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Hammerting Review (PC)

An unpolished but promising colony-building sim

 

Hammerting Review

 

Colony-building simulators have taken off recently with hits such as Hell ArchitectRimWorld, and Oxygen Not Included. Hammerting is a PC game developed by Warpzone Studios that will soon be leaving early access. It follows a band of dwarves trying to reclaim an area abandoned during the Great War. It takes place primarily in a network of caves, where gamers build a colony to support the war effort above as they juggle between the caverns and the overworld. Victory comes by conquering locations or accumulating enough wealth through the quest for righteous influence.

 

Into the Depths

 

Hammerting Review

 

Caverns are large, with maps being even deeper than they are wide. Exploration revolves around mining, which would be tedious except that the game’s speed can be modified to keep the action flowing. Dwarves’ efficiency as they gather resources is increased by installing minecart tracks, finding better pickaxes, building elevators, and constructing bridges across difficult terrain. Other aspects are oddly inefficient, such as the hotkey for mining not working when near a miner, or a dwarf not mining due to lack of room, only to have another dwarf squeeze beside him and mine without issue.

Exploring brings knowledge that unlocks skills such as farming, fishing, and metallurgy. The technology tree has forty items, encouraging unlocks, with some requiring trade transactions in the overworld. As areas are explored, resources become available to craft new items, though the interface doesn’t make it apparent how much has been collected. Simple kill and gather quests provide further advancement.

While exploring new locations on the random maps offers great opportunities for storytelling, I encountered no story events in the depths beyond finding new, generic enemies (goblins, slimes, rats, spiders, crabs, and skeletons) or a statue without lore. While other games, such as Frostpunk, showed how immersive even a brief story clip can be when it presents a difficult decision, Hammerting lacks this. The awe in encountering a beautiful new area is lost when it’s empty.

 

A Deluge of Dwarves

 

Hammerting Review

 

Selecting a dwarf shows its stats on an oversized window that distracts from gameplay. Dwarves have various attributes, including deftness, wisdom, awareness, and key traits. Most traits made sense, such as having a sense of humor increasing social competence, but some did not. For instance, the “idiot” trait increases empathy, which would normally increase social competence, but then decreases the social skill instead. 

Dwarves gain new skills as they level up. Players choose between various perks, such as more health or faster movement. The level of detail to these parameters is quite good. Despite this, I never felt a bond with the characters and the limited character models made it difficult to tell them apart.

 

A Good Fight

 

Hammerting Review

 

Combat is a numbers game, lacking the tactical positioning that similar games require. The numerous bugs in the game are normally frustrating, but not game breaking, but in life and death scenarios like combat a simple glitch can have a major impact. In one case, a dwarf and a slime got caught in a loop, jumping back and forth across a chasm to attack one another as they passed harmlessly in midair. Then they’d look at one another, and switch places again dozens of times without damage. The occasional bug like this offers hilarious storytelling in some games, but it’s so frequent in Hammerting that it is frustrating.

In another case, one dwarf was able to finish off a grotto spawning rats in two hits, but he kept running across the map after a stray rat instead, even while the spawn portal attack was prioritized. More rats spawned, destroying a nearby forge. Meanwhile, the next wave of dwarves attacked the weakened spawn point, only to stop after one hit and socialize in front of it instead. Resetting the attack to high priority caused them to run away. Another run (illustrated below) saw a similar situation of socializing in front of a spawn portal.

Attacks are much more likely to succeed with a group of dwarves issuing a coordinated effort. Unfortunately, pathfinding issues and capricious intents prohibit this. One run ended as a full health, experienced dwarf aggroed an unbeatable army across the map, then ran in circles despite repeated instructions to attack a weak slime, which were ignored as he eventually succumbed. A single dwarf represents 25% of your economy at the beginning of the game, so this risk of death by bug provided the wrong type of suspense and discouraged exploration. 

Conversely, even crawling enemies had issues using basic staircases, so the bugs can be used against monsters, but using glitches to beat glitches shows how flawed combat is in its current state.

