Today’s weekly Indy game is Hammerwatch, a recently green-lit game on Steam for $9.99 (or if you have three friends and feel in a giving mood you could buy a 4-pack for $29.99…) It doesn’t take long to figure out what we’ve got here is an updated take on the old classic Gauntlet. As a Gauntlet clone you’ve got about everything you’d expect: endless hoards of enemies coming at you in giant mobs, keys to open up locked doors, treasure, treasure, and more treasure. There is even questionably placed food to eat that regenerates your health! All with pixel art graphics that certainly isn’t too modern.
Hammerwatch is a game that has a lot of potential. As I slaughter through the endless hordes I can see a game I could potentially really fall in love with. Even with, let’s face it, mediocre pixelated graphics and repetitive game play the game could be really fun. You’ve got a huge world to explore with a growing variety of enemies, lots of secrets and treasures, and some cool heroes to go tramping around in. It is especially fun in multiplayer with a couple friends to charge around the dungeons with. But the game is really too Indy for its own good. It comes up horribly short on some very important areas and just turns out to be a disappointment.
Why? Why did this game that could have been so great disappoint me? Several key problems really that just kill any enjoyment factor for me. For starters there is no continuation, no sense of progression. There is no experience points system and any character power advancement is handled by much too sparsely placed merchants who will give you a few upgrades for the piles upon piles of copper coins you saved up smashing a billion crates. This feeling of stagnant progression is further made worse by no on screen indication of how much loot you’ve earned. The only way to tell how much coinage you’ve got is when you visit a merchant. I think the game could have really benefited from some sort of xp and leveling system, you’d think swinging my sword a million times would have made my paladin start hitting enemies a little harder…
And there is no saving of characters. No state saving, going back to the frustrating old school method of each time you start a game you start at square one. Once you run out of lives (god, who still uses lives anymore?) it’s game over. No resuming, no reloading a previous save, no nothing. Yeah it’s a bit more hardcore but I don’t want to have to grind through the first million enemies to get to something new and interesting that I haven’t explored yet. This problem is really exacerbated by the game’s archaic multiplayer system.
Every time you start a multiplayer game everyone starts at the beginning. As far as I can tell the game’s client system has no way to join a game in progress. Oh and if the host drops there is no mechanism to pass the host to another player. This means if you drop from a game any progress you made is gone as you can’t rejoin your friends and if the host drops everyone gets screwed over. And because there is no way to track your character progression or even start deeper down in the dungeon, get ready for some very frustrating experiences. If you’re like me and you don’t have the most reliable internet connection in the world, I suggest saving yourself some hair pulling frustrations and don’t even bother trying to play online.
Outside of the main campaign there’s a heroic defense level which is interesting but also pretty meh. The game comes with a level editor to allow players to make custom quests and I feel the defense mini-game is more of a tech demo than anything. It just goes to show more the potential here with this game and how much a few missed ideas can really make a game fall short. In a word, Hammerwatch is most definitely Indy. It is everything that turns off a lot of people to Indy games. It’s incredibly niche, it’s ‘hardcore’ by having frustrating game mechanics, and I imagine some people will defend it’s unfriendliness as a quality rather than a flaw. If the game had character progression and a better multiplayer system I’d have gladly given this game high marks, instead to me it falls up flat and disappointing.