Posted at October 10, 2020

Hinterland: The Forgotten City-Builder RPG

This may be a shock to you, but I am a nerd. I mean, I only spend several hours a week complaining about videogames, after all. As a nerd, there are few things I like better than a good fantasy RPG. But sometimes the planets align, and an ethereal force compels me to seek out a city management game. If only there was a way to fill both needs with a single game.

Well, it turns out there is. Released by Tilted Mill Studios in 2008, Hinterland is a hybrid city builder and fantasy RPG. A top-down hack and slasher, the combat will be immediately familiar to fans of Diablo and similar games. Where it differs is the subtraction of dungeons and the addition of town management.

You start each playthrough with a small manor, some basic equipment, and the king’s command to settle the region. He’ll occasionally send messages demanding resources, and repeated failure will eventually result in a game over. The only other way to lose is if your character and all your settlers die. The latter can happen either by running out of food or being killed by monsters.

Recruiting news settlers is fairly simple. Visitors will arrive at your town and stay for a few days. Different settlers have different occupations ranging from simple farmers and craftsmen to alchemists, bards, and necromancers. There are also warriors, who you will definitely want to recruit to fight the above-mentioned rampaging monsters. If you have enough resources and meet all the other requirements, you can invite a villager to join your village by building them a house.

That is where the RPG side of things comes in. The player can leave town at any time to adventure in the surrounding wilderness. This is the easiest way to get food early in the game. A decent chunk of dropped items can also be given to the townspeople to make them more productive. Enemies are as likely to drop hoes and pitchforks as swords and armor. There’s even an amusing amount of overlap between the two. A blacksmith’s hammer can double as a melee weapon, for example. Depending on what gear you started with, you might even want to hold onto that pitchfork for a little while.

The player can also recruit villagers to join in their adventures. In theory, you could coscript anyone into your party, although it’s more efficient to use people who carry weapons as part of their jobs. Besides, hunters, guardsmen, and healers seem more useful in a fight than merchants and innkeepers.

Now, Hinterland is by no means the only game to combine aspects of city management and RPG combat. However, most lean more one way or the other. Fallout 4 featured a fairly robust town-building system, but that’s really only a side activity. If you wanted to, you could play the entire game without interacting with the settlement mechanics. Hinterland is one of the few games that manage to maintain a balance between city management and RPG action.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from perfect. The combat isn’t very well balanced, and the graphics are dated. The ending is anticlimactic, and there are dozens of ways the existing systems could be expanded upon.

But this is why we need more games like Hinterland. It could be a remake, a sequel, or just a spiritual successor, but it needs to be made. Tilted Mill hasn’t updated their website since 2013, so I don’t think we can count on them to get it done. Hinterland was just too good a concept to lay forgotten for the rest of time.


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