be learned by everyone in split-seconds but only the right use and combination of abilities can bring the msot out of the heroes. Paladins for instance die in a short time if they can´t use their shield efficiently and know how to position themselves, just like a mage will never be able to survive 2-3 hits.
However, in contrast to Crackshell´s previous title, Heroes of Hammerwatch handles one thing entirely different: The revive system. Rather than having to buy or find an Ankh, in order to resurrect after having been killed, there´s a new system called Soul Link. Every time someone dies, the only way to revive them is to “link” yourself to them, meaning, if one of the two linked persons dies, both die. Naturally, when four people are linked, the party is in constant danger of dying.
On paper a certainly good idea to grant players more chances to resurrect because Ankhs were quite rare and powerful items. Now, in exchange for freedom, everyone can get a second chance. Unfortunately, in practice, Soul Link actually works against this principe, due to the fact it actually encourages selfish playstyles. If one of the party members isn´t as good at the game as the others, he´s bound to die more often, previously he could either buy an Ankh to at least have another life for sure. Now he relies on his party, which most certainly won´t revive him, since they bring themselves in danger as well, meaning, everyone, except the best player, has only one life in a worst case scenario. In addition to the toxic behaviour that comes with abandoning more unexperienced friends in the dungeon. In multiplayer, hosts tend to either kick or not revive worse players, in a private party, every run is bound to fail in a surprise mass death, if no one wants to play without their friends.
Otherwise, the design works like an absolute charm. Combining the easy combat with a roguelite experience about conquering five dungeon areas with their own fairly unique, custom bosses, as seen in hundreds of indie games, is a great deal of fun. Everytime the party dies, they may lose all their gold and ore collected up to this point and not sent back to town with the occasionall appearing mine carts. Yet, skill points and secured gold cann then be used to upgrade the heroe´s armor, abilities, healing potion charges and thw town to unlock new characters or activities. Seeing how the town in particular grows over time creates a great feeling of progression throughout the game, despite many deaths.
Once a boss is beaten, which can be a rather tough task cnosidering their high health and difficulty curve, a portal appears on the previous area´s first floor, that transports the party straight into the next area, without having to fight the same mobs over and over again. Sadly, even the portal requires you to slay around ten waves of the ever-same mobs and one portal only transports you one area forward. In the end, going through portals or dungeons often doesn´t matter as both paths offer the same degree of repetition after some hours in terms of enemies and environments. Crackshell obviously tried to find a challenging way to skip areas, while giving players equipment between the waves to prepare them for the next boss but forgot, nothing can stay fresh no matter how good the intent or design was in the beginning.
Even though Heroes of Hammerwatch may be as repetitive as its predecessor, it´s also as beautiful. Presenting itself in a great pixel artstyle, full of shaders, details, effects, lovely design and simplicity, I instantly fell in love with it once again. Combined with the breath takingly good soundtrack, with its catchy melodies, Crackshell certainly didn´t lose their bite in this department, often surpassing Hammerwatch during its often phenomenal boss fights.
To conclude, Heroes of Hammerwatch carries over a lot of what made its predecessor so great, like its complex yet simple combat. In combination with a more refined, random generated dungeon structure, to evade previous repetition and a more progressive design, it could´ve been everything a fan asks for. Unfortunately, with systems like the Soul Link and portals that reintroduce redundant design and counter productive systems. Playing with friends is still damn enjoyable, just not as much as it should or could be.
[A Review Code was provided by Crackshell]