The longer I spent with Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, the more I learned to appreciate its elegance in both presentation and execution. Putting a unique spin on the traditional choose-your-own-adventure genre of books popularized in the 1970s, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf blends a beautifully written, branching micro-narrative based on the Lone Wolf property interspersed with turn-based, 3D combat sequences that reinvigorated my love for high fantasy novels. Though it isn’t perfect, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf gives the player such control over the narrative that each decision you make feels unique and true to your own personal story as Lone Wolf.
In Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, you play as Lone Wolf, the liege lord of Sommerlund, as he comes upon the mining town of Rockstarn where he must unravel a mystery. The player starts out by choosing various skills and disciplines he or she wants Lone Wolf to have; then, the game immediately turns you loose into the story. For the bulk of the game, the player is presented with an on-screen book to read and, at various intervals, is presented with choices that will impact the overall narrative. Some of these choices come down to literally branching pathways, but others are more subtle, such as how to attack an unaware group of enemies or whether or not to set free a captive prisoner. Other presented choices are based on the skills and disciplines you chose at the outset, so the choices you make early on directly impact possible scenarios and potential outcomes later.
In terms of narrative, the novel portions are well-written and engaging, though not having been used to traditional gamebooks, the use of second person did throw me off a little at first. Once I became used to the writing and cadence of events, however, I had a difficult time putting my Switch down, as I would keep flipping page after page, curiously anxious to see what my next decision would yield for the unfolding story.
At certain decision points, you might be tasked with jumping up a ledge or evading a falling boulder, the success or failure of which is determined by quick-time events, or QTEs. Other times, you may happen upon a locked chest, where you’ll be presented with a lockpicking mini game, not unlike in Skyrim. These events don’t happen often, but it’s an interesting way to increase the game’s interactivity outside of combat.
Each battle in which Lone Wolf participates is presented as a 3D, turn-based combat sequence. You have different attacks based on what weapons you’ve equipped, what items you brought, and which skills you selected at the beginning of the game. Each attack or skill is chosen from a radial menu, and how your turn unfolds is determined by various QTEs. Some QTEs determine whether or not you can land a second blow on your opponent, while others help you regain your footing after being knocked down or whether certain attacks will hit or miss. Combat is rather unforgiving, even on normal difficulty, and the fact that the game dumps nearly every combat detail on the player during the first battle is somewhat off-putting, but once you get used to its ebb and flow, it quickly becomes second nature.
That said, I felt these combat sequences were a bit too common during the game’s roughly 16-hour story, with every three to five pages of narrative seemingly leading to yet another combat scenario. After about my eighth hour with the game, these battles began to feel shoehorned in, probably to break up pages of text with some kind of action. While I would have preferred perhaps not all combat in the narrative be played out this way, it does give the player ample reason to make use of the game’s sparsely placed merchants and meditation opportunities. There are also plenty of RPG elements at play in Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, with vitality, endurance, and magic as your battle resources, different weapons and armor with varying stats, and character stats that upgrade after you reach the end of each of the game’s chapters.
In terms of presentation, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf looks and feels elegant, though there are a few issues. Since the game originally released for mobile and tablets, I was surprised to discover that the Nintendo Switch version does not support touch controls at all. This is mostly a non-issue, since the game’s use of QTEs translates well over to a controller layout. However, certain UI functions did not translate as well, such as dragging and dropping items. Additionally, sometimes the selection icon disappears when looting chests, for example. It’s slightly dismaying that these issues still exist in a game originally released in 2013, but none of these greatly diminished my experience. Those issues aside, the game runs great whether docked or in handheld, and the game appears locked at a steady 30 frames per second throughout.
In a day and age when Telltale Games is the veritable king of episodic, branching-narrative game offerings, Forge Reply has done something special with Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, as it hearkens back to the gamebooks of old while also giving the genre a virtual facelift. Though some things didn’t translate over perfectly from its mobile origins, and the game’s combat offerings felt just a bit too dense, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf offers a deep, interesting, and enjoyable narrative that truly is decided by the player. I can’t wait to jump back in and again take the role of Lone Wolf and see where my choices take me.
Disclaimer: A review code for Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf was provided by the game’s publisher.