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Going Down to Hinterland
Review - posted by baby arm on Thu 1 January 2009, 23:21:45Tags: Hinterland; Tilted Mill
Review by JarlFrank
Hinterland is a game that tries to to something different by combining Diabloesque hack-and-slay gameplay with base-building and town management. The developer, Tilted Mill, is mostly known for having developed several city-building games before, including Caesar IV and SimCity Societies. So while the town management aspect of the game is something the developers are familiar with, the RPG aspect is something new for them.
Before you can jump into the game, you have to select a character and create a game world. Character creation is a rather simple affair: the only important choice is the choice of your character class; while you can change your gender, it doesn’t have any effect on the game itself and is a purely cosmetic choice. There are quite a lot of character classes to choose from, but in general they can be put into two groups: characters who are good at town management and characters who are good at combat. While there are many different character classes, they are also very unbalanced. An entrepreneur, with his increased gold production, is much more effective at building up a town than a yeoman with his increased food production, since you will have more than enough food by mid-game anyways while gold is an important resource throughout the game.
The other choices you are presented with affect the game world. There are a few gameplay features that you can switch on or off, like requests by the king or raider attacks. Those mostly affect the difficulty of the game, as with raider attacks turned on you will have to defend your town from occasional attacks and with requests turned on you will have to fulfill small quests for the king, which can range from simply giving him a small amount of gold to acquiring a resource. The most important choice here is the game length. This option should actually be called “map size” since it doesn’t directly affect the length of the game, but the size of the map. While games on small maps can be won more quickly, they also offer less possibilities than medium and large maps. If you want to build up your town to the highest possible level, you should play on a large map since small maps are missing most of the high-level resources required to upgrade your buildings. You cannot, for example, build a dragon farm on a small map since you won’t be able to find a dragon’s nest there.
Once you’ve chosen your character class and map size, you will be greeted by a pop-up window in which the king tells you what you have to do and under what conditions you will lose the game. There isn’t much of a story to this game. The king telling you to build up a town and destroy all enemy lairs in this wild region of his kingdom is all there is to it. This does make the game more freeform and sandboxy since you don’t have to follow any story arc, but it also means that each game is basically the same: you have to build up a town and eliminate all enemies from the map. There’s no variation and it gets repetitive after a while, which hurts the replay value.
Now, about town management. Basically, there are 5 resources. Gold, food, population, fame and town quality. Gold is acquired by looting the corpses of slain enemies and by building certain buildings like inns, food is produced by hiring farmers. Everyone living in your town, including yourself, needs to eat, so you have to hire a few farmers in order to keep your town alive. The problem here is that it’s not that easy to get your hands on farmers, or on any other specific NPC for that matter. The people visiting your town are mostly random, so it could be that two high-level characters are visiting your town at the beginning of the game but no farmers or workers that you would need to build it up. And since high-level characters have certain requirements, like your town having a high fame or quality, and a high price, you won’t even be able to hire them and have to send them back home. Then you have to simply wait until new characters arrive and hope that they are more useful to you. This randomness makes it a bit difficult to build up a proper town, since you will get many visitors whom you can’t yet hire in the beginning, and you still get some farmers in the later stages of development, when you already have more than enough food and don’t need any more farmers.
Fame is another important “resource”. You gain it by conquering enemy lairs and by fulfilling quests for the king. Those quests are also rather random, though, and sometimes you might not be able to fulfill them at the time when you get them. I once received a request to gain access to iron, but the only iron mine in the map was guarded by creatures several levels above me. Attempting to take the iron mine would’ve been a suicide mission, and if you die, you are resurrected in town but lose quite a lot of fame. Not taking the mine at all would mean that you can’t fulfill the request and that would mean even more loss of fame. It is also possible to import iron, but it is too expensive to be possible at a low level. Still, the requests are also level-scaled, so you won’t be tasked to acquire dragon eggs or to give the king a thousand gold pieces at level one. The higher your fame and character level, the more difficult the requests. But, as I said, there is still a rather heavy randomness factor that results in many inappropriate quests which are either too easy or impossible to do.
The next important point is town quality. Town quality rises when you build certain buildings like taverns and when you acquire certain resources, like meat or water. You can gain access to resources by defeating all enemies near a source of this resource, or by buying certain improvements in your town center. You can build a well to gain access to water, and you can import iron and stone, which is very expensive, though. Some resources are required to hire certain characters, or to upgrade a building (you need dragon eggs to be able to upgrade your ranch to a dragon farm).
Now, besides town management, there’s also the RPG part of the game. It’s very simplistic, though. Combat is like Diablo, but a lot more simple. There are no special attacks, and there is no magic. You just stand there and click on the enemy until one of you drops down dead. If your health gets low, you can drink a potion and are instantly healed. There is no strategy to the combat, and no effective tactics. You just click until the enemy is dead, that’s it. Combat clearly is the weakest part of the game. The RPG elements like leveling up and using equipment are also very simple. There are four equipment slots: one for your weapon, one for your armor and two for other items of your choice (helmets, shields or rings). You gain levels by fighting, and that’s it. There’s no other way to gain experience in this game. Upon leveling up, you can raise either attack, defense or health and choose one of three skills which increase either one of your combat abilities or one of your town management abilities. The three skills that you can choose are always determined randomly. You can also order up to three of the NPCs living in your town to join you in adventuring. They will follow you and attack enemies, or heal you if they are priests. Taking companions with you doesn’t really add much to the combat, though, since you have no direct control over them.
Hinterland also manages to bring the old “monsters-carrying-gold” cliché to a whole new level. Every enemy you kill has gold on him, be it only one single gold piece. After killing off a lair of spiders, you will find some gold pieces on almost each of the little creatures’ corpses.
In the end, your goal is to destroy all enemy lairs, which means that you have to do a lot of the repetitive combat. The map is separated into squares, which you can easily see by bringing up the map. Each square holds an enemy lair which you have to clear out, and some of them also hold resources. As said previously, killing off all enemies in a square containing a resource gains you access to this resource. Sometimes you will also be attacked from enemies coming from one of the map regions, and if you kill all of the monsters in the map-square that sends out these raiders, you’ll be safe for a while, until enemies in another square decide to attack you, too.
All in all, the game is rather mediocre, but quite interesting for the first few playthroughs. Since the game is so repetitive, there isn’t much replay value, even though the town management manages to be quite fun. After having finished the game twice on large maps, you have seen everything it has to offer and I didn’t really feel interested anymore. The horribly simplistic combat is what killed the game for me, since you have to do so much of it and it isn’t really rewarding. Another thing that really annoyed me was the fact that you cannot zoom out, and the perspective is very close to the ground so it’s really hard to orientate yourself and you have to use the map a lot.
While the general premise of the game is interesting, the implementation is mediocre at best. Since it only costs $20 on Steam, you can try it out if you’re interested, but don’t expect anything special.