Werewolf the Apocalypse is an iconic Tabletop RPG first published in 1991 that has been eclipsed by the more popular, and inferior, Vampire the Masquerade. Set in the same universe the game has you take on the role of werewolves fighting a losing battle against the corrupted Wyrm and its minions as it seeks to destroy the world.
The rich lore of Werewolf has never been adapted to videogames until now and this is a game that I think was in development in the early 2000s just after the runaway success of the brilliant if flawed Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines. There is no getting around it this game is functional, but old fashioned and about 10 years too late.
The game has you take control of Cahal a werewolf running from himself and the Wyrm or at least the corruption brought on by giving into the Rage. The Rage is a Werewolf berserker state that if one gives into too many times becomes addictive and corrupts the werewolf turning them from ecoterrorist fighting the Wyrm to servant of the Wyrm called a Black Spiral Dancer. At least that is what I remember from playing the TTRPG over twenty years ago. Anyway this is all setup in the first mission that has Cahal lose his rag and thus go into self-imposed exile.
What could have been interesting in the story is Cahal’s relationship with his daughter. This was an opportunity to craft a central relationship between a father (figure) and daughter on the same level as Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us. Cahal’s wife dies early on and the story could have weaved the struggle to raise his daughter just as she is coming into her legacy as a werewolf while continuing the war against Endron – a multinational corporation destroying earth in the name of the Wyrm and profit. However, like every tortured hero he runs away and only comes back when his Caern, basically his extended family structure, is under threat of annihilation. What follows is Cahal finding redemption through extreme violence as he proves to himself and his Caern that he is a true werewolf.
As boring as that story sounds the structure of the game and the mechanics are more so. Stuck in what feels like a PS2 transition to PS3 era game, you sneak around each level that is made up of closed arenas in two forms, human that enables you to manipulate panels and computers or as a wolf for speed and maximum stealth. In this mode you are encouraged to explore the area and take out as many guards as you can as well as sabotage as many entrances as you can so when you inevitably do get caught and are forced into combat you can limit the number of reinforcements that come in.
When combat does start you transform into the Crinos form or what most of us know as a traditional werewolf, the enormous half man, half wolf all badass beasts of lore. In this nearly indestructible form, you will face waves of enemies if you have not sabotaged all the gateways. What follows is a frantic few minute of you button mashing and running around killing these hordes of weak enemies, dodging the few with silver weapons until you get through the last wave. You then sneak to the next arena and go through an attempt to stealth through the arena taking out bad guys and making your way to the next arena. If you succeed you do not get into a fight and it is easy to do that once you work out the level design.
Stealth consists of you using your Penumbra sight, think Batman’s Predator vision from the Arkham games, which handily highlights the bad guys for you making planning your route easy to plan. What also helps is that most are stationary and the few that move have noticeably short and predictable patrol patterns. Taking out the enemies stealthily is incentivised by your Rage meter building up with each take down which can be used to heal in battle or enter Rage in boss battles.
Boss battles are the other infuriating design decision. The game encourages stealth but like Deus Ex Human Revolution bosses cannot be stealth killed, you must enter battle. Like that game if you build your skills around stealth boss battles will be tougher than they need to be. As this is based on a TTRPG the game does have a skill tree for you to choose various skills and upgrades from. The tree is simple and easy to navigate and lacks the complexity and interesting choices that are in the source material or in the Vampire video games.
So, we have a game with outdated design methodology and a story that is not as complex as modern stories or the stories that TTRPG players have developed over the thirty or so years since the first publication. And this outdated design philosophy extends to the game technology and the models and textures. Besides Cahal every other character looks like uprezzed PS2/3 models. It is so jarring because Cahal is passable and when seen next to other so obvious that all the resources when into Cahal.
The one bright spark is performance. On both PS5 and PS4 Pro the game ran almost flawlessly with no frame rate drops and crashes. It is a small comfort, but a comfort, nonetheless.
Werewolf The Apocalypse – Earthblood is a completely missed opportunity given the excitement for Bloodlines 2 coming up and could have opened a whole new World of Darkness franchise for fans and players. Sadly, this is a game only for the dedicated fans who have longed to play a single player video game version of the venerable TTRPG. For everyone else, it is a skip.
- Developer: Cyanide
- Publishers: Nacon, Bigben Interactive
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, PC
This Review is based on the PS5 version of the game and can be purchased here for £44.99.
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