The dungeon crawling Hammerwatch series is lowkey one of my favorite co-op RPG romps, and today the series gets a much bigger sequel that has me psyched to go back. Hammerwatch 2 takes the series' fast-paced dungeon battles I enjoyed with friends and beefs them up with an open world, bigger skills list, gear, and quest system. It sounds like the indie upstart action RPG that we need right in the wake of Diablo 4. It's not heavily inspired by the modern giants of ARPGs though, its developer Crackshell tells me, and is instead chasing the greatness of much older gaming touchstones.
The Hammerwatch games are modestly priced and are easy to pick up with a couple friends for a few nights. You don't have to play co-op, mind, I just find it a particularly good diversion with friends who are burnt out on the live service grind. The original was a simple class-based dungeon crawl on premade levels with fun little secret paths to find. Its sequel, Heroes of Hammerwatch, dabbled in run-based mechanics and procedurally generated levels with new classes and a DLC campaign.
Hammerwatch 2 is even more ambitious yet, as Crackshell's creative director Jochum Skoglund explained in a gameplay showcase this summer. There are quests now, for one, instead of the straightforward gauntlet of hallways and monsters. There's an entire loot and gear system now too, and a crafting system for consumables. Oh, and it's got an overlay map, thank goodness.
Skoglund mentioned taking cues from bigger ARPGs, but he wasn't talking about the Baal in the room, or even POE2, he tells me. "This is more like [The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past], where even if the main quest line is linear, you can do a lot of things around the world and you can do things in the 'wrong' order many times or however you want," Skoglund says. "The sad and also interesting part is that most people will never experience all this, but the dedicated player who plays over again will really appreciate it all."
After playing just the introductory bits of Hammerwatch 2 during the Stem Next Fest in June, that already feels true. I was reminded of how past Hammerwatch games had plenty of missable secrets while exploring the sequel's tutorial island, accepting a huge handful of tasks mostly concerning a nearby pirate hideout. There were fetch quests and bounty style quests. Not only that, but the NPCs in its town react to the new day and night system, leaving their shops and posts at night.
"I really like the world in Sacred 1," Skoglund says, "and how big it is and the overall feel of it all. I have tried to emulate at least a bit of that feeling." Because Hammerwatch 2 has gone for a big, open overworld, it feels fundamentally different from its dungeon delving origins. If friends and I spotted a nasty horde of those awful maggot enemies in Heroes of Hammerwatch, we could sometimes take a slightly different hallway on our way to the floor's exit, but eventually we would always have to face the monsters we'd been dealt.
That's not so in Hammerwatch 2, which Skoglund describes as more like other open world RPGs where you can grind for levels in other areas before taking on a challenging fight. "It might also encourage people to go, venture forth, and explore more of the world," he says.
Hammerwatch 2 is also going in on some pretty decent-looking modding tools. "The quest system and how it’s brought into the world and how modders can use it, goes above a lot of other games," Skoglund says. Crackshell has posted a preview of modding capabilities for Hammerwatch 2, including building new classes, new maps, and entirely new game formats like a tower defense mode.
Hammerwatch 2 has launched today over on Steam for $25, currently on 10% discount until August 22.