Genre-blending games are a common thing these days. Just look at Spore, which merges real-time strategy, space combat, and about a million other game types into one ambitious title. Or GTA, which combines shooting, driving and gang warfare into a glorious pimp 'em up. Hinterland is no exception. Although Tilted Mill Entertainment's budget RPG might appear to be a simple Diablo clone, the developers have cleverly added in a slice of town management to mix things up.
Unlike some RPGs, Hinterland is keen to get you straight into the action, which has to be commended. You simply choose a character from one of twenty classes, which determines your main attributes and starting resources, then decide how difficult and long you want the game to be. As a rough guide, a short, easy game will last you two hours or so, while a hard, long game is likely to last you anything up to ten hours.
Once that's done, you're plonked straight into a corner of the world and ordered to build a town and conquer the entire region. At first your town consists of just a single house, which displays your current resources (food, cash) when clicked on. Since you're just starting out you'll likely be dead broke, and to build up your town you'll need to get out there and kick some arse. For some mysterious reason, every monster in the realm - from skeletons to scarecrows - seem to carry loose change on their person. Excellent news for you, because a simple bit of hacking and slashing quickly builds up your wallet. Killing enemies is also a great way to find extra equipment, as monsters drop everything from weapons and armour to potions and spells.
Diablo comparisons are inevitable at this point, as Hinterland adopts the same top-down perspective (although rendered in 3D, thankfully) and many of the same mechanics. The interface is simple yet effective, with valuable information about your town stored at the top of the screen, inventory at the bottom, and your character details (health, attack, defence, equipment) at the side. To move, you simply left-click on the screen, and do the same on an enemy to attack them. It's so easy that you'll have mastered the controls in mere minutes, and be charging off to explore the world.
Building up your town is a very simple affair. Random travellers will be attracted by your current status and you can choose to either build them a permanent residence or tell them to push off. Each traveller has a distinct skill, with farmers and trappers providing food to your townspeople, craftsmen adding to your arsenal, and so on. You'll need to find a good balance so your followers are well-fed and happy, but also adequately protected. All of the buildings can be upgraded, yet the precise effects of upgrading aren't always obvious and sometimes your control is a little limited. For instance, you can add a craftsman to your town but not actually give instructions on what to create. You might get lucky and get something you need, or you might get yet another axe, after picking up ten of the damn things on your last looting trip. In an interesting twist, you can order your followers to down tools and follow you into combat if you need backup. However, doing so will cut their usual productivity, and leave the town light on defence.
Hinterland's enemies are nicely varied, although stick to typical RPG conventions. You've got your usual undead characters, such as skeletons and zombies, and hairy beasties like orcs and trolls. A bit more imagination would have been appreciated, but it's no big deal. More troublesome is the AI, which is as cut-back as it comes. Melee baddies will simply charge at you in a straight line and smack you about when close enough, while long-distance fighters will stand still and fire missiles at you. They'll make no attempt to flee when wounded, and even if you run up to a missile-shooter and attack them, they won't try to back away while firing.
To help keep things entertaining, or maybe just disturb your exploration, there are two types of random event that occasionally pop up. The King of the Realm is a demanding git, so he often appears and orders you to give him a load of free food or access to some raw materials. You can either submit to his requests, which bags you some fame and attracts travellers to your town, or tell him to tell a right royal leap off the nearest cliff, which has the opposite effect. A group of monsters will also occasionally spawn and march on your town, which is equally as annoying. If you haven't beefed up the place with a number of well-armed guards, you need to charge back to help defend the townsfolk. This would be much more irritating if the developers hadn't mercifully placed a number of portals around the world, which transport you instantly back to town once discovered.
The game's graphics are perfectly serviceable, and do the job well without throwing in anything fancy. Trees and other large obstacles fade out if you walk behind them, while the viewpoint allows you to see a decent circumference around your character. However, some more variety in the world is definitely needed. The entire game takes place in a lush grassland, similar to Diablo II's first act, which gets a little dull and repetitive after a while. Still, at least Hinterland doesn't need a powerful computer to run. The system specs ask for a measly 1.8GHz processor and a gig of RAM for Vista systems, so most laptops should be able to run it comfortably. This game would be perfect for long train journeys, or even a decent-sized commute since you can save at any point.
Hinterland is a well-produced, fun little game and surprisingly addictive once you begin building your town and clearing the map. However, while it doesn't do anything wrong, there's also a couple of areas where it could have been better. The inventory system is rather shallow, as you can only equip four items at once – a weapon, armour, and two miscellaneous. Levelling up is another area that could have been improved on. With each new level, you can only choose one of three attributes (such as improve attack or increased health) – there's no assigning stats or selecting new skills. The most unforgivable omission is any kind of multiplayer, as these kinds of games lend themselves well to co-op adventuring. The world layout would have been perfect for versus games too, with players competing to win sections. Still, the stripped-down nature of the game means RPG noobs will have no trouble picking it up, and there's enough included to keep veterans interested for a while.
While we all grow old and weary waiting for Diablo III to emerge, why not bust out the old broadsword and give Hinterland a try.