Hinterland: Orc Lords may be one of the best games never released for the Commodore 64. OK, that doesn't sound complimentary in 2009, given that the computer system in question is a Cyndi Lauper contemporary. But this mash-up of a hack-and-slash role-playing game and a base-building real-time strategy has a refreshing old-time feel about it. Indie developer Tilted Mill (best known for 2006's Caesar IV) has put together a likable, fast-flowing hybrid that manages to feel like a remake of a golden oldie but also brand new. While the game isn't entirely successful, due to inconsistent difficulty, poor production values, and the lack of a tutorial, it delivers some appealing action for a bargain price of just $20.
Hacking and slashing--not the most genteel way to build a medieval fantasy town, but a pretty effective one.
At first, however, Hinterland is a tad frustrating. The game does not come with a paper manual or an in-game tutorial. An Adobe manual is automatically installed with the game, and the main menu tries to lure you to the official Web site with the promise of information in the forums; but, really, you shouldn't have to hunt around to uncover basic information on how to play a game you just bought. Thankfully, it isn't that complex. Aside from a few irritating early moments while you figure out the interface and maps, there aren't many stumbling blocks. Still, some sort of training mission should have been included.
Still, chances are good that you've seen all of this before, even if you haven't seen it all crammed into a single game. You play a typical RTS/RPG hero tasked with both building a medieval settlement into a full-fledged town and hacking the countryside to bits. A couple of dozen D&D archetypes are offered for the choosing as your alter ego, including such been-there, done-that sorts as an elven archer, a goblin thief, and an undead warrior. Oddly, there are actually only a few orc options. Regardless of skin color or pointed ears, the heroes are pretty much interchangeable. Each comes with skill bonuses that affect characteristics relating to settlement development and battle bonuses, but they otherwise could have rolled off of a Gygaxian production line. This sameness is further emphasized by generic visuals and sound. Buildings are typical medieval structures; maps are dull stretches of flowery grassland dotted with rare unique features, such as ruins and mushroom fields; and the music is a collection of triumphal odes that could have been clipped out of any RPG released in the past decade.
Your time is divided between managing a town as in a traditional Age of Empires-style RTS and roaming the wilderness looking for fights as in a traditional hack-and-slash RPG, such as Diablo. You begin in control of one location on the map with the goal of expanding your village while branching out to conquer neighboring territories randomly generated for each game. Victory is achieved by killing all enemies over the entire map, which varies between 20 and 50 enemy territories, depending on the size option you choose in the beginning. But fighting isn't all that interesting, even though you can do some nifty things, such as recruiting and outfitting town residents into makeshift adventuring parties.