Review: Northmark: Hour of the Wolf (PC)

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Northmark: Hour of the Wolf
Publisher: Rake in Grass
Developer: Rake in Grass
Genre: Card/Strategy
Release Date: 08/02/2014

A little over a year ago, I reviewed Northmark when it was released on Big Fish Games. I found the gameplay interesting, but underwhelming. Still, I was hopeful this updated Steam version could bump things up a notch. The idea had merit after all.

It turns out not much at all has really changed. Feel free to read my previous review if you want. My feelings haven’t really changed. Even still, I’ll write a some new things for this version of the game.

northmark1Northmark starts off by having you pick an avatar and a class. Your avatar isn’t just for looks though. Each avatar has his/her own starting stats. This means if you want the female avatar, your stuck with her defensive stats. Your class is largely immaterial. Picking a class merely affects your staring unit and first three cards. These cards are not unique, and can be picked up later on if you so desire.

The story goes that your liege lord is targeted for assassination. After the attempt on his life, you’re sent to investigate. This leads down a surprisingly long road of political intrigue. Suffice it to say a deadly group of assassins is working at the behest of a shadowy organization. The attempt on your lord’s life is but one part of a greater plan to start a massive war between humans, elves, and dwarves. Your character is pretty much the only person who can stop it.

While this may sound like a serious-minded fantasy tale, it is in fact anything but that. The game strives for humor at every possible moment. Characters break the fourth wall, make pop culture references, and always have some smart ass comment at the ready. It gets really grating. Some of the game’s quests involve buying soap for barbarians and getting ointment for a warrior with a chafed bottom. It also doesn’t help that the game is littered with misspellings and just plain bad writing. These problems are especially annoying when you consider the developer had time to go back and fix them between versions of the game. It reeks of laziness.

northmark2The art for this game would fit nicely with any pen and paper RPG. It’s got a rough look to it that manages to hold some charm. It’s not pretty by any means, but that’s OK. There are no animations to speak of, and the effects are few and far between. You’ll see mostly static images, boxes, and text. It’s about as basic as it gets. While functional, it won’t impress.

You can say the same thing for the audio. Musically, the game holds fast to generic fantasy fare that seems ripped from a third rate JRPG. The songs fit, but just aren’t interesting. It gets worse when it comes to the effects though. I’ve heard sounds less tinny coming out of my Game Boy, which is sad. I honestly started playing without sound to make things easier on me.

Playing the game involves mastering the different cards in the game. There are units, character cards, and your battle deck. Your goal in each battle is simply to destroy your opponent’s minions. Each minion has their own hit points, stats, and cards they use in battle.

You can use up to three different units per battle. Each of these units has a cost, and the total cost of your units cannot exceed your skill level. This keeps you from equipping all of the strongest beasts out of the gate. These units are placed in order on your side of the field. Placement determines the turn order, so it’s best to plan ahead. If your plan is to buff your best damage dealer, you’ll want that damage dealer in the bottom position.

Each unit has a special set of skill cards they can use. Most of these are simply versions of cards you can get for your main deck, but there are some special skills that only certain units can use. These skills must recharge after they’re used, so you can’t spam them.

northmark3If you choose not to use a skill card, you’ll have to use a card from your battle deck. At the bottom of the screen are seven cards chosen at random from your custom deck. Any unit can use any of these cards, and you’ll likely use them more often than not. Cards come in the form of attack cards, buffs, and curses. Attack cards deal damage to foes, buffs help your characters, and curses negatively affect the stats of your opponent.

The battle system of this game is easily exploitable. Firstly, the AI does a bad job of prioritizing. They won’t focus down your minions, meaning you rarely have to protect them. When you kill an enemy, your opponent essentially loses a turn. Instead of letting the other minions attack more often, a turn is skipped each round, letting you pile on the damage. Enemies also rarely have defenses against magic and/or poison attacks. You can stock up on these, as well as boost your own stats in these areas when you level up. You see, your characters get bonuses based on your own stats. These things serve to make the game incredibly easy. The only fight I lost was an arena battle where I went in vastly under-leveled. I still almost won.

northmark4Even if you end up enjoying the combat, you’ll be disappointed for other reasons. For starters, the game is very short. I beat in about two and a half hours. If I cleared every side quest and fought every arena battle, I could probably tack on another half hour at best. There is an option to play a quick battle with pre-made characters, but it isn’t enough. This is made worse by the fact that the game doesn’t have a definitive ending. It mentions a major plot thread that is left hanging, but pull one of those “but that’s a tale for another time” things.

So what we have here is a low budget card game with little replay value and no challenge to speak of. On top of that, it has an obnoxious story. This makes it an easy choice to avoid the game. I was hoping the developers would polish it up, but it’s the same old Northmark.

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjack1-150x150Northmark is the same now as it was before. While the basic idea of the game has merit, the execution is flawed on every level. The production values are low, the story is poorly written, there’s no challenge, the game is too short, etc. I really want to like this game, but I just can’t. Whether you’ve played a previous version or not, this newer release isn’t worth your time.

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