Werewolf The Apocalypse: Earthblood Review
by EIC Mark Bohdanyk
Reviewed on PlayStation 5 – game code provided by developer.
Attempts to Bark, but Has No Bite.
When I had heard that Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood was coming to PC and consoles, I was immediately interested for several reasons. First, I am a long-time World of Darkness tabletop RPG player and Dungeon Master. Back when it started under the White Wolf umbrella up through it’s newest incarnations under Onyx Path Publishing. So when I heard developer Cyanide and publisher Nacon were going to create an Unreal Engine 4 adaptation– let’s say I was very ready to play the game.
We will break this review down into the three major touchpoints of Story, Gameplay and Presentation.
This is where I expected the game to shine, as there is a ton of source material discussing Garou, the Werewolf packs that live in Caerns and fight to protect Gaia from the taint of the Wyrm. And those things are in the game by name, but unfortunately the story is a big misstep. Let’s take a very small snippet of dialogue from the first few minutes of the game. Now the game designers/storytellers need to impart that you’re married to the packleader’s sister. There are several ways they can communicate that information to you as you’re speaking to the pack leader: 1. They can use inclusive dialogue. An example of this would be: “Cahal, you knew when you married my sister thirteen years ago that once she’s made up her mind about something, she’s not likely to change it. I don’t know why you’d expect that to be different now.” Or they can use instructive dialogue. An example of this would be “Your wife’s my sister, Cahal. Don’t forget that.” Instructive dialogue is the wrong choice here, because your character’s been married to her long enough to have an almost fully-grown teenage daughter, and no person in their right mind would ever say that to you after the first year or so. The game takes every opportunity to use instructive dialogue instead of inclusive, and the overall story suffers. Not to mention that Cahal has a caern but doesn’t have a caern; is loyal but isn’t loyal – even the very introduction is a missed opportunity to explain the lore of the game, showcase *why* we should care about these characters and hopefully get us attached to them before bad things start happening. But it doesn’t happen that way at all. By the halfway point of the game, I was fairly uninvested as the writers made just about all of the characters unintelligent and unrealistic in the way they thought and acted. The storylines are in service of the gameplay elements, instead of actually desiring to tell a meaningful story. In their promo materials, they had mentioned being able to learn about other werewolf packs. There is exactly one other tribe you can interact with. So I guess technically they lived up to their promise. At two other points in the game, there is a second tribe introduced as opposing you, with no explanation of who they are, what they stand for or why they oppose you. I had thought by the end of the game we would learn about them, but sadly another missed opportunity.
When you watch the trailers, and even the intro movie, it’s filled with metal, hard rock and lots of Werewolf-slashing action. Don’t be fooled, this is not that game. In fact, it’s a stealth game like MGS, but not as rewarding. To facilitate the different portions of the game, there are three modes of shapechanging to play as: Lupus (wolf), Homid (human) and Crinos (werewolf). You can shift between Lupus and Homid on demand, and that’s actually a good thing about the control system. Unfortunately, the gameplay loop consists of the exact same scenario for the entire game: Cutscene to establish a mission. Enter a room to stealth through and stealth kill the opponents (or bypass by using wolf form to go through vents with only one entrance and one exit always), get attacked and turn into a Werewolf for the hack and slash section when you fail said stealth mission (mainly because there are some enemies you cannot take down via stealth). This is the formula for 99% of the game. Occasionally there is a side mission that is vaguely hinted at, but no way to find, as there are only *sometimes* indicators directing you where to go. Most of the time, you can just murder everyone and move forward. When you do successfully stealth to control rooms, you can turn off alert cameras and disable turrets, but nine times out of ten you will have to fight your way out of every room. The game also suffers from ‘the enemy never misses’ and ‘everyone knows exactly where you are’ syndromes once combat starts. During the first six hours I was fine with the gameplay loop. Add another four hours and I was growing tired of it, as later levels bottlenecked entrances to rooms so you couldn’t even stealth through. By the time I had finished 12 hours, I was wishing the game had been over four hours ago. It doesn’t help that enemies can sometimes miraculously see you behind objects and barriers in stealth mode, even when you’ve spent points in the skill trees to make it more difficult to be detected. The hack and slash element becomes more difficult (read: not more tactical or thoughtful, just harder because enemies have more health, do more damage and gain area of effect attacks) as the game progresses.
There is an alternate view mode; a rage/spirit vision. While you can interact with spirits in this mode, there isn’t really a benefit or mechanic in doing so other than smelling statues and plants to gain more skillpoints to invest in your skill trees. I had thought this would be a great way to differentiate the spirituality of the Garou and learn more about how they perceive the world, but instead was another throwaway mechanic.
