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 [$4.99], 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. In the style of our reviews of The Walking Dead [Free] and The Wolf Among Us [$4.99], this review will be appended to as each new act releases.

Act 1: Blood On The Snow

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! This is the first of four acts. The remaining acts will be available within this app as IAP as they are finished, and at the moment you can purchase a season pass for $9.99, with the individual acts priced at $4.99. 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 move things along, 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 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.

lonewolf3

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 respec, 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 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 few 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 Lone Wolf 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, in my opinion.

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Act 2: Forest Hunt

The second act of Lone Wolf has finally arrived, and between it and the patches delivered after my review of the first act, many of my problems have been addressed. The difficulty has been adjusted, with new settings added. There are more types of enemies and a wider variety of backgrounds for battles. In terms of story progression, an awful lot happens here, including revealing what seems to be the main plot. There are quite a few more places to visit, and this act is lengthy enough that you'll surely need to take advantage of the crafting system, giving use to the odds and ends you collected in the first act. All of the engine changes, such as enemies having the ability to use projectiles, have been retroactively applied to the first act, ostensibly making for a better experience from the get-go.

Lone Wolf and Leandra have escaped the devasted town of Rockstarn using the elevator and must now try to locate the missing townspeople. Few, if any, answers have been given about why the monsters have invaded Rockstarn and how they went about doing it so thoroughly. Forest Hunt answers virtually all the questions raised in Blood On The Snow, while raising a few new ones. This act is a lot longer than the first, both in terms of playtime and in terms of how meaty it feels. I feel like I have a solid grasp on what Lone Wolf actually is as a full game, rather than as a tasty little proof of concept. In the process, some prior misconceptions I held have been cleared up. Most notably, I don't think it's useful to look at this as a gamebook. There's certainly a fair bit of reading and page-turning here, and it has the superficial trappings of a gamebook, but Lone Wolf is an RPG, first and foremost.

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I say this because I feel that gamebooks are usually about choices. Those choices, for better or worse, matter quite a lot to your outcome. In fact, any other systems in gamebooks, such as combat, usually exist to serve those choices. Lone Wolf offers choices, but they're generally of little consequence to the narrative itself. Rather, what you do usually results in some kind of changed situation in your next battle, such as the enemies being inflicted with a status effect. Like the first act, there are a couple of narrative choices in Forest Hunt, but they're few and far between. Lone Wolf is not about making the right choices. It isn't even really about exploring or anything like that. Lone Wolf is about combat, and lots of it.

With the clarity that comes with familiarity, it's easy to see that. It's not that there isn't anything else, mind you. There are, eventually, optional areas on the map, and you will sometimes have to solve a puzzle to open a door, but it always comes back to combat. That's extremely apparent in the first half of this act, which could generously be described as a fight tunnel. A tunnel of hate, if you will. You read a page, you have a fight. You read another couple of pages, you have another fight. There are no branches, there are no real choices, and certainly no choices that will avoid a fight. You simply fight and then move on to the next fight. This doesn't have to make for a bad time, but it can, simply because Lone Wolf's combat just isn't that good.

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I've got a much firmer grasp on it now that I've played through the whole thing a few times, and while there's certainly a strategy to it, that strategy never really changes from battle to battle. Sometimes you'll be facing more dangerous enemies with stronger attacks and more hit points, but that doesn't change what you'll be doing. Check your hit points, if they're low, heal, if not, take a swing at an enemy. If the enemy's low on HP, toss some knives or fire some crossbow bolts to finish them off. If not, use your shield to recover endurance and reverse attacks. Use your big sword attacks when they're charged, and watch for QTEs. This all works the same whether you're facing a group of the weakest mooks or the boss of the act. Sure, sometimes luck won't be in your favor, and you'll get pounded from full HP to zero before you can even act, but if that happens, you can just restart the battle and hope for better fortune.

As I mentioned, this act answers a lot of questions, probably too many, in fact. I'm happy we get a fair bit of resolution, since the first act offered almost none, but the narrative finds itself in a position where it has to refocus the story, and the new direction is a lot more hokey and uninteresting than the original one. I didn't find the text to be very compelling at all, which I think resulted in the emphasis being further placed on the creaky combat. I do welcome the new puzzles that show up in the later part of this act. It was refreshing to do something other than input QTEs and run my battle script. Hopefully, we'll see more of this kind of variety in the final two acts of the game.

Forest Hunt is missing some of the surprise value of Blood On The Snow, but it's all-around a more competent experience, and the changes made show awareness of the game's faults. That's why, even though I haven't particularly enjoyed Lone Wolf to the fullest extent as of yet, I'm still remaining optimistic about how it's going to end up. It's also very safe to say that if you enjoyed the first act, you should go ahead and pick up the second act without worry.

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.

    • Phenomen

      I don't understand all those complains about difficulty. I failed only one fight on Normal and it was 100% my mistake. Game is absolutely awesome but story is really short not engaging. It's like really mature dark fantasy world where you just live without "chosen one" cliche.

  • 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.

      • Cookies

        I think the reason we keep on coming back to this issue is because that's not a very good rating system. The recommendation should (and almost always is everywhere else) be a paragraph or so at the end, and is not necessarily entirely related to the actual rating (which tells you how good they think it is). A recommendation and the quality of the game may be linked, but they are not the same thing and I think it's pretty clear that a lot of people come here looking for the latter.

        But hey, if they don't plan on changing, this will do. I just think a score and a recommendation makes more sense.

    • 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..

  • NinjaKitteh

    Not sure why everyone is complaining about combat difficulty. Did you never play the original books? The difficulty is pretty spot on with how hard the books could be. Perhaps a My Little Pony adventure book would better suit those having issues. lol

    • Shaun Musgrave

      This review was updated for the new episode, but the comments and a large part of the text not marked "Act 2" comes from the game's initial release. It was updated to reduce the difficulty after this review and most of these comments were posted. The original version had fights where the enemy could easily take you from full life to zero with literally no opportunity for the player to act. The books were tough, but not *that* tough. ;)

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