Hinterland is one of those games which is hard to describe in just a few words. Combining typical strategy gameplay with elements of RPG, to create a blend that feels casual – but has just enough depth to keep you entertained. Developer Tilted Mill has tried something different here, and they haven’t done that bad a job.
Hinterland is played on a randomly generated map. Before you start a new game you get to choose the difficulty and the length of your game. The length directly relates to how many sections the map contains, and influences how much you have to do. Generally speaking, the bigger the map, the longer a game will take. The smallest map can be finished in a short evening, enabling players to play a quick game if they just want something to do for a few hours.
After choosing your map settings, you will have to choose a character class. The various classes determine your starting equipment and abilities. For example, you might start with a character which is very good at fighting and poor at generating food. Or, you might pick a character which is great at the city management aspect but poor at fighting. There are quite a few classes to choose from, which adds to the longevity of the game.
You start the game next to what I like to consider as ‘your house’, the very beginning of what hopefully will become a village which stands strong against the wilderness. You will immediately notice that there are some other people standing around. These are visitors to your village, and are the primary method of acquiring new buildings and followers.
The basic principle is very simple. Your city has a certain ‘visitor capacity’, and every visitor stays a certain number of days in your village, indicated in the UI. Each visitor has a set of minimum requirements you need to fulfill before they are willing to settle in your village. If you meet all requirements, you can spend an amount of gold depending on the class of the visitor to settle them in your village. This will immediately enable you to place their corresponding building type in your village.
This means that there is a random element to what buildings and followers you can obtain at any given time, which further adds to the replayability of the game. You might really want a wizard, but unless the right visitor presents itself at the moment when you meet all requirements, you might never obtain one!
The ‘region map’ indicates places of interest, as well as resources. Additionally, each area has a certain number of dots, which represents the danger level of that particular area. Your first order of business is to look at the areas directly next to your village with the lowest danger levels. It’s time to go adventuring!
To claim an area, you need to kill all enemies located there. When you walk through the area in question your UI will inform you how many enemies are left. Once they are all defeated, you claim the area for yourself and any resource located in the area becomes available to your village.
Claiming these resources is extremely important as many visitors have requirements that involve your village having access to herbs, iron, stone, fresh water, animals for hunting, etc. Again, this adds some depth and complexity as you don’t always get all resources on a map. (This is dependent on settings.)
A nice touch to the adventuring is that Tilted Mill have included teleporters in certain areas, preventing you from having to walk half an hour back and forth to the other side of the map just to claim a previously undiscovered area.
Experience & Fame
Defeating the enemies gives you experience, fame and loot – all of extreme value as you progress through the game. Your character and all citizens of your village have 4 equipment slots each: Weapon, Armour, Off-hand and Misc. The misc slot fits helmets, magical rings, and special items which make your citizens work more efficiently.
Fame is very important as all visitors have a minimum fame requirement, limiting your access to more powerful followers until further into the game. You can also increase (and decrease!) your fame by completing quests for the King, which you are offered on a regular basis. Usually these quests involve you handing part of your prized possessions over to the King. (Greedy bastard!)
When your main character levels up, you are presented with a choice to upgrade between 3 attributes / statistics, not unlike games such as Heroes of Might & Magic. Unfortunately you are only able to do this for your main character and not for any of your citizens, even if they come out on adventure with you.
A very nice aspect of the game is that you can, at any given time, order one of your citizens to stop working in their corresponding building and come out with you on adventure. This adds the citizen to your party and makes him follow you around until you tell him to go back to his duties.
This is an important aspect to the game as some areas are just too difficult to capture on your own without a higher level or better equipment. A well-balanced party makes a huge difference, especially as you can have up to three people following you at any given time. To my knowledge this is the only effective way of leveling your citizens, so it’s worth choosing wisely.
You can equip absolutely anyone in your village, and luckily there is an “auto-equip” setting which automatically equips all citizens as new gear becomes available. Once you obtain crafters which start pumping out weapons and armor, this is highly recommended. I personally found it a little tedious manually managing 20+ people, so the option was much appreciated. Downside is that the auto-equip doesn’t always make the choices I would, but you can’t have everything.
There is a good variety of building types and followers available, and you find yourself discovering new combinations and building types each time you play. It does take a few play throughs to really get the most out of the game, especially as there is no tutorial of any kind.
