Dungeons of Hinterberg
Dungeons of Hinterberg's announcement at Summer Game Fest 2023 didn't garner a ton of fanfare in the midst of massive games like Starfield, Fable, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, and Forza Motorsport, but it sticks out as one of the more promising indies highlighted during the Xbox Games Showcase. That same week, I witnessed a behind-closed-doors demo, which showed off the gameplay loop and some more of the beautiful visuals, so when I had the chance to play this unique hybrid action/RPG this week, I jumped at the chance.
Dungeons of Hinterberg puts you in the shoes of Luisa, who has traveled to the new tourist hotspot in the Austrian Alps. People from all over the world are enamored with Hinterberg's many magical dungeons full of mystical and dangerous creatures. Luisa's goal is to explore all 25 dungeons across the region's 4 biomes, but along the way, she'll develop relationships with the denizens of the mountain town.
My hands-on time starts in the mountain biome's overworld. During this introductory segment, I get a feel for the exploration and combat. Fights play out in familiar manner, with Luisa possessing a light and heavy attack, as well as the ability to dodge. However, spells add extra layers of depth to combat. On top of biome-specific spells you can use to solve puzzles (in this instance, a ball and chain that can grab and pull things and a giant exploding wrecking ball that can put weight on switches), Luisa also has access to combat-specific spells mapped to the face buttons. In the build I have in my demo, my spells include one that rains meteors down on enemies, a slam area-of-effect attack, and an attack where Luisa spins like a top with her swords drawn to create a blade tornado of sorts.
After dispatching a few groups of enemies, I find the entrance to one of the eponymous dungeons. I enjoy the combat, which is present throughout the dungeon, but my favorite part of my time with Dungeons of Hinterberg is the puzzles. In this case, the primary puzzles are themed around minecarts. In some instances, they're as simple as rearranging the tracks to make sure I go in the right direction, while others involve intricate track changes that must be done in sequential order in order to reach the desired destination. Not only that, but some of the cart rides necessitate you lean in specific directions to avoid obstacles and progress.
The dungeon I played is a strong mix of action and puzzle-solving, with the final task coming in the form of a warlock that can summon projectile attacks and a few minions. None of the battles were particularly difficult, but this seemed like an early dungeon, and it's entirely likely the developers tuned down the difficulty to account for having a new player jump some time into the game.
My demo concludes in the town of Hinterberg. Each evening after you wrap up your dungeon exploration for the day, you can wander around town and meet the various inhabitants. In borrowing some of the social simulation mechanics from the Persona series, you can choose to spend time with one of the people in town. Doing so will increase your relationship with them, but will also grant additional stats like Amusement, Relaxation, Renown, and Familiarity. Some quests require you to be at a certain level for some of those stats, so staying well-rounded would be in your best interest.
While I could hang out at the bar with reporter Travis, I decided to seek out Albert, who studies mythology. He makes a good point that all of the creatures in the dungeons appear to be wearing masks of creatures in local mythology, hinting at some greater connection to the region beyond simply the dungeons' geographic location.
There is still so much to explore in Dungeons of Hinterberg, but this small taste of gameplay whetted my appetite. If the combat can continue to evolve in meaningful ways and the puzzle-solving throughout the adventure is as clever as the minecart-based dungeon I played, we could be in for a real treat. Dungeons of Hinterberg arrives on Xbox Series X/S and PC in 2024.