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Even if you've never heard of the Lone Wolf series of gamebooks written by Joe Dever (with their sporadic publishing history I wouldn't blame you), Joe Dever's Lone Wolf [Free], a new adventure made specifically for mobile platforms, has got a lot of initial punch. While everything seems to start like any other gamebook you've played on iOS, as soon as you reach the first battle of the game, it's clear that this game has got some strong ideas about where to take gamebooks in the future. The 'wow' factor of turning the page to an illustration that comes to life in full 3D can't be underestimated, but in its quest to escape the shackles of its old format, Lone Wolf trips over some very familiar problems inherent to its new one.

Our protagonist is the titular Lone Wolf, a powerful warrior monk with a tragic past. Rockstarn, a small, snowy mining town has gone quiet, and you have to find out what's happened. Spoiler: tragedy! The story of this game is apparently going to roll out in four acts. I'm reviewing the first act alone, because that's all that's available for the moment. The remaining acts will be available within this app as IAP, and at the moment you can pre-purchase the lot for $9.99, with the individual acts likely coming in at $4.99 each as they become available. This act, being the first one, is pretty light on story, quite linear, and has very little in the way of plot resolution. This shouldn't be a problem, provided the remaining acts actually come, but taken on its own, it feels a bit anemic.

lonewolf

In most respects, this game is like other gamebooks you may or may not have played. You begin by creating your character, and there's quite a bit of customization present here thanks to a hefty list of skills to choose from. You can also choose your starting weapon, and whether you lean more towards strength, intelligence, or dexterity, which affects your starting stats. You'll begin with a small assortment of items, including a few potions for restoring your health, kai power (magic), and endurance, some throwing knives, and a couple of food items you can use outside of battle to replenish your meters. From here it proceeds like a book, of course, with the story being told through text with the occasional picture. At certain points you can choose from a few different actions, with your skill choices and inventory determining exactly what you'll be selecting from. Sometimes, you'll run into monsters, and that's when things get a little different.

lonewolf1Most gamebooks to date handle combat with virtual dice, a tried and true method that is basically behind the hood of most RPGs, paper or digital. Rolls are made against your stats and the monster's, and the book tells you the outcome. Lone Wolf, on the other hand, seems to ask, "Can we make those action bits a bit more action-like?" So, when a battle starts, you'll have to turn your device on its side, and the monochrome inked illustration will suddenly come to life in full color, in a somewhat unique battle system. On the surface, it feels like Final Fantasy's Active Time Battle system, where each combatant has a meter filling up that determines when they can take their turn, meaning enemies can hammer on you if you take too long to decide what to do. There are quite a lot of available options once your turn comes up, but between your kai and endurance meters and cooldown timers on almost everything, you're going to run into your limits fairly often, so you'll want to choose your actions on each turn very carefully.

Whatever you choose, there's a high chance that you'll have to perform a quick time event (QTE) to complete the action. These run the usual gamut of tapping to fill a meter, tapping with the right timing, swiping in a particular direction, or making a circle. These QTEs are consistent with each action, so once you learn them, you won't be blindsided by them. I can't say the same for the enemy attacks, which will sometimes result in a QTE and sometimes nothing at all. Stay on your toes when the enemy is attacking, even though most of the time you'll be powerless to avoid damage. You're going to take a lot of beatings in this game, which is pretty odd given the relative power difference of Lone Wolf and these enemies according to canon. It's like Superman getting taken out by a mugger.

