Hammerwatch brings back pleasant memories of the bullet-hell-esque RPG's of the day, withyour valient group of heroes fighting through the odds to get gold and renown. The game plays asyou would expect, with each of the four classes having unique weapons and abilities.
The control bindings are interesting by default, with movement bound to WASD, and your abilities- a single key each for your main attack and the class ability - on the arrow keys. Needless to say,after a play session in Hammerwatch, your fingers will be well and truly worked out, with constantdodging and endless attacking. The game does work well with controllers for those who havethem.
Of the four classes you can choose from, the Warlock and Paladin have the most health, butconsequently use melee weapons. The Mage and Ranger have ranged attacks, but less health -and as you might expect, the Mage is rather powerful, but cripplingly low on life. Since your entireparty uses the same pool of lives, keeping the Mage alive is something of a priority.
One thing you'll rapidly notice is that the game is not procedurally generated, which is usuallywhere this style of game gets its legs. Instead, you may play through the rather challengingNormal difficulty, only to find that you and your friends are out of lives - and have to start thewhole level over again. Playing through the one campaign available to you will rapidly getfrustrating if you have a series of unlucky plays, as even rapid playthroughs will take you half anhour - higher difficulties can easily push that past an hour for a single level.
Although there are upsides, especially with the optional challenges available that I'll touch onlater, I'm not convinced this is the best idea. The game serves to be punishing simply because itcan be, and especially when you reach the final boss, it can be easy to fail to understand how tobeat them, and consequently lose the past 45+ minutes of play to a blunt and brutal "game over".
Were the levels smaller, or had you encountered the mechanics of defeating the boss earlier, Ithink things would be different, but as it stands, the main campaign is unrelenting - and that'swithout enabling any of the challenges.
There are bonuses that you can enable as well as challenges, in order to make the game easieror harder for your team. Some of the challenges highlight just how much you'll have to play thegame and learn the maps if you want to brag about completing them - such as the 1HPchallenge, in which a single hit from the weakest enemy will kill you. Other challenges can tweakthe passive health and mana regen, or make your whole team use a single pool of life.
The game's mechanics are generally rather pleasing otherwise. You control your singlecharacter, moving around the 2D dungeon. There is gold everywhere to collect and spend onupgrades at certain merchants, from potions (with effects like instant healing, bonus damage orinvulnurability), health and mana pool upgrades, or weapon buffs. There is no inventory system,only one potion slot per player - although health and mana regen items drop in some locations,you'll have to backtrack if you suddenly need them.
Secret areas are abound, and exploring each area until you've found them all is satisfying,although the maps are slightly difficult to remember your way around. Large and sprawling, theconsistancy of the architecture makes landmarks few and far between. Traps and monstersnaturally litter the dungeon, with monsters requiring fairly deft maneuvering to survive - most canbe outrun though easily enough, and soon you'll be deft at clearing the veritable hordes ofenemies.
Keys and buttons exist to be pressed, and many buttons don't do anything immediately; althoughthere is a single line of text telling you how many more buttons exist, driving you to find the secretthey hold.
It is possible to add other maps to the game, although this isn't made particularly clear anywhere.Along side this is the map editor which you can boot into instead of the game, but if you want tojust play something other than the default campaign, you will have to manually find, downloadand place the map files. Steam workshop integration would have done wonders here.
The game is co-operative, although solo mode is available, and naturally having more friends withyou will ease the stress somewhat. Still, this doesn't feel like the sort of game where you want totry "just one more time". Each playthrough feels like a slog, requiring attention and care, anddefeat after a long playthrough is very disheartening. Lowering the difficulty reduces thechallenge considerably, and can make the eventual win feel like less of a victory and more of along, long walk through the map.
Overall, I really enjoyed the gameplay, but the sprawling maps and the lack of randomly generatedlevels really shoots Hammerwatch in the foot. Any number of small tweaks would have allowedthe gameplay to shine, but it appears to merely like punishing you for mistakes or worse - lack ofknowledge. With no story to speak of, the gameplay is all it lives off, but the frustrating levels canpush people away rather than pull them in.