There’s a real dearth of quality werewolf entertainment out there. Not since the moony days of Underworld and The Twilight Saga have lycanthropes gotten their share of the spotlight. So it was with great interest and anticipation that I waited for the release of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood. Hailing from developers at Cyanide Studio (Call of Cthulhu) and published by Nacon, who graciously provided me with a review code ahead of yesterday’s release date, this title takes its inspiration from the delightfully dark fantasy lore of World of Darkness’s table-top RPGs. The brand has already found success with their video game adaptations of Vampire: The Masquerade stories, so I was hoping for lightning to strike twice with W:TA-E. But the devs might have bitten off more than they can chew with their ambitious approach to storytelling.
The game attemps to tell the tale of Cahal, an exiled Garou (werewolf) and eco-terrorist attempting a lone-wolf operation to bring down the evil corporate entity Endron. (I was already sold on this premise alone.) Heightening things a bit, Cahal and his people continue to wage an ancient war against a celestial force known as The Wyrm, which is aiding Endron in pretty nasty ways, all in service of Gaia, a deified life force. (Still good, though getting a bit shaky here.) Players will take control of Cahal as he transforms into a stealthy wolf, a versatile human, and an all-out rage monster over the course of his adventure. (Yup, back on board again!) Unfortunately, the ambition far outweighs the execution, and you can literally see where corners were cut to get the game finished at all.
With only four-ish hours in, my experience with Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is itself a tale of two stories: After a seriously thrilling opening cinematic sequence and some thumping beats and metal riffs to get the pulse going (which I very much appreciate), the game drops you not into the action, but into a slow-paced meet-and-greet with Cahal’s caern, his friends and family, some of whom are fellow Garou and some, like his wife, are human. Once you plod your way through this exposition-heavy lore dump, designed for people like me who aren’t familiar with the World of Darkness backstory, you get to finally control Cahal in a series of stealth-only or combat-only sections. (Later in the game, your choices become a bit more open and you aren’t restricted to one style of play per area.)
Soon after, a rather gruesome and surprising scene takes place that changes Cahal’s entire life path, though you’re not in control of what happens, and the characters themselves really don’t seem to react too strongly one way or the other. That’s one of the glaring oversights in W:TA-E: While Cahal looks great, he also sticks out like a sore thumb compared to almost every other character in the game, visually speaking; they look like they’re from two different games or even two different decades of gaming instead of sharing UE4 in the same title. And though the voice acting is serviceable, the voice direction is flat and the delivery is dry.
A grievous sin is committed soon after the tutorial when a truly badass cinematic sequence packed with many more pivotal moments plays out, only to leave you entirely out of the action and decision-making process at all; it drops you back into a casual conversation the very next second, sucking all the momentum out of the experience. There’s no investment in important characters or their lives and deaths, there’s no urgency to the story because the most thrilling moments play out in cinematics, and there’s a disconnect between what’s happening in the story and the characters’ reactions to it. It’s … a bit of a mess.
So for the next few hours, I lightened up my expectations a bit. I had a lot more fun with Cahal’s stealthy wolf form which absolutely flies over ground and even through the air. (Some buggy mechanics, which are absolutely going to be abused for speedruns, allow you to suspend Cahal’s wolf in mid-air, which delighted my Twitch Chat and earned him the nickname Airwolf.) Once Cahal got a few missions under his belt, there was a surprising secondary story that opened up back at camp and in the surrounding area. You may be focused on taking down the increasingly dangerous and deadly corporation, but there are also the nature spirits to attend to. Caring for these other-worldly sprites, which you can see through your Penumbra Vision, grants you spirit points for a rather basic but useful skill tree. How do you do this? You find plants / spirits in the world, and you sniff them while in the Penumbra Vision. Yup! It’s never not funny, but it’s also kind of endearing at the same time. So much so that, right now, I’ve abandoned my main eco-terrorist quest and am happilly wolfing through the forest trying to find all the spirit points and forest defenders that I possibly can.
That’s not to say that Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood isn’t thrilling or chilling at times. It is, or it can be, when it’s not taking agency out of the players hands. Combat is pretty fun when you get the hang of it, though you can avoid it almost entirely in stealth-first situations. Cahal goes full Crinos to take on the forces of Endron. He can switch between a more agile form and a brawler, while also triggering a Frenzy for all-out powerful attacks. You can absolutely maul enemies in any of these forms. While it’s mostly button-mashing in the beginning, it doesn’t take long to get comfortable with the special moves and combos. It’s a little difficult to know when you’re taking damage without looking directly at your health gauge (no screen flash, no “bloody vision”, and only the occasional stun or stumble from Cahal), and it’s fair to call the camera control chaotic when enemies are storming in from all directions. The dodge timing is really wonky, especially for shotgun-type enemies and those who shoot you with special silver ammo, which semi-permanently reduces your overall health available. You can crank the difficulty up to Hard for a somewhat frustrating challenge or set it on Easy/Normal if you just want to have a blast mauling everything on screen.
While Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood tries to cram a lot of ambition into a little package, it has yet to fully transform into something that achieves its full potential. It’s clunky, the textures of characters and backgrounds feel unfinished, and the map-less levels feel very repetitive and familiar way too early in the game. The characters and their interactions are flat where they should be dynamic, while the cutscenes are kinetic and exciting from a passive perspective. And yet, I kinda want to get back to roaming around as Airwolf and talking to forest spirits to fill out my skill tree, even as clearing bases and taking out Endron goons is more rote than rewarding. There’s some charm here to be found, thanks mostly to World of Darkness’s interesting and mature lore. Will it be enough to warrant a full playthrough (and a full-price pick-up) when it’s all said and done? Stay tuned. Until then, unless you’re loony for lycans, this one’s a pass.
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