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If I had to name a single problem with this game that really hurts it, it's the difficulty. Lone Wolf comes out swinging hard, right from the first fight. There's a tutorial but the game doesn't really give you a chance to get comfortable with how battles work before putting you in very real danger, a situation only exacerbated by the QTE-heavy combat. As I said before, the QTEs are consistent, so you will easily learn what to do in time, but the first couple of battles depend on your fast reactions, and the window of success is somewhat small. This creates a frankly bizarre scenario wherein the first two fights are probably the second- and third-hardest fights of the entire act, and I'd bet most people are going to eat dirt hard on their first go. Should you fall in battle, you have a few options, including a direct rematch, rewinding back to just before the battle, or restarting the battle on easier difficulty, so it's not like the game has no bones to offer you. It's just that it's a bit unforgiving by default and has more of a difficulty valley than a difficulty curve.

lonewolf4As for the most difficult fight in the game, it is fittingly the final one, but wow, is it all kinds of cheap. I openly confess that in spite of several attempts, I could not make it through without taking the game's mercy and switching to the lower difficulty. The boss stun locks you right off the hop, and I suspect unless you have a very particular build of stats, you're going to run into the same results I did: death, every time, without so much as the chance to take a turn. I'm sure it's doable with the right character build and equipment, but as you can't re-spec, I imagine the boss is going to prove to be quite the brick wall for most. Thankfully, that option to choose the lower difficulty is there, or I'd be a whole lot more annoyed.

The other big problem with Lone Wolf is that it comes off feeling like a demo or a prologue due to a general lack of content. There are only a few types of enemies in the whole thing, and you'll be facing half of them often enough to get very tired of them. There also aren't very many battle backgrounds, leading to odd but tolerable narrative disconnects. It's quite a short adventure, with relatively few places to go and choices to make, and the whole thing wraps up in a couple of hours. That's not terrible for a gamebook, but this game has a lot less replay value than the average gamebook thanks to the aforementioned linearity. You've got a few seemingly-important choices to make, but we don't see any real consequences for any of them.

To top it all off, not much really happens. The whole adventure takes place in the town, and only a few buildings at that, and amounts to what would be a fetch sidequest in most games. I know, it's just the first act, but good episodic storytelling requires each one to tell a satisfying story within the larger narrative, and Lone Wolf fails at that. It's all set-up and no go. The set-up is exhaustive, I'll give it that, but the breadth of the gameplay balanced against the length of the story causes it to feel like I've just played through a tiny sliver that was mercilessly sliced off a larger game with little regard for where it was cutting. For example, there's a seemingly robust crafting and upgrade system, but you'll probably reach the end of the game before you can gather the items to make much use of it. Of course, once the remaining acts hit, your character will carry through, allowing for greater exploration of these systems, but I can only review what's in front of me today, and what's here gives all the satisfaction of going into a steakhouse, taking a lick of a delicious porterhouse, and walking out.

The nice thing about the problems I've talked about here is that they're all fixable, and I'm sure we're going to see better results with the remaining chapters. Lone Wolf has got my attention and I definitely want to see more, because I love what they've set up here in terms of gameplay. I'm genuinely excited to see these interesting new concepts come to a genre that has mostly hung its hat on intentional nostalgia, but while the ideas are exciting, the execution of this particular act isn't, I'm afraid. No other gamebook will give you what this one does gameplay-wise, but Lone Wolf won't give you what any other gamebook will give you content-wise, and that makes it a bit of a hard sell at the moment.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • defunct32

    Wanted to get this first thing when it came out but upon further research, I decided to hold back on my purchase, will wait for the game to flesh out in the months to come and many complained about the difficulty... Yes, good things come to those who wait, no?

    Another awesome review like always!

    • Mess

      Have to say I am in the same boat. Also got put off when I found out it was going to be in 4 parts.

  • cofunguy

    I see this has TA's type of star rating..quite a few bad items, but hey, we'll give it 3.5 stars. Come on, if it is horrible, rate it as such. Namely, if the final battle is a "brick wall" why would anyone in their right mind be so forgiving to a RPG-like game???

    Sorry no dice this time. The app does a unkind service to RPGs and should be rated as such.

    • Bliquid

      This isn't an rpg.

    • Mookmonster

      The graphics presentation and environment of this game is spot on perfect.

      The cons are short duration and fairly difficult combat.

      This is far from a bad game, but could use some tweaks.

    • Poo

      Have you played it?

