I have a problem with game companies that try to combine successful elements of multiple titles into one “slam dunk!” game. I image a bunch of corporate fatcats sitting around the table to conclude that “people like world building and people like hack 'n slash games, let's combine the two! Slam dunk!”
Not so for independent game developers. If they tell me they're combining elements from multiple genres, I get excited about the possibilities, as I know they are (or should be) doing this because they love the idea and it's what they want to create. Perhaps that's unfair and it certainly isn't always correct. Sometimes independent games remind me that no amount of love and care put into a product can overcome certain conceptual problems and, for a good chunk of it, Hinterland is one of those games.
Hinterland combines elements typically found in action RPGs with a town building process. In short gaming sessions, the character of your choice is thrown into the wilderness by order of the king, and must tame the wild lands (read: kill all the monsters). You are given many options to customize your game to start, including difficulty and length, but also including randomization of resources (so you won't be able to recruit every supporting NPC every time) and whether or not to include enemy raids on your town or requests from the king for which you can gain fame (usually he just asks for money or food, but sometimes he's looking for a unique item or resource).
To help you on your quest a large variety of NPCs drop by your town with the option to employ them: farmers, herders, trappers, guards, alchemists, fortune tellers, craftsmen and more. Each character (including yourself) costs 1 food per day and if you run out of food you lose the game, so this is the first thing you'll need to take care of. The food producers are the basis of each town, where the item producers (like craftsmen or alchemists) support you by producing the weaponry and potions you'll need on your adventures, or producing gold by selling their goods to your local merchant. Guards can keep your town safe and are probably best suited in adventuring with you, other than high-power characters like high priests, wizards, necromancers and dragon herders.
You can go out to fight monsters on your own or take some of your town dwellers with you. You clear up the region map on a by-area basis, fighting about half a dozen monsters of increasing toughness. In doing so, you can also free up resources for your town, by clearing out – for example – a rock quarry or iron mine. Some resources can also be cultivated without freeing them up (by planting a herb field within the town or importing iron), but this is gold-intensive. Still, there's a good chance some resource you really need will be held by high-level monsters, and that is a good way around the problem. On top of that, fighting monsters and clearing out areas gives you XP to level up as well as fame, which allows you to recruit higher-level NPCs.
Your character can not die (unless you're playing in hardcore difficulty), but that doesn't mean dying is as penalty-free as it is in most hack 'n slashes. Deaths bring heavy fame penalties, which can be pretty painful if you're in the process of replacing low-level NPCs with high-level ones. You lose the game if either your fame or your food goes into the negative or if monsters raiding your town destroy it.
Combat is about as basic as it gets; you click on your opponent once and then just sit back watching your character attack him. Opponents use close combat or ranged weapons, as well as magic – which comes down to fire/magic bolts and poison/curse spells. The PC can use close combat or ranged weapons as well as magic, though I found the game pretty hard to play using magic myself. Strategy isn't much of a factor, other than making sure your PC is well-equipped, trying to isolate individuals enemies to fight and taking a team of powerful followers with you if necessary.
You will find a lot of equipment on your adventures, though you won't just pick up items for your character. A lot of the items you'll find will go into decking out your followers: oats to help herders, tools or hammers to help craftsman, salves or bandages to help doctors, and so on and so forth.
As you level up, you get to pick one stat to increase (attack, defense or health) and then get an extra perk, that gives a bonus of different sorts to your offensive skills (such as a bonus to offensive value or attack speed), your defensive skills (such as enabling you to heal outside of town) or your town management skills (such as giving extra gold from buildings, allowing you to research quicker or build cheaper).
Individual level-ups might not give noticeable boosts every time but it has a cumulative effect, and you'll find your character shaping up in giving special emphasis on his individual adventuring skills or to town management. I've had a playthrough with a dwarf warrior where most of my gold resources came from adventuring, and equally a playthrough with a goblin scientist where most of the production came from the town.