Game review: Warlock’s Bounty

Warlock's Bounty TitleI am an Android owner who is often frustrated with the lack of compelling RPGs on offer from the Google Play store. That being the case, I was super-excited to try out Warlock’s Bounty by Attic Squad. Warlock’s Bounty offers “Choose Your Own Adventure” style gameplay, a genre of storytelling that became really popular when I was a lad, and seems to be enjoying a sort of resurgence.

The majority of your game time will be spent reading descriptions of a various scenarios that your titular Warlock faces throughout the course of his adventure. These descriptions tend to spend most of their time providing details about the environments and dangers that your hero encounters on his journey. RPG fans who enjoy spending lots of time reading all of the flavor text will likely find a lot to enjoy here.

In such a text heavy game, it’s a good thing that author Jonathan Green’s writing skills are solid, and he does an excellent job of painting a mental picture for you to lose yourself in. It bears mentioning, however, that the build of the game I reviewed did contain some minor spelling and grammar issues. Although they’re nothing major, they do have the unfortunate effect of breaking your immersion in the story. At the end of each page, you’ll be presented a choice that will affect the direction the narrative will take, or perhaps an enemy to overcome using the game’s card-combat system (more on that later).

Although I certainly enjoyed the overall quality of the writing, the story itself is pretty boilerplate. It focuses on a Warlock’s apprentice whose teacher, Corax  Whiteraven, has vanished mysteriously, and his ensuing quest to save the realm of Lloegyr. So, yeah, nothing you probably haven’t seen before. Additionally, you’ll encounter very few characters throughout your various paths through the game’s story. Those characters that do make an appearance rarely last for longer than a single scene, and even those that have larger parts aren’t really fleshed out very well. The unfortunate result is that the choices you are presented with throughout the game have little meaning and impact to the story.

WB-ExamplePage

The meat of the game is made up of pages like this. I hope you like text!

Although your choices don’t have much impact on the course of the story, they do have a significant impact on your character’s growth as it relates to gameplay. Certain decisions you make will lead you to treasures (which take the form of collectible cards) and opportunities to raise your character stats. The various enemy encounters have a difficulty that edges on the high side, which makes collecting powerful cards and raising your stats incredibly important if you hope to make it to the story’s conclusion. When things work out, the difficulty feels appropriate, and brings a suitable sense of “life or death” stakes to the narrative’s proceedings. More often however, things don’t work out so nicely, leading to encounters that can feel overly hard, unfair, and frustrating.

The choices available to the the player throughout the course of  Warlock’s Bounty are often definitively right or wrong. One choice will often lead to a new card to add to your deck, while the other will either cause a permanent loss to your ability scores or simply advance the plot, robbing you of the chance to collect the treasure you might have otherwise had access to. This often leads to a scenario in which you find yourself relatively far along in the game without having the skills or stats necessary to defeat the enemies you’ll face. In my case, this led to constant reloading of old saves to try out new choices, and even starting the game over from the beginning multiple times. As you play through you start to get the sense that there is an “optimum path” through the game that will allow you to read about the coolest parts of the story and get the cards that will help you stay ahead of the difficulty curve.

This presents a major problem for Warlock’s Bounty. It neuters the whole concept of “choosing your own adventure.” You’re not really choosing how your adventure will play out, you’re simply choosing between arbitrary carrots and sticks the developer has put in your way. Oh, and you don’t know whether it was a carrot or a stick until after the choice has been made. This is worse than linear gameplay: it’s non-linear gameplay that punishes you for leaving the main path.

I recall that the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I enjoyed as a child followed a similar formula, and it’s possible that Attic Squad’s goal was simply to recreate the feeling of those books. If that’s the case, then they have certainly succeeded. It’s worth nothing that if you are a fan of the experiences offered by those books than you it’s likely you won’t have the same issues with Warlock’s Bounty that I did.

WB-CardBattle

This goblin loves his axe. He even lovingly named it “Harbajargr”. Don’t judge, In Goblin, that’s actually a really beautiful name.

Throughout this review I’ve mentioned the game’s card combat system, but have not gone into much detail about it. There’s a reason for that: it’s nothing to write home about. The graphics are bland, lacking any sense of real artistry or style. This would be forgivable, but it doesn’t really play any better. Most of the cards deal damage using a dice roll system, which makes combat quite unpredictable. A card that dealt eight points of damage to your opponent last round might only deal three points this round. This can make it really difficult to form specific strategies. Compounding this problem is the fact that there just aren’t that many cards available in the game, which severely limits your ability to build a cohesive deck. The overall effect is that luck is the deciding factor in far too many battles. Sure, some moves are smarter than others, and the order in which you play cards can have a sometimes significant effect on the flow of battle, but ultimately the winner will usually be whoever draws their best cards first and gets the luckiest dice rolls.

Far too often I would lose horribly to an opponent, reload my game to try again, and proceed to utterly trounce them on the second try. Did I rebuild my deck to counter the opponent? Did I glean some kind of precious insight from my experience fighting the monster the first time? Did implement a radically different and better strategy? No, no and no. I would go in with the exact same setup, exact same stats, and exact same stats. The only difference being that luck happened to be on my side this time.

Ultimately, Warlock’s Bounty is difficult to recommend. There are certainly moments where the game gives hints of some potential, especially in the loving descriptions of the fictitious realm of Lloegyr. Clearly, the developers have a very clear sense of this world, and have a lot of love for it. If they could refine some of the elements on display here, then they could be on their way to a really engrossing and entertaining RPG. As it stands though, Warlock’s Bounty just doesn’t measure up.

The Verdict: 2/5. Although Warlock’s Bounty features some strong writing, with a promising and enjoyable fantasy setting, it is ultimately brought down by frustrating design choices and lackluster artwork.   If you’ve got an Android device  and you’re really jonesing for an RPG, then go for it. Otherwise, you’re probably better off waiting a little while longer for the great Droid RPG.

This game was reviewed on a Samsung Nexus S phone. 

Bentley HG is a freelance game programmer, writer, and occasional contributer to indieRPGs.com. You can direct angry emails (or, preferably, job offers) to bentleyhg@gmail.com. He will now return to choosing his own adventure. Preferably, one that ends in beer.

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2 Comments »

 
  • Matt says:

    That’s too bad, the idea of a card combat game and a choose your own adventure combined is fairly compelling on paper.

    Maybe Wizards of the Coast should put a story together and use Magic The Gathering as the game mechanic that resolves combat situations? I’d probably buy that in a heartbeat – especially if you could get honest to goodness story about each spell you have.

  • Viktorija says:

    I think the point of it was to recreate the feel of the oldschool gamebooks, so if you’re not a fan of them then there is a good chance you won’t enjoy it.. I’m a huge fan of the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf series gamebooks, and I liked WB. The card battles may seem bit random, but compared to dice rolling combat in the original books there is definitely more strategy involved.

    It’s definitely a more hardcore gamebook in that it punishes you rather severely if you stray off the intended path, but I enjoyed that, I guess I like getting spanked :) hope to see more of ccg + gamebook hybrids

 

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