While dwarves can be armed with equipment found during exploration, if that equipment is layered upon another item it may take fifteen clicks to equip it, if it’s selectable at all. This takes the joy out of looting equipment that is dull anyway, compared to say, Terraria. Unnecessary complexity adds to this, such as clicking a fountain to craft healing water instead of just being able to send a dwarf there to drink once a day.

An unusual combat feature is the arachnophobia setting, which replaces spiders with less realistic, cute creatures for those who suffer from the phobia. The feature has been met with strong acclaim from gamers who state they would otherwise have to enlist other people to play those sections. While avoiding fears may not always be the healthiest approach to deal with them, I hope other games will follow suit to allow gamers to filter out triggering material.

Moving and Mining

 

Hammerting screenshot of dwarf forge

 

In strategy games, the decision on how much control to allow the player to have over his or her characters requires just the right balance. When it works, automation streamlines micromanagement. Enough control is then given to the player to empower them to form a connection with the characters they manage. Hammerting lacks polish in this area; in fact, it’s difficult to tell how much control one has over the dwarves due to the amount of bugs. While quality of life updates have given more control over to the player while correcting some of the pathfinding issues, much work remains to be done.

Players are supposed to be able to enter task commands such as selecting an area of minerals to mine, queueing crafting items in forges, and building structures. These tasks are then shared by the dwarves and accomplished at their will based on the priorities set both upon the task, and upon the dwarves in the job system (note that the system is still under completion). Individual dwarves can be selected to move to a certain area or attack an enemy.

Unfortunately, buildings won’t get built even when experienced, energized dwarves with the right materials are standing right next to the structures. Moving a character manually often results in them getting stuck, even on flat ground, and walking back and forth aimlessly. Tasks are interrupted for no notable reason just to be resumed and dropped again. Dwarves will stop working right next to quest objectives, even when their health, energy, and morale are great.

In a game requiring precision, the amount of randomness to dwarves’ actions is daunting. A dwarf’s intentions are displayed in their character profile, but they mean little. In one case, a dwarf went to feed an unconscious dwarf to stabilize him before entering combat with a unit across the map, then stopping before he got there to drop off some inventory items before idling, accomplishing none of these things. Two dwarves about to starve to death ran away from the food they discovered. While The Sims series might explain such behavior through an emotional breakdown, and RimWorld by a character having a mental health episode after their spouse dies, the dwarves don’t have complex emotions, and are fairly happy as long as they have enough beer. Even their relationship status with other dwarves seems to have no effect.

Dwarves cannot be zoned to a particular building or region. This means a skilled blacksmith may be at a fishing hole, far from the forge. Low-health dwarves often require micromanagement not to enter combat.

 

Echoes in the Caves

 

Hammerting Review

 

The introductory song sets a somber mood, resolving into a relaxing, minimalist soundtrack. The music is limited, however, and does not change when one ventures into the overworld, nor does it accelerate as combat occurs. The sound effects in one deep, swampy part of the cave included wind, a crow calling, and songbirds chirping that ruined immersion. In the overworld, one can still hear the sounds of their dwarves mining thousands of feet underground, making the overworld feel like a menu instead of a place.

 

The Final Cavern

 

 

 

Hammerting’s level of character detail and large, explorable areas offer promise for those who love resource management and base-building games. The graphics and concept hold up, and the game runs well. Adding combat, trade, exploration, and an overworld mechanic with faction relationships to a colony sim is a major undertaking that will pay off well if the systems can become fully integrated. However, the game is not polished enough to deliver a dependable experience, and despite its scope, it offers few new ideas to make it memorable. Developers promise more quality of life improvements, but being a small team, the modding community may have to take up the slack as they did with RimWorld. Thankfully, modding is encouraged in C++. Time will tell if Hammerting is a diamond in the rough, or whether it becomes buried under its own ambition.

 


Final Verdict: 3/5

Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Team17 Digital; Developer: Warpzone Studios; Players: 1; Released: November 16th; MSRP: $24.99

Full Disclosure: This has been based on a PC review copy of Hammerting provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.

Mark Everglade
Mark Everglade is a cyberpunk novelist who loves everything virtual. He enjoys CRPGs, TCGs, and anything that makes him think. He's often working on his next sci-fi book, providing updates at www.markeverglade.com

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