Published on March 30th, 2015 | by Sharang Biswas1
Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf Review
It’s 11:00 PM. I’ll play for 20 minutes and then head to bed, I tell myself. Three hours later, I’ve incinerated dozens of bloodthirsty, goblinoid Giaks in streams of holy fire, called down flocks of ravens to shred through ranks of the evil-god-worshipping Drakkarim, made a pact with the ghost of an ancient necromancer, rescued a wrongfully-convicted killer, crafted a magical suit of armor, and I still haven’t had enough. If I didn’t have a meeting with my thesis advisor the next morning, I’d stay up all night playing Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, Bulky Pix’s outstanding adaptation of Joe Dever’s gamebooks from the 80’s. If you haven’t picked up Lone Wolf, you haven’t really experienced the potential magnificence of the Android gaming experience.
Lone Wolf is one of those rare action-RPG’s that really embraces the dual nature of the genre: the action is hard, fast and exciting, while the story, scripted by the author himself, is epic and engaging, featuring player choices that actually have an effect on the game. You play as Lone Wolf, the last surviving member of an order of sun-worshipping warrior-monks, the Kai Monks, trying to avenge the destruction of a town under your protection. True to its roots as a gamebook, most of the game is text-based, reading like a gothic fantasy novel set in a dark, gloomy, and ever-so-slightly steampunk world of Magnamund. However, don’t expect pages and pages of endless reading; the game is full of decisions you have to make that have a real impact on the story, from the simple “Which corridor do you want to take?”, to the difficult “Should I go on alone to keep my companion safe or will I need her help?”, to the morally ambiguous “Should I free this suspected murderer or should I leave him here to be killed by monsters as a form of justice?”
Besides major story decisions, different points in the story will require you take actions depending on your style of play (this is really where the R of RPG comes in): Do you sneak up on the Giak warband and ambush them? Do you create a trap for them to walk into? Or do you charge at them, weapon at the ready? The great thing about the game is that it supports all these different approaches, and rewards you differently (both in the plot, and with mechanical character advancement) depending on what kind of actions you tend to take (might-, dexterity-, or intelligence-based).
Apart from simple decision-making, you’ll also have moments of puzzle-solving to keep your brain perked up. While it’s mainly lock-picking, ranging from simple mechanical locks (using your trusty knife and set of annoyingly fragile lock-picks) to the fiendish, magical “Shianti Cube Locks” (using your…er…wits), it adds a nice dose of variety to the game . In terms of RPG and story elements, Lone Wolf has plenty to offer.
Then there’s the awesome turn-based combat system Bulky Pix created. Most action RPG’s on Android devices feature mediocre combat mechanics at best, as they try to translate what they know from PC and console games to an arguably more limited haptic and visual environment. Lone Wolf, however, embraces the touch screen and the result is stunning. It really integrates the physical finger-motions allowed by the touch screen into the gameplay: repeatedly tapping your screen to escape an enemy’s vice-like grip feels frantic and heart-pounding; swerving right before a Giak’s sword wallops you in the face feels great. And combat is full of interesting choices. Each round is timed, and you have the choice of a main weapon with three different attacks, an off-hand weapon or shield (three more attacks), a ranged weapon (yet another three attacks), a utility belt of potions and bombs, a holy artifact-sword, and a host of magical “Kai disciplines” that you pick at character creation (and that you also sometimes use during story choices).
For a lesser game, managing all these choices, all while keeping an eye on your kai power (think mana), and endurance (for physical abilities), would result in a hot, confused mess. Lone Wolf, however, with its clear explanations, intuitive combat interface, and true variety in combat maneuvers, makes the decision-making fun and challenging. Should you try and stun the big bad and deal with the weaker minions first or try go all out and use your strongest moves on the leader first? Do you want to use your kai power to summon a wolf companion, or save it to heal yourself later on in the fight? Add to that a simple but fun item and crafting economy, and a complete absence of grinding (no grinding in an action RPG? Le gasp!), and you get a rich, compelling combat experience.
Finally, the artwork in Lone Wolf is gorgeous. The out-of-combat user interface matches the semi-steampunk feel of the world, and little details like the way the buttons react to your touch (the spinning and glowing effects are super tactile) make the whole play experience feel great. Text portions of the game are written on simulated parchment and are accompanied by beautiful black-and-sepia animated illustrations. You even get a choice of typeface, for all those design nerds out there. And when combat or puzzle-solving moments start, the parchment literally dissolves into a wonderfully rendered 3D world with nice character models, cool battle animations and great spell effects. Again, Bulky Pix’s eye for detail wins me over: you might miss them in the heat of battle, but small, thoughtful features like an open window depicting the stormy weather outside, or a statue of a Drakkarim captain in the Drakkarim barracks, really add to the visual richness of the game. Another big plus: every location has its own 3D equivalent, even random battles encountered while travelling. You’ll never see a generic background room where a fight just happens to take place. It’s this sort of meticulous care that really elevates Lone Wolf above the legion of action-RPG’s vying for our attention.
In summary, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf is a superbly crafted game. The story is cool, the fighting is fun, and the visuals are awesome. It’s challenging, but doesn’t force you to grind. It requires finger-dexterity, but makes full use of the touch screen. Get the game. You won’t regret it.
Is it Hardcore?
Summary: Simply excellent. Super fun combat, a compelling story and gorgeous visuals. Needs to be on your list.