by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
TUMBLIN' DICE, cont.
The combat, billed as turn-based, is actually more like Final Fantasy's Active Time Battle system. You have a timer that affects when you can act, and a recharging stamina bar that affects how much you can do within that time. There's a surprising amount of strategy to it, trying to work out the best way of taking on a group of enemies, but it's let down by a bias towards randomness.
Many elements of the combat, such as when enemies attack, are wildly inconsistent between fights. Other things, like when enemies parry your attacks, seem to happen completely at random and can deal you a hefty amount of damage, with no way to anticipate or prevent it. When these things stack up, fights are left feeling fundamentally unfair, with the player totally at the mercy of hidden dice rolls.
Opportunities to heal outside of combat, through meditation, are rare, and more often than not I was attacked while meditating anyway. This happens, surprise surprise, at random. The game offers a text description of how safe an area is to stay in, but at one point I was told a place 'should be safe,' and was then attacked twice in a row. I gave up and moved on, still low on health and a lot grumpier than before.
While Lone Wolf's tone is set largely by its appearance and the set dressing, it should be enhanced by the soundtrack. The music on offer is high quality, setting an appropriate mood and drawing the player further into the world, but it quickly outstays its welcome due to a lack of variety. It's particularly noticeable during the more passive reading sections, where a good soundtrack should reflect what the words are describing. Instead, players get to listen to the same track on loop, over and over and over again.
This is a game of several acts, each of which can take a good three or four hours to complete. Imagine listening to the same 2-minute musical track for that long and you begin to understand how much it grates on the nerves. I suggest playing the first chapter as normal, then turning off the in-game music and switching over to a fantasy soundtrack of your choosing.
Your opinion of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf will really depend on how tolerant you're willing to be of its flaws. This is a game with a good story, after all. It's not a great story, but it's told well enough that it's worth experiencing. I only wish that the developers had realised that too, and given it centre stage, rather than constantly harassing the player with combat sequences and leaving the soundtrack half-finished.
While fans of fantasy adventure will enjoy the beautiful telling of Lone Wolf's journey, it's hamstrung by an over-emphasis on unappealing combat and a reluctance to let the narrative do its job.
Good sense of atmosphere. Refreshingly well-written, on the whole. Lots of replayability.
Combat system rarely feels fair. Soundtrack is disappointingly limited. Way too many fights, even when trying to avoid them.