Oops. I accidentally finished Northmark: Hour of the Wolf in one sitting. Well, this is embarrassing. In my defense though, a four hour game wasn’t what I was expecting, given the depth of the combat system and how engaging it was. In my quest to collect as many cards, find as many secrets and conquer as many arenas as the game had to offer, given how much fun I was having during the whole experience I just sort of imagined that it would last a bit longer.
Though the concept of creating a deck of cards used to battle against opponents sounds familiar, there are a few twists here that make Northmark unique (in a very good way). First off, based upon your character’s level you can field up to three soldiers at a given time, where these fighters are more than just your last line of defense — they are all that stands between victory and your opponent’s defeat: once either side’s troops are gone, the match is done. With your squad taking center stage then, each card has unique abilities that can be used every few turns (after a cool-down period).
The basic premise to combat revolves around buffing up your attack and defense, while using the seven rotating cards in your hand as weapons, spells, or enhancements. As your troops cycle through their individual turns, each character can use any of the cards in your hand (which are infinitely drawn from a base deck of twelve). Rather than flail ineffectually at the bad guys, because you can effectively only attack one time with each character (whose basic attack then needs to regenerate over four turns), you’ll want to make every hit count. That’s where the strategy element of Northmark comes in.
With no modifiers it’s easy to look at your attack, subtract it from your target’s defense, and determine how much damage you’re going to do. But by delaying your attack you can instead take the opportunity to stack multiple modifiers onto a single character, giving them crazy bonuses and allowing them to hit even harder. You have to strike a balance between offense and defense though, lest your nemesis kill off your tailored powerhouse before it has a chance to strike.
All that being great and wonderful can make the end come abruptly though. After just four hours of questing and building up your character, the whole thing ends in a whirlwind of poorly translated dialogue. Sure, there’s the obligatory boss fight (which is a little tougher than previous challenges), but the fact that the ending comes on so suddenly and suffers from far more than its fair share of awkward sentences really makes the game feel like it finishes prematurely. And with no chance to find random battles or extra treasure (assuming you were thorough on your way through), once the game is over there’s no incentive to return. If you want to try out different decks and cards you missed out on, the game has a Quick Battle feature from the main menu that opens up several factions unavailable in the campaign. This feature, while interesting for a moment, doesn’t give the title much extended value.
As of this moment, the game is available for purchase on the PC at the whopping price of $7.99. It’s a fun jaunt through a fantasy world, as long as it lasts. But considering things exclusively in terms of value for money, the price makes the PC version hard to recommend. Fortunately, Northmark is also for sale on the iPad at $2.99, which is infinitely more palatable. Whether or not that version plays the same as the PC I can only speculate (being an Android man at the moment), though it’s easy to imagine the interface translating well to a touch device. If the price on Steam comes down to match the portable version, or if cost isn’t accounted for, then the unique battle system is certainly worth checking out. While not rising to the status of “paradigm shift,” the game does enough right to make you wish there were more of it. And finding that feeling in a low budget indie game is, in and of itself, pretty substantial.
SCORE: 8.0 out of 10
A code for Northmark: Hour of the Wolf was provided to Pixel Related for review.