Monday, 20 July 2015

Space Wolf: Mobile Game Review


There have been a few interesting game announcements lately, GW have a rather lucrative licence and the medium of video games gives an excellent opportunity to bring the worlds of the 41st millennium to life.  Rumblings of Dawn of War III abound, There are Space Hulk games in the works and a new Sandbox action adventure RPG has been announced; Inquisitor Martyr.

On top of this we have the mobile and tablet games. The Latest of these is Deathwatch, but i'll not be reviewing that game here as it is available on IOS only at this point. However, another game that I have been waiting for to be converted has finally made an appearance on Android platforms and that is Space Wolf.  In the meantime I did try Horus Heresy Drop Assault and found it horrifically cumbersome on a mobile phone and horribly biased to the micro transaction format, i may pick it up again, I may not, but I deleted it after about ten minutes so do not feel qualified to deliver an objective opinion on it.

I have however been getting stuck in properly with Russ's finest. Space Wolf is a grid based tactical combat game where you use cards to control your characters. You can buy more cards and resources to make the game easier or you can try to earn the rewards yourself. Unlike Carnage the game is free to download. This is a very good thing as I think I would find it hard to recommend otherwise. It is another of those games that require constant net connection however so time will tell the impact it has on my data usage. 

So I picked it up and started playing through the early missions which incorporate the tutorial. Straight away I was quite impressed and having a lot of fun, partly in thanks to the hidden tactical depth within, You move, and attack using one of a deck of cards, each card costs a certain amount of effort to play, with heavy and special weapons costing more than a basic shot or move card. You can use ANY card to move, so if you don't have any movement cards in your hand at that moment you aren't just stuck there. The amount of effort you have accrued in your turn then effects how long before you activate again with lower effort characters moving first. Therefore there can be a distinct advantage in ending your turn after playing just one of your two allowed cards. Once you get to the stage where you are controlling multiple characters this can be critically important. 

There are also chain cards, these are cards that play automatically when you meet certain criteria. For example an Ambush card can be used as a normal movement card but if you leave it in your hand and attack a target at least 4 cells away, it will play itself and grant a  bonus to your attack. Careful utilisation of these cards can make all the difference between victory and defeat. Facing is also critically important and you will choose your facing after each move. Get it wrong and you may well be in a world of hurt. Another really cool element is as you take damage you build rage, Get enough Rage and you fire a super shot including really cool X-ray cinematic. 

The levels are not particularly large, although they do get bigger as the campaign proceeds. This is a good thing as the game is pretty slow in pace with each battle taking quite a while to play through. Thankfully the game supports a particularly robust saving mechanism and you can exit a game and return to exactly the same point. This is particularly welcome given the large amount of bugs that you will encounter, and sadly i'm not talking Tyranids. The game crashes frequently, grinding to a halt sooner or later in a session, and although it marred my enjoyment only a little it was frustrating. Not as frustrating as if my progress to that point had not been saved though. 

As you progress through the game you will level up gaining more attack power and health, there are optional objectives to achieve in each mission of varying difficulty and some will need to be reattempted after you have leveled up a few times. Speaking of leveling up, you level automatically but have to pay for your upgrades with coins. I am now level five but only have the level two upgrade as I have not the coins to unlock more. this also applies to your squad mates who level up separately! At the rate coins are earned (very seldom) I cant see myself ever getting a fully upgraded squad as  I used quite a lot of coins just to unlock Scout armour, (Sniper Rifles are deadly!) Of course you can buy the coins to unlock stuff but i'm not playing that game and i'm a little put out that the game pushes you that way as coins are somewhat hard to come by. I am currently saving to get Terminator armour (another 5,000 coins)

Still as long as the game is fun to play I don't mind taking the long way round to get the coins needed as long as they do eventually come. Sadly the game does have other ways to punish you in an attempt to get your cash. If you die in game you can resurrect (often the only viable option unless you want to start from scratch) but this will cost you a life rune of which you only have three - don't worry you can always buy more!! The game is also pretty tough, especially in the later stages and it is impossible to get through some missions with an unscathed trio of marines. Once injured you have to wait for your squad members to heal unless you - you guessed it-  pay to get them back straight away. In fairness this only effects your two additional squad members not the main character and you can swap them out for alternatives unless they are wounded too. 

so aside from the slightly frustrating microtransaction strategy which is a common part of all free to play games these days, you can just buy packs that are offered at random seemingly after certain missions. I bought one for the review, it was 69 pence and i got some nice cards and a few coins for it. I didn't feel particularly ripped off but I can see how it could get expensive for some people with a somewhat compulsive nature. 

Elsewhere the game certainly feels right for the most part. The weapons all act more or less like they should even if it is somewhat jarring when your character suddenly turns into a devastator marine toting a lascannon. As I mentioned you can also unlock scout armour and terminator armour for an extortionate amount of coins each, and each of these has its own deck of cards and plays differently offering a different tactical approach. Mixing between these different armour types can be key to your success as well and thankfully as you are playing Space wolves it doesn't feel odd to have the same character switching between the armour types. I'd like to think the developer chose this chapter intentionally but who knows?

You can also tailor your decks in between missions, this is something i haven't got too involved with yet but is something i should do as the difficulty is ramping up significantly. (teleporting chaos sorcerers are NOT fun) There is also an in depth crafting system but again as of yet i have not explored this too much, you can basically create master crafted weapons using engineer runes (another purchasable commodity i have no doubt) to guarantee success.

At this stage i have played to the end of the first campaign. You can replay earlier levels to try to achieve the additional objectives but elsewhere there seems to be little reward for replaying though you can plunder a single crate per level for a mastercrafted weapon. there appear to be another two campaigns to play through with another currently being developed so there is at least a fair bit of play ahead as each campaign is comprised of 6-7 missions.  Whether or not i will have the drive to complete them all before the punishing difficulty leaves me with no option but to pay to win or just accept defeat is another matter. 

Enemies wise it is strictly the scions of Chaos, with Word Bearer Space marines being the main foe and cultists showing up a bit later, sadly the cultists are not markedly easier to kill than the marines which feel a little odd, their autoguns pack a surprising punch too. Them aside the only other foe I have come across thus far is the aforementioned bastard Chaos sorcerer. There is a decided lack of narrative to the story and the presentation is minimal, though it by no means looks poor graphically. 

I have had a fair amount of fun mixed with a little frustration when playing Space Wolf thus far, I've no doubt that if you throw money at the game you will have a much easier and more enjoyable time of it. However even without splashing out I have enjoyed my time with the game and its challenge. I would have liked to have seen variable difficulty levels and the ability to undo move cards or at least facings, as a move will all too often trigger an surprise ambush leaving you exposed to a brutal attack from which you have no defense. That aside the only real bugbear i can recall from the game is remembering the ranges of all the weapons before committing yourself to moves.

Another element of the game that i have not yet explored is the PVP multiplayer element, in my experience this will purely degenerate into a case of whoever paid the most will win. I'll likely have a dabble at some point but given the length of the solo games it seems like it will be undue effort. Plus I hate people. 

Overall, its free so is worth at least a download. There is a lot of tactical depth and challenge involved and if you are prepared to put the time in it can be very rewarding. If you are after a casual game you can pick up and play for five minutes for a quick action fix you may wish to look elsewhere. 

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