First Impressions of… Hearthlands

I’m pretty sure that mine near the southern river is haunted.

Hearthlands is a rather quirky city builder with elements of empire management. You start with a rather unassuming plot of land and you’re tasked with creating a sustainable flow of resources, housing your settlers, developing infrastructure, developing an army, and expanding outwards in a world filled with as many as twelve rivals. The creation options are pretty flexible, though. You can toggle various difficulty modifiers on and off to the lengths of creating a low risk sandbox mode.

Most of the difficulty modifiers relate to natural resources, enemy encounters, natural disasters (such as plague outbreaks), and whether special locations are added to the map.

You can also decide how many rivals you want to play with, and, if you do have rivals, you can make them friendly so they won’t ever engage in war with you. Also, quite oddly, though I could just be inexperienced with these types of games, you are given an amount of starting gold. The default amount seems to be 40,000 but can be adjusted to whatever you wish (higher or lower).

While the above sounds somewhat complicated Hearthlands presents most of these concepts in a rather easy to digest format. I’m not entirely sure if many of the features will remain the same as this is Early Access, but, there are few options for each of the settlers you can play as, which allows you to focus on the meat of the game rather than trying to remember everything they’re good at. You can play as Northerners, Southerners, Easterners, or Westerners and they all have different benefits/requirements. Again, at the moment, these are the only options available when playing as one of the settlers. The only exception to this is warfare where all of the units are available to develop.

Not very viable but helps to understand the way(s) to build a settlement.
Not very viable but helps to understand the way(s) to build a settlement.

To be more concise with the above, let’s say one of the settlers can only breed chickens and roosters- these will be the only farming options available when playing as them. However, if they prefer axemen as military units- the other units will still be available to develop if you wish. Likely because some enemies will be less or more effective against certain unit types.

While building your settlement and making it sustainable is the key focus there are other things you’ll be involved with. There are various enemy settlements added to the map(s) by default which will provide a range of encounters. From the simple theft of items from storerooms to engaging you in combat and/or attacking your fortifications. There are also locations you can visit (like mines or graveyards) where enemies will nest and encounters will occur. It doesn’t really look this complicated at first glance but it does have several layers of complexity.

As an Early Access title there’s a lot of content already in the game as well as regular updates coming through.

The later updates (from November 2015 onwards) seem to be focusing on fleshing out the magic system. So I’d expect there to be more options for units and perhaps even units that don’t necessarily favour any of the settlers. As anyone could build the structures with enough time, resources, and money.

I’m having a lot of fun with it at the moment despite spending most of my time in building phases (see the above screenshot). While not an actual feature of the game I like to generate maps and build settlements to see how I can most effectively access resources, generate appeal, and retain the settlers that come to my city. Hopefully this will help when I actually start a game with the intention of playing and winning (if that’s possible).

Have a nice week, all!


Vast Technological Superiority

You are now contractually obligated to populate the stars (efficiently)!

While the meat of the game is that of taking colony and scout ships across the galaxy looking for new star systems, new colonisation opportunities, or generally just to see what’s out there in hopes of finding the other player(s) there are several paths to victory to consider. You can win the game in a variety of ways including: a point victory, conquest via military power, achieving scientific excellence, diplomatic freedom, economic boon, and so on. These are things that you must always keep in the back of your mind as you can have as many as seven players with you. Either real players or AI controlled players (who thirst for blood).

Why is this so important? Well, the AI (and hopefully other players) will also be looking to achieve a victory of some kind.

There are so many things happening on this screen it's ridiculous.
There are so many things happening on this screen it’s ridiculous.

While it can be very relaxing to listen to ambient soundtrack and casually build your fleets of death, or research new technologies, you are on the clock as it were. There is little time to waste and with that comes the somewhat gruelling challenge and/or difficulty level to playing this kind of game for the first time. So, don’t feel too bad if you’re first shot goes awfully awry.

The bulk of your time will be spent colonising new worlds which is a two step process. The first is having a scout ship find the star system and the second is having a colony ship land, populate, and get the ball rolling. There are many different resources available in the game and some planets have better gains than others. There are also rare materials which can appear on planets (I do believe at random), as well as natural and unnatural anomalies which make some planets highly profitable or not so, and you have to think about the happiness of the population on each of your planets. Not every planet type is initially available at the beginning of a game so you’ll need to unlock some things through research to get that going on.

The four core resources are Food, Industry, Dust, and Science (FIDS for short). Food and Industry are star system wide while Science and Dust are empire wide.

What this means is that if a planet is producing a lot of Food (for population growth) or Industry (for building time reduction) it only affects that star system. While if a planet is producing good Dust (global currency) or Science (for research time reduction) it goes into the entire pool for the empire. So, rule of thumb, don’t produce more Food and Industry than you need and produce as much Dust and Science as you can. It takes a bit of time to get the hang of it but once you do you’ll be fine.

If you’re a fan of combat, as you really should be, as you never know what the other players will be doing, you can also spend some time outfitting ships with neat things.

Initially the number of ships you can have in a fleet, the variety of upgrades, and so on is all fairly small. But through research you can have many more ships and much more powerful upgrades as the game progresses. Therefore, regardless of strategy, research and use of Science is crucial. While all of your ships will have a Dust upkeep cost so that’s just as important. There is an awful lot to do with the fleets as well (such as assigning heroes) so that is a pretty big, encompassing, and viable strategy if you so wish.

Speaking of, heroes are individuals you can hire at different times in the game. I do believe that through military research you can get more in a shorter space of time. However, they’re not just for combat- they can be assigned to star systems as well. When covering a star system they have different benefits for you to invest in to those available when leading a fleet.

As you can probably tell the game is huge and has an incredible number of things to do. So, unfortunately, I can’t cover that all here- but I do recommend it. Highly.

Have a nice week, all!