Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf is an interactive book and RPG based on the 28 gamebooks of the same name. Combining the style and substance of the books with modern RPG action, it’s an easy hit for fans of the series. The real question though – is it strong enough to appeal to new players who won’t be swayed by its nostalgia value?
You play as Lone Wolf, last of a monastic fighting order called the Kai Lords. The story begins as Lone Wolf investigates an attack on the small town of Rockstarn, and the subsequent slaughter of its citizens by an army of goblin-like “Giaks”. The story itself is more than interesting enough to capture the player’s attention for the 15 or so hours of gameplay, and like the books involves choices at regular intervals. For the most part, the choices don’t massively impact the story, but rather make subsequent combat or situations more or less difficult. It provides enough choice to feel your decisions matter, but not so much you’ll fret for hours over making the wrong decision a la Telltale Games’ Walking Dead series.
Perhaps the most important thing to note is that this isn’t just a regular RPG game that’s based on a book, rather it’s a digital book that contains elements of RPG action combat. Most of the game involves reading and turning the pages of a book on the left of the screen, while more familiar RPG elements such as a map, inventory and character statistics fill the right. Developers Forge Reply have done a great job reproducing the books’ aesthetic, with graphical filters used often to overlay regular polygon graphics for a clever artwork effect.
Combat is frequent, and is the only part of the game to break from the book aesthetic. It’s an interesting semi-turn based affair that requires Lone Wolf to manage his health, endurance, and kai power when fighting up to three enemies at a time. Most attacks burn endurance, so it’s vital to choose your attacks and targets wisely as you’ll rarely be able to kill all enemies before their turn arrives and you’re vulnerable. Likewise, the afore-mentioned kai powers can make a huge difference but can only be used sparingly. Even though there is a distinct lack of diversity in the number of monsters, combat is surprisingly fun and engaging.
Quicktime events abound in the game, both in the book and combat sections. While normally the bane of PC gamers everywhere, they actually work quite well here as most combat moves require the same sequence of quicktime events. As such there’s a real sense of disappointment when a sword-strike fails to connect due to your own failure to correctly execute a move you’ve practiced a hundred times before. Be warned though: if you’re staunchly against quicktime events, this is not the game for you.
Forge Reply have translated Lone Wolf’s Kai powers very well into a digital format, adding a lot to its key strategies. During the story parts of the game, the correct powers may give you extra options at key junctions, such as stunning enemies with the power of your mind instead of having to choose between risking sneaking past or fighting them toe-to-toe. During combat, kai powers can greatly influence the course of a fight by providing healing powers, a temporary boost to dodging ability, or boost weapon damage. Be warned though that one particular power provides an instant “cheat” to some of the game’s incredibly difficult puzzles; without it later parts of the game are much, much harder.
For all the good work Forge Reply have done translating the Lone Wolf series to modern PCs, there are a number of seemingly pointless changes from the books that add no value or even detract from the experience. The stats strength, intelligence and dexterity take their normal places as with most fantasy RPGs, but seem to make little difference in-game; there’s no real noticeable difference between combat wearing a +4 strength ring versus wearing a +4 dexterity one. Likewise health and endurance stats are pointlessly and excessively scaled beyond reasonable comprehension. Having enemies with 2500 hit points and a weapon strike do 800 damage may effectively be the same as 25 hit points and 8 damage, but is harder for most people to grasp when making quick head calculations when deciding strategy.
The game introduces mechanics for degrading weapon conditions and upgrading equipment. In theory these sound great, but in practice are little more than minor annoyances that require regular and time-consuming trips to merchants, where the attractive but clunky inventory interface cuts significantly into time that could be better spent enjoying the game’s story and combat elements.
In short, Forge Reply have tried to introduce complexity into a system where simplicity was half the fun. Keep in mind, that’s said as an aficionado of the series who read the books as a kid, so your mileage on this point may vary. While these unnecessary additions really only detract from the game, its nostalgia value still remains strong.
For those familiar with the books, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf is a must, an engrossing game that does a great job of capturing the spirit and style of Dever’s work. For those unfamiliar with its origins, this is still a very solid entry into the fantasy RPG genre with an undeniable and unique charm. For anybody with an interest in the genre, it’s a title which is more than capable of standing on its own merits.
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