Pox Nora Review
Release Date: May 23, 2017
Developer/Publisher: Desert Owl Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Price: Freemium with microtransactions, starter bundles at $29.99 and $49.99, as low as $4.99
Pox Nora is a hybrid game. It has the trappings of a collectible card game mixed with turn-based grid battle combat in a fantasy realm. As a freemium title, you can go taste what it has to offer right now, without even reading another word from my review. But if you want to know if this mesh is more peanut butter and jelly instead of peanut butter and pickles, read on.
This game has been in existence for a while. You may have seen it on PC in Steam or the like, but it has now made it's way to your big screen via the PS4. You can tell the port from the very beginning, as ever since Q*Bert it's been hard to translate an isometric battlefield into something that can be controlled on a squared directional pad or loosely swinging analog stick. Menus are deep and hold a myriad of options and ways to play. Opening up menus to get to the next step take a long time to learn, something that would be a simple roll over and click for a mouse player. I can tell there's a benefit to playing this style of game with a mouse and keyboard.
If you are into medieval warfare and strategy games but don't have a PC to play it on, Pox Nora can be controlled if you take the time to learn it. It does have a deep tutorial, though it comes with a few problems. First, it's one of those tutorials that forces you to go the way the developers want you to. Even if you are starting to get the hang of it, you have to keep those training wheels on until you get done with the tutorial, which glitched out on me a couple times forcing me to reset (though these are probably simple errors that can be patched early). Once you do finish the tutorial, though, you find yourself with a deep strategy unlocked.
Traditional medieval and fantasy tropes abound, and it's up to you to craft your team out of the traditional elves, dwarves, and the like. You can truly customize as you see fit, though the factions work best when you take the time to recognize the strengths and really put together a quality deck. You can push through with the grind to unlock things, but as usual for a freemium game, this takes time and effort. There are plenty of options to put real-world money into the system, all the way up to a $50 starter pack. The game itself could be a straight up retail game in terms of content and length, warranting a full price, but the developers opt to let you play for free. Obviously, you won't do as good as other online players who are spending money, but if you aren't worried about being the best on the leaderboards, you won't have much to worry about and can still have fun. Putting real-world money into the game allows you to buy packs of cards, which you can then utilize to build up your decks.
Gameplay reminds me of a mashup of a game like Final Fantasy Tactics and the original Warcraft. Nora is your energy, used for everything. You can control zones of the map that allow you to have more nora, and therefore more offensive capabilities, but it's up to you to decide what to do. Build only a few warriors, and spread the nora around for more mobility, stretch to the next nora fountain to get more energy, or build a large army that can't go very far because of the limited nora? The choice is yours. While some factions play better to certain styles, the game gives you the freedom to experiment and do whatever you please with the resources at hand.
While the graphics are a little dated (showing the older game and freemium status of the title), they do a good job with the presentation. In-game battling is on an isometric grid, and characters slide around like pieces on a gameboard, but they animate well for battle. The individual cards that summon the warriors are richly detailed and add to the experience. There is a lot of backstory too for individuals who love to read up on medieval lands and understand just what is going on and why you are battling.
Pox Nora is a fun game. The depth shown in the menus and lore frustratingly boils down to some rather simple resource management, but it is enjoyable to figure out the flow of the battlefield and overcome your enemy. You will likely already find a large play group online, as the game supports cross play with PCs. People who try to live by the freemium model will likely be easily defeated by those who have played longer or have dropped money on the game, but it actually may be worth the few dollars to get some good cards if you want to truly enjoy the game. Try to be strong and not pay more than what you would pay for a full retail release unless you find yourself truly digging the groove the game puts down.
-Quite deep for a freemium game
-Actually worth dropping a few bucks on
-Plenty to learn if you want to take the time
-Glitchy and forceful tutorials (at launch)
-Overwhelming if you don't have time for it
Big thanks to the publisher for letting us review the game