Over the past year, Warpzone Studios has toiled away on updates for its Dwarven mining and colony sim Hammerting. Now the game has emerged from the Early Access caverns as the ornately crafted finished product. Well, supposedly anyway. After spelunking in the game for a while, I can’t help but feel like Hammerting needed a little more time in the forge.
It’s an intriguing premise. You take charge of a dwarven mining colony and begin plundering a massive cavern for valuable resources to craft into weapons, armour, and other tools to aid in a war that rages above ground. It’s not often that games let you be the unsung heroes in a conflict, and I was intrigued to see where the story might go. But sadly, it’s entirely surface level and merely serves as a brief explanation for your mining efforts.
But once you get into the swing of things, the lack of narrative is unlikely to be all that bothersome. You just have to reach that stage first. The game’s tutorial isn’t fantastic, dropping you into the mountain with a few pop-up boxes with reams of text and wishing you the best of luck without providing any real direction. For veterans of the genre, it’s unlikely to be a problem, but if you’re a newcomer enticed by the prospect of commanding a team of dwarven miners, it’s a rough start that will turn a few frustrated people away.
But if you stick around and push past that barrier, Hammerting houses a tonne of depth that micro-managers and lovers of creating efficient worlds will adore. The more you explore and trade with the settlements above ground, the more research tokens you will earn to unlock additional buildings and transport to improve your mining operation and see it flourish. At the start, you’ll have to watch your dwarves stroll from place to place and create rickety ladders for them to access harder to reach spots. But eventually, you can build elevators to make this more convenient and create a whole minecart railway system to transport resources quicker and easier. There’s a lot of satisfaction to be found in creating a smooth workflow.
It looks lovely as well, thanks to the smart use of lighting. Unexplored areas are grey and foggy, with a hint of mystery and danger surrounding them, while any buildings you’ve created emit the warm glow of a cosy fire, making them truly feel like home. After making good progress, it’s enjoyable to zoom out and see how far your underground city has developed and, likewise, how much more of the underground cave system is still waiting to be explored, providing a wonderful sense of scale.
But that’s a best-case scenario. Sometimes, reaching the point where your colony is thriving is marred by several minor but irritating issues that detract from the experience. One of those problems is the dwarves themselves. Seemingly at random, their AI acts in a whole manner of bizarre ways. In Hammerting, rather than directly controlling your dwarves, you give them tasks—whether that’s mining, crafting, or battling intruders— and they’ll go about their business, in theory.
Oftentimes, they will frequently rush over to the place you’ve told them to mine or craft, do so for a few seconds and simply stop, locked in an eternal staring contest with the rock in front of them. On other occasions, they will run back and forth like they’re on fire for seemingly no reason, unable to find a path to their destination, even if they’ve been to the exact same spot before without a problem.
There are a few aspects of the game that feel fairly pointless, such as the dwarves’ individual stats. They each bring different attributes and skills to the game, but they don’t seem to matter all that much. Any dwarf is perfectly capable of completing each task, and because they’re not particularly distinct to look at, you probably won’t know who’s who anyway. When I learned that they could permanently die, I thought I would end up in an Xcom style scenario where their demise would crush my soul. Instead, I just recruited a new dwarf and moved on, which is sad. I want to care about the individuals in my colony.
Hammerting also has combat, though it’s not much to write home about. Now and then, your buildings will be attacked by various creatures like slimes and rats. So, you’ll need to send your dwarves over to deal with them. There are no real tactics required for this. The participants will simply stand and trade with each other until one of them perishes. The only real danger with combat is not noticing that a rat is smashing buildings to pieces because the game does a poor job of telling you they’re under attack.
A message appears in the top right-hand corner of the screen to let you know a building is damaged, but you’re more likely to be looking elsewhere, expanding your colony to help it achieve greatness. A notable change in music when a threat had arrived would be a welcome addition, particularly since the ambient soundtrack is fairly anonymous, and I quickly found myself reaching for a podcast or some other music.
Back above ground, things are fairly tedious. You can trade with settlements and provide them with materials to bolster their defences, but it’s really just a series of menus. They can give you missions, but this usually involves creating certain objects for them, and after a while, it feels like you’ve seen them all, and repetition promptly sets in.
There is plenty of fun to be had with Hammerting. The aesthetic is delightful, and when everything works as intended, time joyfully slips away. However, the aforementioned issues frequently rear their ugly heads and immediately halt the enjoyment as you’re forced to try and work around it. Despite the full release status, it still feels like Hammerting is in Early Access since it lacks the polish of some of its peers.