It’s … but it’s also … and overall it’s very.
Ok, let me try again. Hinterland is extracts from UO, EverQuest 1 (early days), Diablo with a pinch of Children of the Nile. (Ok, I didn’t know they made that too, they made Caesar IV too which I also liked).
But it doesn’t quite go all the way. I’ll flirt, charm and woo you, it’ll plan a romantic evening with a steak dinner, a half hour of soft porn, it’ll dim the lights and then it’ll tell you game over. But in the morning, you’ll probably think it was worth it… Especially for the mere $20 asking price!
The basic premise is: build your town up and fend off the surrounding marauders. Every day there is an opportunity for visitors to stop by your town. If they have skills you need and you have the cash and the relevant pre-requisites, you can invite them into your town. Your first hire will probably be someone who can farm or hunt or herd. After that you’re going to want craftsfolk, an innkeep, a merchant, and so forth…
Over time you’ll be able to upgrade various townspeople’s places. A farm becomes a large farm becomes a plantation.
However, you’ll start off somewhat strapped for cash. To stock up you’ll need to venture out into the surrounding land and kill spiders, bandits, ogres, etc.
The baddies are installed at “sites”. The sites are randomized each game, but each game has a fixed number of sites with a fixed number of baddies and no respawns. The only augmentation to the flow of hostilities are the occasional “raider” outbreaks which comprise four baddies charging from a random, unreached site and heading to your town to attack it.
When you go out adventuring, you have the option of inviting upto 3 villagers to accompany you. Those you take out with you will level up as they go.
Some sites have gold chests with nifty loot on them, most sites produce a chest when you kill the last (of 6-8) baddies at them.
For those first 6-8 levels, the loot is pretty good.
But then things start to peter out and it doesn’t quite feel like you’re ready to be done. Loot becomes less imaginative/creative and if you run the game long you find yourself outmatching all the mobs in the world.
There’s a lot of stuff that could probably use the good folks at +7 Systems assistance. For instance, I got a necro relatively early on and did a fair amount of what Krieger tells me is called turtleing (staying in town to make money and food: in-fact, I was just chilling and not going out adventuring while I waited for things like my necro to summon a pet or for enough food to come in to allow me to upgrade a building before I ran off).
By the time I reached level 10, my level 5 necro was summoning level 25 zombies. His 20+ pets demolished everything in the game before anything else could reach them. I figured I would be going up against tougher mobs soon but … nope, the few Level 13s I’d fought were the only ones on the map and Arnald’s zombies (the last one was level 27) plowed thru the level 6-10s at the last 10 sites (which hadn’t been revealed till I got to them). It actually took out an entire site on its own when the pathing lead it astray.
There are tons of little niggles in Hinterland — the pathing is truly awful but at least they put in some code to tell things to give up and try a different route when they get stuck. It could really do with kicking in sooner tho. There are an assortment of things cluttering the land – half of it is just that, clutter, the other half are actual obstacles, and it takes a little while getting your head around which is which.
The limited scope also makes it feel like an early level of a larger game (say stage 3 or 4 of Age of Empires or Caesar); and the wrap up makes it feel almost like a demo-teaser (Game Over: you have 5 [game] days left to play).
In some areas it is obviously begging for a little more advancement of particular citizens, although I was quite pleased to discover that the Herder upgrades to a Dragon Herder who actually brings the dragon along to fight for you if you ask them to. Sadly, by the time you have a dragon herder they’re going to be a bit useless and the dragon pet is terribly weak even if you’re only level 6 or 7. The crafts people also only seem suited up to about levels 4 or 5. You can upgrade a craftsman to a fletcher, or to a smithy and then an armorer or a weaponsmith. The resulting gear they produce doesn’t scale, so once you pass level 6 their output is pretty much cruft.
Overall, though, I’ve had 10x more fun playing Hinterland than I did Spore, and it only costs $20.
I’ll probably give hard a try before finally backing up the files and saving it for a rainy weekend.
You can beat this game. You can trounce it. That’s so contrary to most modern game designs that I failed to recognize it. If you go at this game brute-force, it will roll out the welcome matt for you.
The challenge in Hinterland is to get a high score, which isn’t the same as oblierating everything in the gameworld with your eyes closed.
Do yourself a favor, put your min-maxer hat to one side and enjoy looting, levelling and building :)