Hinterland: Orc Lords is a very easy to play combat RPG that skirts the line between casual play and hardcore strategy. And it’s a lot closer to the casual side. Almost anyone can pick up Hinterland and start playing.
The concept of the game, like most elements in it, is simple. The king has requested that you go out in to the hinterlands, a wooded and wild area filled with monsters and raw resources, and tame it. A new hinterlands is generated every time you play the game, so although all the elements in any given game will be the same, the actual gameplay and layout will be different.
There are two ways you have to tame the wild lands, and both are core gameplay elements. The first is building up a town, which provides basic resources to support even bigger populations, or to equip your character with better weapons and armor for the second part of the game – actually going out there and killing the monsters that live in the zones around your town.
Town building is extremely easy. People will come up to your hamlet with various skills, like farming or blackSmithing. They cost a certain amount to hire, which includes building a house for them on the little grid that serves as your town. If you have the gold, you can build them a house and they will move in and begin providing whatever service they offer. Farmers will start growing food and blackSmiths will start making items that your character can equip to face the hostile world. Some buildings actually generate gold themselves, like a fortuneteller’s tent that brings in about five gold pieces per day depending on a couple other factors.
If you can’t afford a worker, eventually they will leave town and be replaced by someone else. In addition to the gold, each person consumes food each day, and if you run out of food then your town will starve and you will lose the game. You can lose the game by starving out your town, or by losing so much fame that the king fires you. But on easy and medium difficulty levels, it’s very hard to lose.
To help you out, most buildings can be upgraded if you meet the requirements and have enough gold. So a basic farm that makes two food units a day can be upgraded to a large one that produces four as an example. All buildings are instantly upgraded by clicking on them. If you don’t meet the requirements, what you need is noted with a red block, so you can work to get it.
My biggest problem with the town is that it tends to level off too quickly. Your Smiths for example can only train so much, so that a point happens in the game, fairly early on, where everything they make is worthless because the enemies you are fighting are armed and armored so much better than you. Also, things like prayers from your priests don’t do what they say in their description, which is an inexcusable flaw in any game, even a value title. One spell called Sun God for example is supposed to help you recover heath anywhere in the world, but instead it only works in town, which makes it identical to another lower-level spell called God of Health. Also there is a spell called Fates that gives your Smiths a chance to make magical weapons, which I thought was a way to get beyond the cap where everything they make is crap. But with three temples all praying to Fates for almost an entire game, I never once got a magical weapon from my Smiths. Like Sun God which you can see is not working, I don’t think Fates is either. This is a blatant game error, because none of the higher level spells seem to work at all. It needs to be fixed with a patch before the game is truly balanced for higher levels.
Once you get your town going, its time to head out into the world and start killing things. This is done by simply clicking on an enemy and your character will start combat. He or she will continue to fight until the monster is dead or you are knocked out. You don’t do anything other than watch, and in fact, won’t attack unless you click on a monster. So don’t stand there thinking you are in combat if you have not clicked on a monster. You will stand there getting beat on until you click. An auto-attack would be nice in those situations.
Getting "killed" in combat won’t end your game. You simply wake up in town with a huge loss in fame. Losing too much fame will get you fired however, which will cause the game to end. But one bad battle won’t end your game.
Your character has four slots to carry weapons and armor. Generally you will have a weapon, armor, a shield and some special item which could be more armor like a helmet or a magic ring that enhances you somehow. Hovering over found objects will reveal their properties, so you can see if you want to use it instead of what you are carrying. It’s all very simple.
If you don’t want to adventure alone, you can recruit any of your townsfolk to come out with you, though this means they won’t be doing their jobs. If a farmer is out bashing monsters with you, he won’t be growing corn. Also, you will need to equip them so they don’t get killed in combat because they can die. They will try to run home if their hit points get too low, but often times are not fast enough to make it.
In town there is an auto-equip button that will make townspeople grab the best weapons and armor as they are produced or brought into town, which saves you from having to do it for fifteen or twenty people. However, the AI is pretty stupid about this with archers equipping two handed swords instead of magical bows, and other bad logical decisions. You will often find a level one farmer wearing full magic plate armor and your level 10 guardsman wearing light leather. You can hand switch equipment around, but sometimes they will switch right back.
Your main character is pretty generic. You have a few choices to go along with a very limited portrait selection. This changes your starting stats and abilities, but there is not too much difference between characters. You can also play as an orc and work for the orc king, which means your townspeople eat more food and fight better than humans. Also, as an orc hero, you get meat off of everything you kill to make up somewhat for the bigger appetites of your people, and to represent orcs eating everything.
Graphically, the game is passable at best. It’s a top down view of the world. There is nothing special about it other than a little sparkle effect on some weapons. Nothing looks bad, but the graphics do seem several years old. Oddly enough, the sound is quite good, with audio clues whenever new people come to town, when a weapon scores a critical effect like a stun or when the king comes to you with a "special request" above and beyond the call of duty. The music is also pretty good, neither getting in the way nor being totally forgettable. It rises up when you leave town to show the danger and again changes when you get into combat, so it really sets the mood.
The biggest problem with Hinterland: Orc Lords is also its biggest strength. It’s just too simple. I was intrigued with the game when I first started playing it, but really wanted to find more depth. After about my third game, I had literally done everything there was to do. Because of the simple character creation, the fact that the town’s buildings seem to cap out pretty quickly (and won’t produce higher level items) and the fact that there is nothing other than a few graphical features to distinguish one monster zone from the next, you will get tired of Hinterland too quickly. It would be nice if there was like a special dungeon or a unique quest or two (rescue the princess anyone) that would pop up to keep the game fresh. Even your merchant follows too strict a script, offering you one gold piece regardless of the item you sell them. A red dragon egg, a rusty dagger, a pitchfork and a magical ruby ring will each only net you a single gold piece. Games set to long (you can choose a short, medium or long game at startup) just drag on too, well, long without much change in the scenery.
Still, for $20, Hinterland is a pretty good value, especially for casual gamers that don’t want to get bogged down with a lot of extras that add complexity.