Off the back of the success of Heroes of Hammerwatch, developer CrackShell has gone back to the action RPG roots of the franchise with Hammerwatch 2, a direct sequel to the old-school adventure that began it all. While Heroes of Hammerwatch was a tough but fun roguelite dungeon-diver, the return to form is a welcome one. With so many roguelites and roguelikes in the wild these days it’s almost refreshing to just play something a little more straightforward. This year we’ve already seen Everspace 2 abandon the roguelike structure of its predecessor and, while the genre is completely different, its success speaks to a potential weariness of the genre.
Either way, it’s nice to be back on firmer ground in CrackShell’s latest. Hammerwatch 2 trims away some of the classes in Heroes, settling with an easier-to-manage 5. As before, I chose to play as Ranger primarily but also dabbled with the Warlock – a class that’s become equally as dear to me since playing Baldur’s Gate 3.
The sequel follows the same basic structure as the original. You select your class and alter their appearance (which really comes down to the colour of their clothes and their portrait) and head out into the open world. In the initial settlement you’ll pick up quests left, right, and centre, before delving into the local dungeons, getting further and further from home as you grow stronger.
Progression is a neat mix of looting and levelling. It does nothing particularly new, though. Each class begins with a set of basic skills you can upgrade until you gain the next level of Mastery, which allows you to use stronger abilities. The Ranger and Warlock are great classes for those who prefer ranged combat, though lower armour means you prioritise DPS in lieu of damage mitigation. There are standard stats to improve to increase health, mana, ranged, and melee damage, while boosts come from equipped armour and weapons. Again, none of this feels new, but it’s more like slipping on a comfortable hoodie than strapping into a daring leather cowboy shirt. Or, y’know, whatever.
Hammerwatch 2 is a deceptively large game, and the open world just kind of keeps on going. Dungeons, too, are vast affairs with multiple levels usually ending in a boss encounter. Fast travel in some of them wouldn’t go amiss, as having to trek back through when the dungeon is complete to turn in quests feels like a headache we cured long ago. Enemies do respawn when you exit and return to an area, though they don’t respawn on death. Instead, you’ll pay a certain amount of gold to respawn at a choice of locations such as the dungeon entrance or town.
Combat feels fun but it’s not particularly precise or nuanced. It’s the old-school Zelda style of hack and slashing, with a mix of spells and magical abilities thrown in. Add another player or three to the rabble and it becomes more messy and more enjoyable at equal velocities. There’s a sense the whole thing was built with co-op in mind, as certain obstacles and areas are much easier with more than one player. Boss fights in particular can be very tricky alone. Some bosses have companions, a mix of ranged and melee attacks, and area of effect abilities, and the character movement just isn’t conducive to moving fast and with precision.
Of course, these days that’s less of an issue. Like many modern games, Hammerwatch 2 comes with a suite of accessibility options to adjust the difficulty to suit your ability, style, or mood. I also played Hammerwatch 2 quite a lot on Steam Deck where it works wonderfully. I played Heroes of Hammerwatch exclusively on the Switch so felt right at home with this title on a handheld.
Graphically it’s lovely. The 8-bit style is highlighted and modernised with bright, vivid colours, and adorable animation. There’s also a great selection of locations and enemy types. It’s not a game given to the story, but it makes up for it with charm and likability. The world map is pretty awful though, stylised as a crude drawing and about as much use. A quest market or waypoints system would be lovely, as would the ability to scroll the area map, which instead appears as a static image overlay that only moves when you do. It’s fine for pinpointing your position in relation to your immediate surroundings but useless for anything else.
Hammerwatch 2 is a delightful enough RPG romp held back by some issues that seem to cling stubbornly to the era that inspired it. A better map and more fast travel options would go a long way. As it stands it’s a lot of fun for fans of the genre, but doesn’t do a lot to really stand out in today’s market.
Looks and sounds great
A huge world
Lots of quests
No fast travel out of dungeons
Combat can be imprecise