Review: Joe Dever's Lone Wolf13 Nov 2013 0
Another week, another gamebook to review.
Unlike Sorcery! I am not at all familiar with the Lone Wolf series. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of the series until news of this app surfaced about 3 months ago. So, going in, I was expecting more of the same: read text, make a choice, read text, fight something, read text, etc. This was the standard model started by the original gamebooks, and recaptured so well by Tin Man Games. Sorcery! changed things up a bit by removing the “book” and leaving you with a lot of “game”. Instead of making page number choices, you moved a pawn on a map. Instead of rolling dice, you played a rope-a-dope minigame with paper dolls.
Lone Wolf is something completely different. Sure, there’s a lot of text to read and choices to be made. It’s all the stuff you can do outside those gamebook tropes that makes Lone Wolf more a fully-fledged RPG than merely a gamebook.
In fact, if it weren’t for a few major issues, Lone Wolf wouldn’t just be the best gamebook on my iPad, it would be one of the greatest games on my iPad, period.
Without a doubt, Lone Wolf is the best looking gamebook I’ve ever seen. Hell, it’s one of the prettiest apps, period. The entire book is like the Marauder’s Map, with text appearing to flow onto the page and full-page illustrations seemingly coming to life. Transitioning to combat is like Dorothy opening her door for the first time: sepia toned pages are pulled back to reveal a vibrant, color-filled world. Lone Wolf can stand proudly amongst the Infinity Blades and Real Racings in the pantheon of eye-candy apps.
Graphics, however, do not make a game worth playing, and when it comes to gameplay, Lone Wolf, again, differentiates itself from other gamebooks. They start you as a predefined character with the only differences between playthroughs being how healthy or strong you are. Lone Wolf, on the other hand, gives you an Elder Scrolls-like questionnaire at the beginning of the book, allowing you to create a unique character with unique powers. It’s a cool system, and one that encourages replayability, just so you can try it with some other disciplines.
Unlike other gamebooks, that treat your inventory in the same way an adventure game would, Lone Wolf has an inventory system more akin to Baldur’s Gate or Diablo. You have a backpack with a limited number of slots, and can find bags to increase how much you can carry. Inventory management becomes an issue due to the amount of random loot you find after every encounter. Things like weapons, potions and reagents will fill your bags almost too quickly, as you won’t find a merchant until rather far into the story. At the merchant, you can buy, sell, and craft items or even use the stash to save items you don’t want to carry. Yes, I said craft items. You can upgrade your items at the merchant using reagents you have found on your journey. It’s another feature that you wouldn’t expect in a gamebook, and one that reinforces that RPG feeling.
You want more RPG goodness? Lone Wolf levels up after every chapter, gaining new stat points and boosting your combat prowess. There is also a skill-based leveling system, where your skills get stronger and will level up the more you use them. Chests and doors can be opened with a lockpicking mini-game that is straight out of Elder Scrolls Oblivion, and can be frustrating as hell. It happens so infrequently, however, that I found myself actually looking forward to the lockpicking game whenever it appeared. I wish the same could be said for the combat.
Combat is really what brings Lone Wolf back from the precipice of greatness. Combat is turn-based…kind of. You have a timer in which you can try to get as much done as possible: drink potions, perform different attacks, cast spells, etc. When the timer ends, the Giaks (think orcs or goblins) get to go and you have to stand there and take it. Attacks are all done via quick time events.
For example, when you throw knives there are circles on the screen. At a certain point, you need to tap all three circles or you miss with the knives. Likewise for weapon attacks, you have to swipe or tap at a certain time, or miss. It’s not quite as limiting as Infinity Blade’s combat. Lone Wolf gives you more choices to make, and it’s not as frantic.
I hated combat at first, but once I figured out how everything worked, it wasn’t too bad. The problem is the frequency and repetitiveness of combat. You fight a lot. Seriously, there is a ton of combat. That would be cool if they weren’t all exactly the same. Exactly the same. You will fight the same monsters (the Giaks) throughout the entire game. A couple of times they throw something called a Drakkar (think bigger orc or goblin) at you, but it’s just a Giak with a different skin and more hit points (and he's accompanied by more Giaks). Tactically, I never had to deviate from my combat routine, other than focus on the Drakkar first. Combat became rote, boring and way too long. It became a detriment, rather than a boon. After a time, I absolutely dreaded it.
The lack of variation in enemies makes perfect sense from a story standpoint. You’re investigating a small town that has been attacked by an army of Giaks, after all. This raises the other problem I had with Lone Wolf, however. It is very well written, especially in comparison to other gamebooks, but the story is bland. At the beginning you find a village has been attacked. The entire story deals with…nothing else, really. You walk around and kill Giaks. Occasionally you’ll find a survivor. That’s it. Eventually you’ll find an NPC who tasks you with finding parts for a machine in the village, but due to the books linearity, I’m not sure there’s any way to not find the parts. It’s just a matter of following the map to the next location, fighting, and getting a part. Once you find the parts, the book ends. There's no boss battle, no conclusion, nothing. You find the pieces and escape. If you take the combat out of the equation, the book is incredibly short. I’m sure I could have finished it in an hour if it wasn’t for all the combat.
The entire book reminded me of Sorcery! Part 1, in that it didn’t have a strong plot on its own, and I hope it gets better with parts 2-4. Sorcrey! Part 1 is definitely a better book now that Sorcery! Part 2 is out. I would imagine the same to be true for Lone Wolf.
So, do I recommend Lone Wolf? Yes, definitely. I did have a great time with it, for a bit. The RPG elements are amazing, and the presentation is wonderful. If the next volumes in the series can add plot and variety to the combat, this would be one of the greatest games ever made for iPad. As it stands, however, it’s merely one of the better gamebooks for iPad.