Ask any fantasy fan and they will immediately tell you that Dwarves, in addition to being brave and fearless, prefer making their homes underground. HammerHelm, a game by SuperSixStudios that is currently on Steam Early Access, turns this notion on its head by casting you in the role of a Dwarf that believes his kind could live above ground. Unfortunately, the other Dwarves didn’t take kindly to such rebellious thoughts and promptly banished you. The game opens with your Dwarf finally finding some fertile lands to start a new life in the open air.
As luck would have it you are not the only Dwarf who is tired of living underground and if you are successful in your endeavors others will seek out and join your village. However, live above ground comes with its own threats and challenges, such as Goblins and Orcs. This means that in addition to building your town from the ground up you will also be fighting against enemies who would prefer to see you fail. It is this combination of third-person adventuring and town building that makes HammerHelm such a unique game.
As we mentioned earlier HammerHelm is still in Early Access, but it’s already shaping up to be quite remarkable. Even more impressive, it appears to be the work of a solo developer, which means it is clearly a labor of love. We spend a few hours completing quests, defeating enemies, and building our town without encountering any major crashes or issues. Currently, the game has almost 50 different structures to build, but you obviously need enough resources to do so. While you can run around chopping down trees and harvesting ore on your own, it’s much better to get some houses up to lure over other Dwarves who can do your bidding. The catch is that each house can hold two Dwarves, who you get to select from a pool of three potential candidates. Some have valuable skills that make them great for certain roles, but you also get more than your fair share of less than desirable Dwarves. This means that you need to pick very carefully when assigning them jobs so you don’t end up with a miner who is claustrophobic or a resource gatherer who is slow and unable to carry big loads.
The town building aspect of the game is quite simple and straightforward, but it is still gratifying to see your town grow and flourish. There is still plenty of strategy involved as well as larger towns require more resources. It’s tempting to just plunk down a lot of houses so that you can have a large workforce, but Dwarves need food and can get cranky if they don’t have access to luxuries like a tavern to unwind. Also, they are much happier when their surroundings are nice, so there are a lot of factors to take into consideration.
Along with the town building, you can also run off on your own and explore. While playing we got a ton of random quests from our villagers, which ranged from finding out why a ghost is haunting their house to investigating the source of an earthquake or gathering enough ingredients for them to construct something special. Most quests either involve fetching something or killing something, but remained fun nonetheless. Everything doesn’t just take place on the overworld either, but you can venture into dungeons, caves, and mines too. We even encountered one quest that took us to a completely different island where we had to clear out a haunted mansion while solving a few puzzles. Hopefully, this is indicative of what will be in the final game as this particular quest was quite fun.
HammerHelm also features combat and we were able to pull off moves like blocking and rolling in addition to attacking with either an ax or sword. Enemies can come at you in groups, but it is easy to lock on to a single target or kick down enemies to give you some breathing room. A recent update added full controller support, but the keyboard and mouse work fine. Jumping feels a little weird at the moment, but it’s not really essential for accomplishing anything. The user interface was also updated, but we would still like to see some refinements in this area, especially the crafting menus. Speaking of crafting, the last update added a ton of new stuff, including new town and home decor items.
We are not going to go into too much detail in regards to the visuals and audio of HammerHelm as it is still in Early Access, but suffice to say the game already looks pretty good. The environments all look very lush and colorful thanks to the swaying grass and trees everywhere. A day and night cycle is also already in place to show off the lighting effects. We were able to max out the grass draw distance, shadow distance, texture quality, camera draw distance, and tree quality, all while playing in 3840 x 2160, but obviously a decent computer is required for this.
As it stands HammerHelm is already quite an addictive game. There’s never a dull moment as you always have something to do, although we did notice some of the quests beginning to repeat after a while, so a little more variety in this regard will be appreciated. The game does have a bit of an MMORPG feel due to the visual style and number of fetch quests. Perhaps some type of overarching story to tie things together and make certain quests more unique would also be a good idea.
One thing is for sure, SuperSixStudios appears to be dedicated to delivering a great game and HammerHelm is a good example of how to make proper use of Early Access. It is certainly a game we will be watching closely in the future and a title that we think players looking for something fresh and unique will enjoy.