    • Mess

      They have said before; their ratings aren't about how good the game is but how much they recommend getting it (which is kind of the same thing but not at the same time)
      I think they need to publish an article about this so it can be linked to when someone doesn't know. Would make life a lot easier for all.

    • Jesse7277

      It's their opinion. Don't like it, form your own?

    • ToraSama

      The books are epic, but only when experienced as a whole. The worst thing was being honest in a play through (starting over on death), and dying at a crucial moment, or having an item which leads to the most hated words of the series, "Your life and your quest end here." Start over and get better, Lone Wolf has ALWAYS been difficult.

  • Alessandro Mazzega

    Thanks for the honest review.

    We're checking and reading carefully every comment posted on the Touch Arcade forums and the community is helping us to improve the game.

    We're working around the clock (literally) on a new build that will be submitted to Apple soon: the plan is to tweak the difficulty in the first update and then add different settings later; easy for players who prefer to enjoy the story, normal for an average challenge and an hard choice for RPG fans that enjoy all the options offered by the combat system.

    About the scope and the linearity of the story: this is only the first Act and the second will be more open and full of different choices, with a map to explore bigger that this one, forced into the Rockstarn village.

    So, thanks for all your help and we hope you're going have a look at the game after the update, if you didn't already played it. In this case, you're going to find a more refined experience.

    • bigjack66

      Nothing wrong with your reviews they're spot on. At the end of the day it's only your opinion though usually the right one.

    • Adsinjapan

      Well there you have it folks, you can't do better than the devs answering right away. Thank you!
      I liked the game here, but like some have said already, I too felt the difficulty was pretty steep.
      I think it could be tweaked with the gameplay mechanic itself though. What I wasn't aware of at first, was that the timer bar is shared by both Lone Wolf and his enemies. It's very painful to watch some little bastard using up valuable seconds of your time, just as you figure out the perfect strategy against it.
      Could you make it so that while there is time IN the bar, it's only for Lone Wolf to use?
      On top of that, if time stopped while in the skill selection menu, it'd free up precious seconds to make the right choice. As it stands, I find myself constantly ambushed while I decide which attack is worth doing. As the great warrior that he is too, I find Lone Wolfs inability to defend himself to be pretty weak too. I've rarely seen him block or parry. The best I can manage right now, is to flip back up after a beating.
      I know there's a block button in the attack skill menu, but basic defense shouldn't be a limited skill that you have to manually select. With this, I think a dice roll would be more welcome.
      I hope you can understand where I'm coming from.

      I DO love the game, the design, the art work, the animation, the music, everything! It's just lacking in that first-timer friendliness.

      Again, thank you for all your great work. I really am looking forward for things to come!

  • bigjack66

    This is my first storybook game and will probably be my last if this is anything to go by! Excellent review by the way. Hits all the salient points spot on. I almost got put off by the first battle it was way too difficult. The only thing going for it is the really nice graphics.

    • bobehm

      Try Sorcery! it has a very different feel and the first act is a bit more open.

  • rseller1

    After playing through act 1, I agree with this reviewer completely; there is a lot to really like about this game, but combat can be cheap and frustrating, and the act is over just as it feels like it's getting started. Regardless, I still had a great time playing it, and I think it's well worth $5 and is a must-play experience for fans of IOS game books.

  • lll Anubis lll

    While it isn't perfect, I really loved this app. The presentation is awesome and the whole idea behind a book with playable fights is awesome.

    While I like difficult combat, the way it's incorporated is cheap. Some fights the enemy gets to go first and they stun you then beat the crap out of you while your helpless. That is very cheap.

    I also don't like how they reuse images multiple times. I would rather have few images with no repeated images then to have a lot of images that are repeated.

    Also, the fights do not fit the story sometimes. Like the book says there are 2 Giaks with their backs turned, but when you fight its 3 facing you. I wish they spent more time on that aspect.

    The last thing is that it reminds you to turn the page every few seconds...Grrrrr

    I know it may seem like I'm bashing the game, It was one of the neatest apps I have ever played. It felt so enchanting and if they fixed the above problems... Let's just say you would never see me again.

