Hinterland: Orc Lords
Developer: Twisted Mill
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Genre: Strategy/Action RPG
March is turning out to be a very good month for strategy fans. From humanity’s struggle in the near future of Halo Wars, we now turn our attention back to the high fantasy setting of Hinterland: Orc Lords. On the surface, this budget priced, smaller scope-game looks like it has no business competing for your gaming dollar. If you take a second look though, you might find something that brings back happy memories of games gone by. Twisted Mill puts their own spin on some classic gaming goodness. You will find elements of Sim City, Diablo, and Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans within. Is that a good thing, or have we moved since the nineties? Find out.
The story of Hinterland begins with a summons from your king. There’s a plot of royal land out there, and it has become full of zombies, bandits, trolls, and other assorted scum. There’s a lot of royal loot out there too, though, and it falls to you to clear out the rubbish so his Highness can have his coin. You are given enough supplies to construct an outpost, and some sort of weapon and armor, and from there the rest is up to you. You will be exploring the realm in a 3/4 top down perspective that should be instantly familiar to most gamers. The realm isn’t going to be cleaned up just with your strength of arms-you also need to construct and manage a village, provide food for your followers, protect them from raiders, and obey the occasional kingly request. There are three main resources that you must keep track of: gold, to purchase construction materials (or satisfy the King), food, which is needed to survive, and fame, which will determine how well respected you are.
Much of the charm in Hinterland comes from how much you put yourself into the story. There are over twenty playable classes that you can choose to play. Each of them has a strength and weakness, and will change your tactics. For instance, the knight is a stone cold brute in combat, but he can’t manage a city to save his life. So if you play as a Knight, you are going to be spending a lot more of your rewards on construction. Playing as a dwarven mason, on the other hand, gives you a reduced amount of combat efficiency but also a reduced cost for building structures.
As you explore the region, the occasional villager will wander to your outpost and offer you his or her services. A farmer will produce food for you and the other villagers, or a craftsman will produce weapons and armor. There are a ton of villagers that stop by, each of them able to do something useful for you. At the very least, you can tell them to pick up a sword and shield and follow you into the blood-drenched fields.
Hinterland: Orc Lords offers a lot of customization options to your campaign. You can change the length of game, the size of the realm, the speed at which days progress, the amount of raiders that will attack your village, and more. Each of these will change your ultimate score at the end, and can also be used to change your game experience. From quick and casual to grueling and hardcore, you’ll find something to suit your preference.
Story: Very Good
The top down perspective of Hinterland isn’t really anything new, but it does get the job done. Your character model is relatively static, but it will change based on the class and race of your hero. As you change armor, you will get to see new, shiny gear and bigger, nastier weapons. While there is nothing that will push your graphics card to the limits, all of the graphics are very crisp and clean. I was impressed to see not only real-time shadows, but shadows that match the character and environment perfectly as you explore.
Slight transparencies will keep you in view as you go behind caves and ruins. Enemy models are very well detailed. You can almost count the ribs in the walking dead. Occasionally, when you have an aura surrounding your character, a little circle of flames will follow you around. There is no zoom though, and the camera is fixed. Your map icons are simplistic, and there aren’t a lot of huge effects to really wow you. They aren’t needed, and unless you absolutely have to have them, you won’t miss them.
Music is limited to a constant, medieval-esque music track which changes after you beat the game to a more triumphant version. It isn’t much to write home about, but it does set the mood. The system requirements aren’t through the roof though, so if you need to have the Lord of the Rings soundtrack playing in the background, that can be done. Each of the enemies have appropriate grunts and screams. When you build your city, the sound of hammers and saws set the stage in a simplistic yet fitting way. That is something very similar to the graphical presentation. There isn’t anything revolutionary about either sound or graphics, but at the same time it fits the game and doesn’t take you out of the world either.
Most gamers will take one look at the game and intuitively understand how to play this. Click on the ground to walk to where you pointed. Click on an enemy to attack them. Fortunately, you won’t be breaking any mice by clicking your mouse through the desk. Clicking once on an enemy will attack it repeatedly until dead. Your character has a four-slot inventory, for weapon, off-hand, attire, and miscellaneous. A typical loadout would be axe, shield, mail, and a ring of power. However, if you play as an elven archer, you’ve probably got a bow instead. Your character has three statistics: health, attack, and defense. You can probably figure out what each of them refer to. Your gear will affect them as can be expected. You can also pick up items to help your followers do their job better. Some of them have wonderful tongue-in-cheek titles. For instance, you can pick up “Magical Fertilizer” for your farmer.
Speaking of the followers, let me talk about the city building aspect of the game. Your village will always show up in the lower middle of the realm, and your Outpost will always show up in the center of that village. You then have a grid of locations to build homes for the villagers. There’s not an extensive amount of strategy involved with building, but you do want to build homes for guards around the outside, and keep weaklings like farmers and bards towards the center. Each home costs gold, and certain villagers won’t put down roots unless you meet certain requirements. Merchants won’t stay unless you have an Inn and an Enclave. Most Guards require certain levels of Reputation before they enlist.
