Continuing in the trend of Warhammer 40K themed games for iPad, such as Space Hulk and Carnage, GW's latest release, Space Wolf, is a Free to Play title available in the app store. Given the general money-grubbing nature of the FTP genre, I didn't hold out much hope, but was pleasantly surprised.
Like previous offerings, the game is steeped in the look and feel of the 40K universe, and contains many of the visual and auditory cues you would expect from the "grimdark" future. But, unlike the the aforementioned titles, Space Wolf is a turn-based combat game built on a card mechanic. The central conceit revolves around acquiring cards and building a "deck" that you take on missions. It's an interesting spin on the simple turn-based formula that's actually fairly unique. I think the last game I saw that employed this approach was Metal Gear Ac!d on the original PSP.
The basic mechanics and controls are explained to the player through a series of contextual text prompts. Following the prompts through the first mission familiarizes the player with basic movement, attacking, chain effects, equipping weapons and buffs, as well as card collection, deck management, card upgrading and deconstruction, and lastly, forging new, more powerful cards.
From a UI standpoint, the game is well polished, and easy to understand and navigate. The graphics are on par with previous offerings in this genre, and developer, Herocraft, has done a great job of respecting the source material for the Sons of Russ.
Selecting a mission from the main hub provides you with primary and secondary objectives. Primary objectives advance the story, and secondary objectives net additional cards of varying rarity for your collection.
While our initial impression of this year's earlier action platformer, Carnage, found the game lacking in depth despite numerous loot drops and character customization, Space Wolf's implementation of the card crafting and deck building mechanics feel deep but accessible. The game's card management system scratches our analytical itch, and the zoomed in camera views and action shots of death and destruction on the battlefield satisfy our expectation for ruthless violence in a future where there is only war.
While we are still early on in the game, it appears that you can also unlock additional, playable classes that include terminators and scouts, upgrading and leveling each to increase their power. Four hours in, the difficulty curve is smooth and allows the new player to explore combinations without being punished by the AI - and we've yet to hit a "paywall" where we need to spend real money to move past a certain mission or enemy. Gratefully, the FTP aspects of the game level a soft touch, emphasizing spending money on optional upgrades and interesting card combinations that can also be achieved though grinding for the thrifty.
Frankly, even if the game wasn't FTP, it would be easy to recommend, but since the cost to try it is literally nothing, there's really no reason not to download it and see if it appeals to you.