Northmark: Hour of the Wolf is a classic fantasy RPG with a card battling mechanic for combat resolution. You’ll pick your character and class combination before exploring a story-driven campaign world, leveling up and collecting new units and cards along the way as you unravel the mystery of growing conflict in the land of Northmark.
The game has a distinctly ’80s fantasy feel to it, hearkening back to the age of classic roleplaying games, but how well does it stand up as a digital game in today’s crowded market? Read on to find out…
Northmark: Hour of the Wolf is expressly a single-player adventure. You’ll choose a character type and class role combination at the start which determines what kinds of cards you’ll be getting and what stats you’ll be good at: there are bonuses given to attack and defense, either of the normal variety of the elemental variety (ice attack, fire attack, ice defense, etc) depending on which character you pick. When you use cards of these kinds, you’ll get the added bonus to their value.
The game plays across a world map of small locations that open up into illustrated places with clickable areas. The campaign mode will be explained more fully in the next section. Let’s take a look then at how the game deals with combat when conflict arises.
When a fight occurs, the game goes into it’s combat mode. Here, your character will have a hand full of cards across the bottom of the screen as well as three slots which units will go into – it’s the life of these units that actually makes up your character’s life, so if all of your units are defeated you will lose the fight.
Your ability to recruit units to fight along side you in battle is determined by your character’s Leadership skill: the higher it is, the higher the level of units that you’re able to recruit at the same time. Each unit comes with its own set of ‘cards’ as well, so when it is their turn to take an action in a fight, you can click on them to reveal their actions which will slowly “refresh” after a number of turns.
Fights in Northmark: Hour of the Wolf progress with each unit getting an action at a time, alternating between your turn and your opponent’s turn to take a single action. You can play one of your cards across the bottom of the screen or you can use one of the active unit’s own cards. Units deal different types of damage, from basic attack damage to elemental damage of a few different kinds, and they’ll also have defense values that reduce incoming damage by that amount. Cards cost nothing to play, you just click them and the target and they will resolve instantly.
Combat is simple and straight forward – there is not too much thought going on other than to calculate the numbers of damage, how much you can deal and how much the defending unit will reduce the damage by and so on. Occasionally you’ll need to enchant or disenchant units to add or remove bonuses from them, but it rarely gets very complicated. Fights are fairly straight forward then, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t occasionally very challenging with stronger enemies. It becomes a numbers game so you have to work out how to deal the most in the shortest amount of actions possible.
Modes and Features
The story-driven campaign in Northmark: Hour of the Wolf is the game’s main mode. You’ll move from location to location, talking to characters and helping them with their various woes and concerns. Locations open up into an interactive illustration which will have clickable “doors” that represent individual places at that location like Shops, Taverns, people’s homes, etc. Sometimes there are hidden Stashes as well so you need to move the mouse around the image to find them.
There is a lot of dialogue and the focus is on story-telling. There is quite a bit of humor as well which makes the experience enjoyable. Since this is the main method of gameplay, it’s where the bulk of the game is at. Sometimes there are puzzles and riddles to work out along the way. It’s fairly short overall, but there’s enough to make you feel satisfied by the experience. I’m not sure how repeatable it would be though as apart from different cards, much of the content will be the same each time.
The only other mode for playing the game is to launch a Quick Battle from the main menu that lets you pick set characters and their levels for a battle against an AI opponent. These let you see a wider range of cards and abilities and they provide a short, quick combat engagement if that’s what you’re looking for to take a break from the campaign story. Unfortunately, the lack of any multiplayer mode here is a serious downfall for the game.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
In Northmark: Hour of the Wolf, building a “deck” for your character is very simple and basic: you have twelve slots for any cards that you own and they will appear in your character’s hand over the course of a battle. There are no restrictions in building a deck so you can use whatever cards you’ve managed to collect so far. Cards are tied to the game’s classes (called occupations) and there are several of these, from Paladin and Druid to Ice Mage and Warrior.
Much of the strategy in the game comes from manipulating probabilities and increasing damage output with enchantment buffs. There is a lot of randomness manipulation as well, such as increasing chances for higher amounts of damage upon a successful attack, or small chances at blinding and stunning enemies – those kinds of effects.
Most of the choices are fairly straight forward and don’t require too much thought: you’re trying to keep your units alive while dealing enough damage to destroy the enemy’s units. The biggest piece of advice about how to gain the upper hand is to focus on killing a single enemy unit as fast as possible because this will reduce the opponent’s overall number of actions they can take. More actions equal more chances to deal damage and play cards, so reducing their actions will give you a strong advantage.
Northmark: Hour of the Wolf is a short but enjoyable romp through a nostalgic trip of the early days of PC roleplaying games. The art and aesthetic is intentionally dated to resemble a time period long gone by, while still being modern enough to carry itself in today’s market. It reminds me of old games I used to play as a kid and in that sense there is something kind of charming about its simplicity.
The sound effects and music design are decent enough to pad out the experience but the game doesn’t try and throw every bell and whistle under the sun at you: the focus is very clearly on the story campaign and progressing your character through it.
The game shines especially on iPad as it makes it a portable game that doesn’t require internet connectivity to play, something that is rare these days. It might make for a good play through on a flight or long train journey, for example.
The lack of any multiplayer mode makes the shelf life of this game much more limited, unfortunately. I enjoyed the story but I don’t see how repeatable an experience it could be, so keep in mind you may just play through it once and never play it again. However if you’re looking for an old-school RPG experience, especially a portable one, then you’ll find a bit of fun nostalgia here in the way the game delivers its story, character interactions and player progression.
Though a short-lived experience, Northmark: Hour of the Wolf harkens back to the RPGs of years gone by with its delightfully classic fantasy-style. Take note of this one, because you’re in for a very enjoyable dose of nostalgia. Check it out.
For more screenshots, click here.
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