The name ‘Mountain Sheep’ may not instantly ring a bell but they are well-known for their mobile phone games. We’re sure many of you will have come across the likes of Minigore 1 and 2 at some point whilst you have been perusing the app store on your phones, and with good reason too; they are great pick up and play games. But, in some ways, the scope of a game can be limited, by a lack of processing power and physical controls, when it is published to mobile, But, by putting their mobile days behind them, at least temporarily, Mountain Sheep hope to utilise the full powers of the PC platform the make Hardland one of the great open-world RPGs of our time.
Currently in Early Access alpha stage, the game has some very lofty goals. Not only is it an open-world adventure but it’s also completely procedurally generated. Everything from the locations you visit, the loot you’ll find and the enemies you’ll fight have been pre-determined by a set of sophisticated algorithms. As we’ve seen in the past, this can be a great thing, but it can also turn out pretty terrible too.
Currently Hardland ships with a bunch of tech-demo tutorials, to help ease you into its combat and questing systems. You’re also able to get a glimpse of its vision, with an unfinished version of the open-world sandbox. The sandbox is currently only 25% complete, with a huge amount of work left to do, but you are free to roam around its twee medieval world, completing fetch quests for its inhabitants. Most of the time this will involve you defeating monsters and collecting pieces of loot to take back to the quest giver, other times you’ll simply be running around the world picking up various bits and bobs.
Whilst, understandably, at this stage the gameplay is sparse on the ground, we were quite taken with Hardland‘s appearance. The characters you’ll meet have personality, and an almost chibi/garden gnome aesthetic, that is quite unique. Towns and buildings are lushly decorated, and a huge amount of detail has been lavished on them, and even the little things like the roaming flocks of chickens have an impact, both visually and in character. Yet, the quaint atmosphere inspired by your surroundings has a threatening, almost foreboding, edge. This sense of danger is well founded, too, with the legions of walking skeletons tracing the land, ready to descend on you. But you can fight back.
Combat, although fairly basic at this stage, is quite varied. Not only do you have a variety of swords and axes at your disposal, but you’re also able to pick up and throw anything else that comes to hand, be that gunpowder barrels, rocks, or another character! Looking to the character menu reveals a detailed loadout screen, allowing you to switch weapons, armour, shields and, more importantly, masks. By equipping masks you can blend in with the bad, or good guys. For example, equipping the chicken mask makes you king of the chickens, that is to say that you’ll constantly be followed by other chickens. But other masks have more practical uses, enabling you to get up close to enemies without fear of death. Although this system is currently incomplete, it shows the kind of creative thinking that we can expect to extend to the complete game.
Mountain Sheep have quite openly stated that Hardland will wholeheartedly embrace the modding scene,which, if we look to the likes of Skyrim, can only be a positive move. Determined to lead by example the developers have included a couple of modding examples in the tutorials list. The first example flips the game on its head and turns it into an FPS. This brief demo tasks you with killing invading enemies with a blunderbuss, and although it is far from complete, it shows the kind of opportunities that will become available to the talented modification community. For the second mod example the developers recreated their hit game, Minigore. This mod plays much like the previous one but gives you a top down perspective.
At present, Hardland is a real hodgepodge of ideas but that’s no bad thing as there is clearly lots of moulding left to be done until it is a finished product. If you are looking for a game to sink your teeth into, this isn’t it. On the other hand, if you’re enthusiastic about jumping on board early and helping to shape the game’s future, go ahead and pick it up.
Hardland is available to purchase on Steam.