STAFF REVIEW of Heroes of Hammerwatch - Ultimate Edition (Xbox One)

Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Heroes of Hammerwatch - Ultimate Edition Box art I’m no stranger to games with a huge grind, as I used to play the same MMO for many years. I used to think MMO’s were grindy, then I played Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition. Even if only the base game was included, there’d be more than enough content within for you to basically play endlessly. But that wasn’t good enough for developers CrackShell, so in this Ultimate Edition they’ve also included all of the available DLC also, adding whole new areas, classes, modes and tons more. It’s a LOT to take in and learn, but once you wrap your head around it all and figure it out, I’ve been unable to put it down. Truth be told, this very review is a few days late because I wanted to progress further and further every night when I got home with my friends online.

As you begin your adventure, you’ll start out by choosing your starter class, each having their own playstyle, strengths, weaknesses and bonuses. You’re actually going to want to play every class eventually for various reasons I’ll delve into shortly, but everyone has their favorite. If you prefer your ranged attacks, then Ranger will be your choice. If you like to have a little more survivability, then Paladin will be your melee powerhouse. There’s a handful of other classes, so make sure to try them all out, as I ended up making a Warlock my main, which is not the style of class I generally gravitate towards. Some classes can also be unlocked through various means, so there’s always something to work towards.

Once you chose your class you’re thrust into your quaint and quiet little village called The Outlook. This has a few empty and tattered buildings along with a few people to chat to. This is your new home and you’ll be building it up and improving it as you progress. Your little town will grow over time, adding new vendors, new items to buy, new shops and more. You’re here so often between runs that it does start to feel like home after a few dozen hours.

The bulk of your time in Heroes of Hammerwatch (simply referred to as Hammerwatch from here on) will be within its randomly generated dungeons as you try and survive as long as possible each time. Did I mention that Hammerwatch is an action based rougelike as well? That’s right, you’re going to be dying, a LOT, and losing much of your progress when you do. That doesn’t mean there’s no constant progression to be made though, as you’re always working towards something, even if you die. The beginning mine dungeon accessed at your town will be your first foray into many runs to come. You’ll need to squash bugs, avoid traps, collect gold and ore, and most importantly, survive.

Combat is handled the way most twin-stick shooters control, with the Left Stick used to move and the Right to aim. Right Trigger is your main attack and will be how you do the bulk of your damage, and every character uses their mana tied to their Left Trigger and abilities you unlock later on. Every class performs quite differently and needs to be played a specific way if you want to survive, so keep an eye on your health and mana.

I struggled quite badly in the beginning, as nothing is really taught to you at all, not even really the basics. You’re simply thrown into this world and left to figure it out for yourself. Truth be told, I’m still learning new things even today the more I delve into it and play with more veterans. The main thing to keep in mind is that Hammerwatch is a roguelike, so when you die, you’re going to lose everything in your possession. There are two ways to keep your spoils though; finish a complete run and defeat the final boss, or find lifts that you can send your gold and ore back up to your town, though this comes with a hefty tax cut, but anything is better than nothing right?

Do you risk going to another floor of a dungeon to find more ore and gold, both of which is incredibly important for long term progression, or send up what you can when you can, little by little? It’s a small price to pay, but progression in Hammerwatch is slow and gradual. Don’t expect to max everything out in a day or two. Actually, don’t expect to max anything out, as there’s not really an endpoint per-se, hence the crazy grind. Every enemy you kill nets you experience, eventually leveling you up and making you stronger overall. This in turn makes your next run a little bit easier every time as well. All the gold and ore you were able to send up to town can also be used to purchase new items, buildings and more, also adding to your progression in numerous ways.

This constant grind of being slightly better than before is where Hammerwatch really shines. Your skills will level up, you can purchase new passive bonuses and your village is also shared across all of your characters, which is why you’ll want to eventually play all of the classes. When you complete harder runs, you earn stat bonuses that apply to all of your characters. For example, after being New Game+(2) with my Thief I earned some great gold gain for my subsequent runs. Doing the same with my Paladin earned me defensive bonuses. None of this is explained to you, so it’s a lot of playing around and figuring out things for yourself, or be lucky as I was and have a high level player explain much of it.

Another mechanic that took some getting used to and figuring out was that you don’t equip items and gear on your character in a normal way like most games. Instead, in each run you’ll find items in random chests, from boss drops and other ways, and these stay in your inventory and give a ton of bonuses and perks, but only for that run; you don’t keep this gear. Also, there’s a fountain in your town where you can make each run easier or harder, based on what you want to accomplish. So if you’re wanting to grind experience, money and ore, you’ll want to turn the dungeons to much larger, fill it with way more enemies and make them harder as well. There’s actually a ton of options so you can really customize and save presets for different run types based on what you and your friends want to focus on.

Once you do finally beat the final boss you might think you’re done, but you’ve only begun. From here you can start playing New Game+ (NG+). This makes enemies harder but the rewards are greater. Oh, you managed to finish NG+ finally? Great, now you’re ready for NG+2. This keeps going, and as far as I know I don’t believe there’s a limit, so the grind technically never ends. Getting to about NG+10, runs become much harder, so you have to be very good at your class and know how to play well once you start farming NG+. If that wasn’t enough for you, there’s also a Mercenary Mode that can be accessed once you reach level twenty. This is basically a Hardcore mode where death is final and permanent, but the rewards are well worth it and unique if you can handle it.

While I was enjoying Hammerwatch on my own, once I started playing with friends, it become an addiction. Up to 4 players can join together and there’s plenty of reasons you’ll want to. While the village will only be the Host’s for what is unlocked and accessible, any progression you make with experience, items, gold and ore are saved to your character as well. While you’ll have to go back to your own game’s village to do any upgrades, you can use their vendors for any other purchasing for the most part. Also, you can get carried through the game with some good friends, allowing for some quick powerleveling if you want, but keep in mind the game scales based on how many players are in as well, so it also adds a handicap if doing so. I was surprised the online worked as well as it did and was user friendly, allowing you to keep your own progression in someone elses game, which is probably why I’ve been logging on every night to play.

I really enjoyed the retro pixed based aesthetic, looking like it was a game from many years ago, yet has enough flair, details and lighting to be modern. The coloring and tones are great, and while the pixel art is fantastic, my only complaint is that there’s usually way too much going on screen at one time to really appreciate much of it. Runs eventually turn into speed runs, so you won’t be looking at much aside from the map and spamming attack, trying to get to the end as fast as possible. Also, everything is quite small, even text, so it can be hard to focus on one thing at a time.

Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition ended up surprising me in the best way possible. While I normally uninstall games once I’m done playing and reviewing them, this one has stayed in my nightly rotation when my friends are on to do a few runs. There’s so much depth and value here with near infinite gameplay that it becomes addictive, as you want to make your characters that much better with every run, even if it borders on being an arduous grind later on. It’s a lot to take in and figure out, and it will feel daunting at first, but put the time in and find some friends to play with and you’ll easily get your gold's worth with Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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