Heroes of Hammerwatch Ultimate Edition Review

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When Hammerwatch exploded onto the Nintendo Switch during the beginning of the console’s life cycle, the timing couldn’t have been better. The indie game from Crackshell, which emphasizes some Gauntlet-like mob destruction through group work and endless replay (with loot drop enticement) was a perfect fit for the fledgling system that relied mostly on first party titles and the promise of the future to really get things going. Thankfully, the party didn’t end there, but Hammerwatch was still a great addition early on. However, some fans didn’t enjoy how everything needed to be discarded with a new run: they wanted to see some progression other than the immediate gratification of a good play, either alone or with friends. So the team, instead of rewriting everything they’d made, came up with a new idea, one that lived in the realm of Hammerwatch but added brand new facets that were sure to please both the solo and Co-op fans they’ve acquired. The end result, which has seen a couple of DLCs since launch, is Heroes of Hammerwatch, and it’s now taking flight on the Switch as an Ultimate Edition.

If you’ve played Hammerwatch before, you know a bit of what’s in store for Heroes of Hammerwatch. You have a series of standard classes that you can start off your character as, such as paladin, warlock or ranger (the baked in Ultimate DLC also gives access to Witch Hunter), and a handful of other classes are unlocked through events within the game. Each hero has a set of skills and abilities that they gradually learn as they level up (woah, level up??) and finding equipment, loot and artefacts. There’s still the same general storyline: you’re trying to get to the Forsaken Spire to deal with the big evil baddies, but the path there is far from straightforward. Different areas within the world of Hammerwatch need to be explored, from infested mines to cursed temples to scorching deserts and, if you so choose, the depressing gladiatorial pits. You run quests for some people, gaining loot and experience along the way, and, if by some miracle you make it to the end and bring light and truth back into this world, you can do it all over again with New Game+, bringing the full wrath of your fully powered monstrosity upon the quaking minor enemies.

What makes Heroes of Hammerwatch work is dependent entirely on two aspects of your own gaming personality, so keep that in mind. First, if you were a fan of Hammerwatch, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy Heroes of Hammerwatch as well. The main concept, despite the smoke and mirrors and bells and whistles, is the same: dig into the dungeons and fight what appear to be impossibly huge mobs of enemies. The different stages are full of both treasure chests to find, traps to avoid and every sort of baddie to smash, from melee monsters to ranged bastards to spellchuckers and headsmashers. It’s a perfect example of a generic Dungeons & Dragons motif brought to life as a video game, and it works incredibly well. There’s a lot of chaos, a lot of enemies on the screen, and a lot of quick decisions to be made. Like before, you don’t have to go at it alone: the online multiplayer is good to go from the drop, with parties of four being formed regularly, and you can do local system multiplayer. Sadly, due to the way that Heroes functions, it’s not really feasible to do a single system Co-op run, but it’s understandable once you see how the game works.

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The second aspect is the gains that come from risk/rewards within hazardous conditions. For Heroes of Hammerwatch, the EXP that you gain will never dissipate and always move in an upward direction. There seems to be a scaling system for enemies and your levels, so you can’t just grind beetles and grubs in the first mine over and over until you’re level 100 (and, by the way, the levels can get RIDICULOUS). Gaining a level will unlock new skill points that then can be dumped into a vast array of talents and feats for each character that aid their overall archetype. The ranger can increase his running speed (passive extra) and shoot a bunch of different arrows, including some that pierce an infinite number of enemies (very handy with how the spawns work in Hammerwatch). The priest can both heal, protect and inflict holy damage depending on what the level up path looks like based on the players choices. The witch hunter, which is my choice for best solo player, has a fantastic number of dope looking skills that are crazy powerful at later levels, like exploding into a flock of crows when taking damage or setting up magical landmines to punish the wicked. Each character brings something different that balances offence and defence, helping them optimize the single player campaign, but each can severely aid and balance in online Co-op, making it possible, like the previous title, to craft ideal parties for massive success and raids.

But the risk/reward come in the face of the gold, jewels, ore and other important items you might find over the course of a quest run in Heroes of Hammerwatch. If you die, and you absolutely will die, you’ll lose everything you’re carrying that’s money related, and you’ll almost certainly lose any items you’re carrying. There’s a possibility to “send” some money you find while in a dungeon back to town (for a handling fee, of course), but that’s no guarantee that it’ll be enough to unlock weapon upgrades, custom pet assistants or many other things that cash can provide. More than that is the potential items you might find: there can be some seriously fantastic stuff hidden in treasure chests and dropped from enemies over the course of the game. While a minor item that grants +7 armour or adds +3 physical attack might not seem like a lot, it can severely help prior to over-levelling, and that speaks nothing for later items. There are even legendary items that may never show up during your run, and it can be devastating to finally achieve one of these mythological gets, only to be murdered the next room over. It’s far from impossible to survive a run long enough to get back to town, but how much longer can you go, how deep can you dive without suffering?

Strictly speaking, I enjoy Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition far more than the original Hammerwatch. Like its predecessor, Heroes still relies on the simplified pixel graphics that can make the screen messy and tight, but the density is far easier on the eyes when doing a single player campaign. While the new avenue of roguelite generation can sew confusion and disorientation when you’re reincarnated, I quite liked it, and it adhered a lot to my play style. I don’t mind diving in and getting killed over and over as long as I can make it a little further each time, and a twin stick hack-n-slash is the definitive type of game for a quick load, run and death. Initially, my runs in the mines and through the deserts would only yield me a few EXP and a fistful of gold, but, gradually, I got more purchase. My paladin grew stronger, learning to heal himself a trifle and extending his runs significantly. It takes patience, and you need to accept that you will almost certainly die fast when you reach a new dungeon area, but it’s not impossible.

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Best of all, as the Ultimate Edition, the Switch owners of Heroes of Hammerwatch will be able to see the added locations that were made since the game’s inception. Be warned: the witch hunter is available from the beginning, and is a great character to use, but that means other things are available immediately, including the Moon Temple, which is just north of The Outlook (the hub town where everything begins). If you, like me, decide to explore around a bit, you will certainly wander in here and get cut into tiny pieces within seconds. Have some caution when exploring and be sure to check online with the Steam community where there’s some good advice and suggestions for how to approach the game from top to bottom. Or, you know, venture out on your own and face the music. Whichever.

Fans of Hammerwatch should get this. Fans of twinstick roguelites should get this. Players who want a game that has progression, a fantastic replay value in terms of brutality and the chance to grind some incredibly rare loot should get this. It’s good for one person, it’s great for two, and it fits in well with nearly every type of dungeon crawler, being optimized for the Switch and having a very fair price with all the DLC and porting considered. Heroes of Hammerwatch is a winner.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Heroes of Hammerwatch Ultimate Edition Review
  • Gameplay - 9/10
  • Graphics - 9/10
  • Sound - 9/10
  • Replay Value - 9/10
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We depart from the grim dungeons of Hammerwatch to explore the grim temples, deserts and castles of a progression based, RPG-style roguelite adventure.

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