Hammerwatch II Impressions: Quest Wholeheartedly

I knew five minutes into playing Hammerwatch 2 that it was going to be my jam. Three hours later, I’m still happily overloading on quests in the game’s very first village, knowing I should probably get to solving problems bigger than skinning wolves and crafting cooking pans. But I’m having a great time soaking in the old-school adventuring charm, spritely idyllic countryside, and indulgent array of non-combat pursuits. The game has its hitches, but so far, I’m having trouble putting it down.

Just to catch me hook, line, and sinker, Hammerwatch 2 has the audacity to start with a ‘when last we saw our heroes.’ It’s the most unapologetically D&D opening and I’m a sucker for it. And that’s not to mention how the beginning helps to onboard players who haven’t played the original Hammerwatch, meaning anyone interested need not fear jumping right in.

Though cloaked in all the trapping of a bygone gaming experience — isometric view, menu-proud, and, y’all, those glorious pixels — the sequel is noticeably mindful of its contemporary audience’s experiences. Autosaves are graciously frequent, death is made as inconvenient as possible, and the attention to customization is unexpected.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had as much choice in a pixelated character creator before. Often, the limited graphics mean likewise restricted looks. And while it’s not as in-depth as, say, a Baldur’s Gate 3, it still brings a smile to my face to scroll through noses in which shifting a few dots somehow makes all the difference. Choosing between everything from hairstyles to cape trim colors takes me much longer than selecting my class — a paladin, though I also have the option of wizard, rogue, warlock, or ranger.

A lot of the charm for me lies in the deeply traditional nature. I walk into a town and everyone I meet is ready to entrust me with their issues, big and small. There’s no irony. The game isn’t embarrassed that one of its first tasks is a tried-and-true wolf hunt. It also doesn’t shy away from the customary stat-based leveling system and color-coded gear drops.

The open world and day/night cycle inject the game with verisimilitude and a genuine sense of autonomy. Walking into the bustling Haart’s Landing at sunset — with hues of purple, red, and orange painting the streets — and seeing the townsfolk begin to file back to their homes with the day’s ending makes the world feel lived-in. I can also strike out in any direction and find my next adventure, though my currently low level keeps me from taking on anything too dangerous.

But death has a good balance between consequence and lenience. Falling to fang or sword, I have the choice to respawn in one of my previously-discovered locations — losing a percentage of my gold and time depending on how far from the field of defeat I want to go. I appreciate this system immensely as the dungeons I’ve explored have been vast and getting the chance to spawn town with a little bit of gold, even if it’s now the middle of the night, can be a lifesaver.

It’s not without flaws, however. Like many games of this ilk, the controls are optimized for a mouse and keyboard and controller support needs some work. Beside being just a little clunkier to use, I kept having problems with my character attacking to the left no matter which way I faced. Hopefully, this is an easy fix, but it did frustrate my combat attempts early on.

Communication is also sometimes a problem. The game perhaps relies on players understanding the basics of computer gaming a little too much. Though I can click around to figure out how to split an item stack or craft a potion, new players to the genre would probably find the learning curve a significant barrier.

I want to go on to extoll the clever crafting that allows me to do things like cooking in-dungeon or the myriad of ways I can assign points, making my paladin different than anyone else’s, but I’m already afraid I’ve pushed the boundaries of readers’ patience. Suffice to say, I’m having a blast with Hammerwatch 2, in spite of some flaws, and hope to see the adventure to the end.

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