Hammerwatch 2 is the sequel to the cherished 2013 retro hack and slash action RPG, doubling up both on the pixels and the journey. A pocket-sized Diablo 4 of sorts that may not boast the same ambitions but, even so, has quite some tantalizing content on offer, this is a shaping up to be a surprisingly fun and engaging experience for those who are on the lookout for a compelling game brimming with quests.
Quests, Quest Everywhere
The story powering Hammerwatch 2 is one of familiar fantasy tropes, mere grounds to kickstart a tale of revenge against Blight the Horrible and his dragon army, as the overthrown King Roland and a few chosen ones plan on restoring order and peace to the Kingdom of Herian.
The hands-on version we played was set in Hammer Island, a dazzling paradise filled with beautiful sights and pristine waters. Were it not for the pirate cave that harbors hundreds of these ruthless scoundrels and the deadly wolves, it could be a lovely travel destination.
You start by picking your hero from five available classes, focused on some of the greatest all-time pillars of the action RPG: Rogue, Ranger, Wizard, Warlock, and Paladin. I chose the Ranger as I found the balance between sword and bow too good to pass upon, even if that meant I had to ignore the appeal of magic-based classes for the time being. A little customization is in order for your character, which despite its tiny size can still be tailored in various aspects, from facial features right up to every color of their clothes. Complete the creation of your hero by selecting one of the predefined hero voices, some of them courageous, other jokey, which I found out to be a more enjoyable option than I was expecting, as my Ranger startlingly or hilariously jests during battles.
Our adventure starts by escaping the prison and wandering off into the lovely landscape of Hammer Island. A bustling village awaits, denizens walking around with not a care in the world, despite the fate of the land, including the castle in ruins. Some of them are obvious quest givers, and quickly you will have your journal packed with missions of different difficulties and length, some of them quite noteworthy. A hero’s priority should always be to find the buried toy horse of a young girl, following a map that she sketched with a clear lack of drawing skills. This plays into the game’s lighthearted tone, while still feeling like a vast epic with plenty of scope for serious hack and slash frolicking.
The open world feels lively, with a day and night cycle that emphasizes the lovely pixel art and lighting. Colors are chosen with care, vegetation blows to the wind, and the tiny sprites are awfully cute, from pirates to wolves. I have enjoyed exploring the region, diving deeper into some dungeons such as the pirate cave, which turned out to be a massive complex with various floors and hidden passageways, sunken ships, and home to not one, but various quests. If only the side meters for health, mana, experience and the like could be integrated in a cleaner and less jarring way, the UI would be a whole lot better.
Hammerwatch 2 plays in such a satisfying way that it’s hard to think how something can be ruined until release. Movement is spot-on, with intuitive control for main and alternate weapons, with combat feeling natural and easy from the first few skirmishes, dash and skills included. Your hero levels up and upgrades their skills, with frequent evolutions that pave the way for even more resourceful abilities, as they become adept, expert, and master of their trade. While the offer may not seem huge, each ability can be enhanced with additional buffs, so there’s effectively the potential for interesting builds in here.
Don’t be fooled by the above; these loot crates are simply the ones you destroy to get endless gold and other type of loot. Witness the satisfying crunch of wooden crates and barrels being torn apart in the name of wealth is second to none, the way that the Ranger swings his sword with confidence and flawless hit detection, valid for environmental destruction but also extending to the way this class alternates with the bow for precise long-range combat.
There is so much to wreck that even some of the villagers may wonder if you are the hero they have been waiting for, or a reckless troublemaker who just happened to demolish everything in the inn, chairs and tables included, for no reason. It’s cute and unnecessarily addictive, much like you leave no stone unturned in Diablo 4. There’s definitely the same compelling factor in Hammerwatch 2, and seeing as gold is crucial to purchase items or do a little bit of crafting, it’s the kind of action that you can’t miss.
Hammerwatch 2 has a trick up its sleeve that I couldn’t explore in this build, which is the cooperative mode with up to three other players. Mixing classes and going on adventure together has all the makings of another appealing prospect that smells of old-school epics, and the only thing I could see making this even better would be to have a shared world like Diablo 4 does. Alas, it is pretty much a lobby-based cooperative mode, with no chance of finding a random adventurer passing by and inviting them to our party.
Another feature that we couldn’t experiment with is the modding ability, exclusive to PC. You can change rules and edit levels to your pleasure, a task that sounds extremely appealing and hopefully with enough possibilities to encourage the community to go wild with custom maps.
Beyond its cute pixelated look and tiny sprites, Hammerwatch 2 is shaping up to be a very competent and absorbing action RPG. It may look old-school and have some of that intrinsic gameplay allure, but it plays like the big boys and draws you in like few. We’ll keep an eye out for this one, as I still haven’t found the toy horse from the poor girl and there’s no way my adventurer reputation will be tarnished by failing such an emotionally charged quest.
MP1st was given access to a preview build of Hammerwatch 2 for our hands-on session. Hammerwatch 2 is set to release later this year on PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.