Well, fame brings them in, and gold keeps them there. Then they get hungry. You need to eat, they need to eat. If you don’t have enough food to eat, you will start to starve. If the food still isn’t there after a week, you die. Food is produced by farmers and trappers, and the occasional treasure chest. However, if you play as an Orc, you can “harvest” raw meat from your enemies. Cannibalism? Hey, why not?
Control: Gameplay: Good
So you have a fun, cute, relatively simplistic game here. Are you going to play it again? Sure,there’s no multi-player, even though it would be cool. There are over twenty playable characters though, and that more than makes up for it. I can’t remember the last game that used the term, “seneschal,” let alone used it correctly. Not only can you play as humans, elves, and dwarfs, but there are various orcs, goblins, and even the undead are under your control. Which brings me to a wonderful aspect of this game-different races change the game entirely. Playing as a human knight gives you a very typical human king, even if he is slouching and looks bored. Your undead enemies are called skeletons and zombies, and the human bandits are raiders and…well..bandits and raiders. Change to an Orc shaman, however, and now things are different! Skeletons are crunchies. Zombies are stinkyflesh. Raiders? No sir! In the Orc army, we call them, “weaklings.” It’s a great touch, and an example of some of the great humor to be found.
Another great aspect in the replayability category is that every time you start a game, the map is completely random. This forces exploration as you go back in, and keeps it from being a case of, “Go here, get the herbs, then go and liberate the quarry.” There are other games that have done this but it always helps to have that level of newness every time you load it up.
Hinterland: Orc Lords offers you a lot of options to find a play style that suits you. There is nothing wrong with sticking close to home and designing the perfect Ye Olde Homesteade, providing you have all the resources and time you need. Alternately, action craving gamers can strap on an axe (or halberd, or spear, or sword, or bow, or magic wand…) and head out into the wilds. Each of your followers can be geared up as well, but they will typically run screaming from most of the higher level enemies. Still, you can’t beat heading out with a posse.
Level advancement lets you purchase new skills and improve your stats, but it also comes at a cost. When you die, you return to the village automatically, but your fame takes a hit at ten times your level. Get to level five and take a dirt nap? Fifty hard-won points of rep go away. I actually dipped so far into negative rep on one play through that no one would live in my village anymore, and I starved to death. This game plays at whatever level you want to play it at, and provides a consistent challenge.
Top down adventuring? Seen it before, thanks. Resource management? That too. Keeping people happy while you have bigger things to worry about? Yep, been there, done that, have the exclusive mousepad. While there isn’t a lot here that you haven’t seen before, you shouldn’t hold it against Twisted Mill either. Lots of games hit the shelves as carbon copies of existing games. It’s just not necessary to recreate the wheel every time you release a new title these days. What matters is that you’re enjoying yourself. At the rather affordable price, you don’t feel like you’re getting ripped off either.
With the ability to play a short or long game as you choose, over twenty characters to play it with, and a simple, intuitive interface, you’ve got very satisfying game experience. There’s no reason not to play this game again and again and again. I found myself going back to this world more than some of the bigger, more massive role playing experiences out there. Sure, players who are looking for a hardcore, persistent, long term experience might want to look elsewhere, but part of the charm in Hinterland: Orc Lords comes from the simple, pick up and play, put down and cook dinner experience. Anyone who has played a game for just, “one more level,” or, “one more building,” is going to find themselves hooked.
The other side of the addictive-factor is the appeal factor. I hope a lot of you that read this go on to pick up a copy, because this game needs word of mouth. Are the graphics amazingly impressive? No, but you’re going to have fun here. Does each NPC come pre-loaded with hundreds of witty quips? No, but that’s fine too. Anyone who looks at this on a store shelf is going to see a relatively dated Diablo clone, but what they end up with is hours and hours of enjoyment. Those of you who know what you are getting into when you pick up that box and see what is here will be rewarded.
Appeal Factor: Good
Let’s be clear here for a second-this is a really fun game. It’s not a groundbreaking game by any stretch, but it is definitely worth your gaming dollar. Especially since you won’t be paying a whole lot of your gaming dollars for it. What you have here is a game that hearkens back to the golden age of PC gaming: the mid-nineties. Hinterland reminds me of the days where a few guys and a few server racks could build a game that you would play for hours on end.
One of the best parts is just how much of yourself you can put into the story. For instance, the Orc characters can loot raw meat, which adds to your Food stores. Now, you can tell yourself that the things you are brutalizing are carrying rations. Or if you’re planning on thinking really evil, you’re harvesting filet o’ Frank with every kill. You can provide your own speech for the game, and play however you want. There’s some real humor in here too. One of the best parts is a royal quest. One of the buildings that you can liberate out in the realm is an ancient temple, which has a description along the lines of “This building houses the souls of ancient warriors.” Well, the King dropped this request on me: “I would like access to souls!” Fun!
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Story/Modes: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Hinterland: Orc Lords is a very enjoyable game that can keep amateur warlords entertained for hours, and will provide a nostalgic break for professional pillagers. Those of you who can forgive some simplistic design element there is a treasure chest of gameplay to be found. Those looking for a deep, meaningful dungeon crawler should stay back though.
Tags: Fantasy, RPG, Simulation, Strategy