  • Adsinjapan

    Here's my two cents on the duration of the game.

    Nw I remember game books. They weren't 600-1000 page opuses.
    They were 300 page affairs where you only got to see about 75 pages in a single play through because all the other pages were taken up by the choices you didn't make. The replay value came from the second and third times you read the book and played a different way. I think most of the nay-Sayers here haven't gone through the game a second time. There's good reason for that of course, and the devs are working on it.

    But let's face facts here I can get through Lone Wolf in the same amount of time that I can get through Sorcery. Both games have a relative time to complete in this now very digital age.
    What we know about Lone Wolf is that it's NOT a typical game book, it's something new and different! Based on what's achieved here, I think the score should be a lot higher, and the reviews a little bit more forgiving. You're getting something that has real value here folks. There's a lot of mud on the AppStore, but this game sparkles for me.

    Game durations shouldn't be a prerequisite for an iOS game and to hold that against them is a little harsh. For what this game is in its first act, for me the duration is about right, and I'm definitively going to be playing it through again.

    • lll Anubis lll

      I agree 100% with you, this book has so much charm. Also there is going to be a lot of different play throughs when the next acts come out.

  • Spongekip

    Once I got used to the QTE actions and the timing of the cooldowns I rather liked the difficulty. I managed to beat the first act without lowering the difficulty and got the achievement. You have to use the stunlock tactics against the drakkar. Once I recovered I quickly used an elixer and mindblast, followed by the bleeding axe attack (offhand axe, mainhand sword), the combination attack and heavy attack along with every dagger I could throw. Next round I used the stunning roll offhand axe attack along with all my sword attacks, all daggers and a kai potion. He died from bleeding during my recovery. 3rd round used trapping and threw everything at one of the giaks, healing myself and leaving only one giak left, which is a no brainer (i used swordskill just because I could)

    That said there are a couple things I would change. The QTEs seem pretty finicky especially the circle motion. Cooldowns for potions are pretty cheap considering how rare they are. If someone wants to blow all their potions on one battle they will pay anyways later.

    I played all the LW books when I was young, kinda curious about how the Kai Lord got so weak ;)
    Can't wait for the next act!

    • ToraSama

      Bro, if you played the books, then this is between Fire on the Water and The Caverns of Kalte, in other words- he's just a pup. If we get far enough along ole LW gets righteous, once the book of the Magnakai, and then the Lorestones of Nyxator are found.

      • Spongekip

        Thanks, I was thinking of trying to find them all again. That was at least 20 years ago and I've since forgotten much of the story. I really only remember the first one as I read it countless times. I played a lot of the grail quest, D&D, and sorcery books as well and they get all mixed together in my head. I'm pretty happy with the resurgence on touch platforms.

  • gmattergames

    Spot on review Shaunn. I wanted to add that I felt the action element seemed like an attempt to implement reaction based gameplay into a casual/turn-based genre and no matter how much the twitch-play is refined, for me, it doesn't scratch my "game book" itch, that is only satiated by turn-based, methodical problem solving. Just my opinion, I'm sure this is a refreshing experience for many.

  • ToraSama

    I had no problems with the final boss, maxed sword skills, and level 2 upgraded most of my equipment. The replay value comes with different power builds, and path options. There are some major choices which can effect the later acts, as Mr. Dever is known to set up. Something may seem minor now, but leaves you desperately lacking later. As far as the superman vs a mugger, this is extremely early in the storyline and Lone Wolf hasn't even cracked the book of the Magnakai yet. This is a wonderful foray into the world of Lone Wolf!!! GOOD ON YA, Mr. Dever.

    • Qaiyum Noraizan

      hi after a long play and counter a lot of difficulties, i manage to fight with 1st Drakkar.. but my question is, after go through all of this, i still cant found a way to upgrade my equipment.. my inventory is full now and the thing i can do is throw everything away..

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3.5