There is a lot of fun to be had in simply acquiring the right citizens and meeting their requirements, as you are constantly balancing the needs of your village with your needs for adventuring companions. Do you want that priest along in combat for healing, or would you prefer the nice buff while she is praying in the shrine?
Can you afford to take the guard along, or should he be on guard next to your most valuable buildings? There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had purely in placing the buildings correctly, and balancing the food and gold requirements of your village. You might be quaffing potions like a maniac, so you really need that doctor to craft potions instead of coming along to fight monsters!
Sense in Simplicity
The game might initially look very simple and shallow, but as you keep playing you will discover new layers of depth that you didn’t notice at the beginning. For example, once you’ve upgraded once of your Crafters to a Fletchery, you are able to upgrade your Guard Posts to Archery Ranges.
There’s very little micromanagement to do, as you can access each building individually and change settings that determine how the occupant acts. Do you want them to sell their goods directly for profit? (Requires a marketplace). Would you like them to research instead of crafting? How should they act when the village is under attack; rush to defend the village or run away?
By keeping the simulation management simple, you never feel too distracted when adventuring. It can sometimes be a little frustrating, as you can tell your crafters to craft but cannot indicate what specifically they should make. They simply make something random from the list of items they have access to. When you desperately need some shields for your followers, it’s not particularly useful when your crafter makes several halberds.
That said, I believe this only adds to the game, as you experience something different every time you play. You can really be challenged purely by the lack of specific resources or equipment, and this prevents the game from being a total push over, and thus getting boring too quickly.
All of this would be far too easy if your village could prosper in relative safety. From time to time, the enemy bases on the map spawn a raiding party which heads directly to your village and tries to inflict as much damage as possible. Your main job throughout the game is to prevent these raiders from inflicting too much damage, or even killing your villagers outright.
The real goal, and the way in which you win the map, is to defeat/claim all enemy bases on the map. On a small map this could only be 2 bases, but on larger maps this can be a lot more challenging. These bases tend to contain the more powerful enemies of the map, to ensure you don’t rush for the bases and defeat the map in a few minutes.
It’s a really simple system that makes for quite an entertaining experience – and I often found myself delaying the defeat of that last base just so I could play around with a few specific followers or upgrades.
Audio / Video / UI
I can’t say much here – the screenshots speak for themselves. Hinterland looks and feels incredibly dated, but the graphics are functional and do the job they are designed for. Obviously the game could have looked much prettier, but it doesn’t detract from the game play. Icons are clear and generally speaking you will know exactly what things are supposed to be.
Audio is fairly basic. It does the job just fine, but it’s nothing special. When playing a game like Hinterland, you need to go in with an open mind and not expect technical marvels.
The UI faces similar issues. It works, but it’s slightly clunky and without a tutorial it takes a little while before you fully get the hang of it. The controls are a little awkward at first because the map is tilted (think isometric) and your character walks north-east when you press up. It’s a very small issue as you get used to it in a manner of minutes.
Hinterland is a very entertaining game, but after you’ve finished a couple of maps, you feel like the game could have been so much more. One major gripe is that you cannot build walls or any other form of defense other than the Guard posts. Tilted Mill claim that designing walls in a manner which wouldn’t make them overpowered was just too challenging, as they were in the original concept design. (You will note that your village ‘borders’ are marked with the foundations of what could be a wall.)
Another feature I personally missed was dungeons, or some way to prolong the adventuring and RPG elements of the game. If the Hinterland city building aspect was combined with the dungeon crawling of roguelikes, or even a game like Torchlight, you would have a special game indeed.
Despite the simplicity of the game, and its poor graphics by modern standards, I would still recommend giving Hinterland a go. It successfully combines city building and management aspects with a fun RPG experience, and never makes things too complex or stressful. On harder settings, the game offers an adequate challenge and by keeping track of your overall score (multiplied by your difficulty factor) it gives some satisfaction to complete a map.
Considering that Hinterland can be picked up for under $2 from Amazon, it’s well worth purchasing. You can play the game several times and get a different experience each time, by alternating map settings and class choice – so it is incredibly difficult to argue against it.
And who knows, if Tilted Mill see that there is still some interest for this type of game, they might produce a sequel which considers all feedback, and deliver something truly special.