Did I mention you drink bottles of alcohol to fill your rage meter? I’m pretty sure Cahan is a lush.
There are no puzzles to speak of; mostly find things and fetch quests. The worst part of the game for me is the video game logic. Humans use guns; you use explosives in the beginning of the game, but should we make things easier on ourselves and use some guns also instead of purely being a close-combat machine? Of course not. Why? Well, some packs in the tabletop game are adverse to using technology and man-made weapons. But not Cahal! Half the time he’s using computers to disable cameras, doors and turrets. So why not just pick up a gun off the 3000 dead bodies in his wake?
The game does have a crossbow, but it’s as useless as can be since anyone in line of site of the person being shot immediately is alerted. Daniel, our Creative Director (and also huge Werewolf/World of Darkness DM/Player/Fan) was playing the PS4 version for our second opinion section at the end of this review when his son asked him the perfect question. “Dad, why does this enemy base you’re infiltrating where everyone only uses guns have crossbow bolts lying around for you to take?” Out of the mouth of babes.
Also, if I’m an evil corporation mining the secrets of the world, I know my enemies are werewolves and I’ve captured and killed many werewolves and know their powers of shapeshifting, why would I build wolf-sized holes into my air duct system in every building and facility I own – even at sea?
Dialogue choices have no influence on the story whatsoever. You can choose to listen to them all; or not. Load times are under a second on the PS5; there’s really no time where you need wait for any loading; and that’s a triumph, and showcases why people purchased the system.
On the PS5, there are moments. Moments when you have the moon in front of you and Cahal’s highest polygon count of all the characters, and you could say it looks good. And then you look at any other character, bug-eyed and lower polygon count – and the game is subpar. In fact, the only reason Cahal looks better than the other characters is because they have frozen his face mid-snarl; he pretty much always looks upset, which is better than blank and bug-eyed, like every other model.
Character animations for standard actions – walking, running, jumping, etc, are good and look good; however sometimes characters will point or make a motion and their hand bends backwards at unnatural angles.
The soundtrack is good and scores the scenes well; setting a definite mood. The voice acting is good to very good; although there are a couple individual performances (the big bad among them) that are noticeably subpar.
Menus and skill trees are easy to understand and navigate.
Cutscenes are generally well-put together pieces.
Summary and Score
While this review may seem less than positive, I’d like to commend the developers. I can see the game they were striving for in the design elements in the finished product. I hope the game sells well enough that the developers can take what they’ve learned from this release and have another at-bat. The IP has a rich, deep lore that has barely been scratched with this game. The combat mechanics are fun – to a point, and the seamless transition between wolf and man is a unique-feeling mechanic that does become like second nature as you play. And if I was a kid or someone receiving this game as a gift – I would not be upset. I myself have played many games over the years that critics did not like and considered them guilty pleasures – or also what I could afford at that point. However, if you’re investing your own money and time, while the core gameplay loop can be fun, repetitive scenarios and poor storytelling and writing lead to an ultimately unfulfilling game. As much as I’d like to howl at the moon with this game’s praises, I am instead giving into the fury.
5.5 out of 10 Rage-inducing alcohol bottles.
Daniel’s Second Opinion (Creative Director, reviewed on base PS4)
I was ecstatic to hear that roughly a year after the release of the Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th anniversary edition Tabletop RPG (Onyx Path publishing), we were getting a video game. This had been a long time coming. The lore, stories, and feel of that tabletop game was an amazing break from the usual fantasy games I played growing up. There was so much there, so much that could be used to make a video game stand out. So many unique ideas in the horror/fantasy genre that had the potential to really open things up.
This just doesn’t seem to be the case with Cyanide’s recent push, Werewolf: The Apocaplypse – Earth Blood. I speak specifically to the PS4 offering, though I don’t believe much could have been different for the other consoles available for this game. I had watched the trailer and gameplay, and had thought them early creation samples of the playstyle and system. I was wrong. The main character has the ability to shift into Lupus (normal wolf) form at will, allowing stealth to be a major thing in this game, but it is a moot point, as regardless of how stealthy you are, you will end up in Crinos “War form” to savage your way through waves of baddies. This is only at certain times though. They wouldn’t want you to have that power at will. It ends up feeling like an early stealth path game mixed with a violent fighter (reminding me of one of the earlier Hulk games: lather, rinse, repeat.)
Lets cover Lore. Other than a quick opening movie, and a couple beautifully strange NPCs, nothing really ties back to the breadth of lore we have seen in over two decades of stories, books, modules, and other fiction. The main character belongs to a Cairn…kind of…not really. He has a Tribe…kind of…not really. There are a ton of little things the developers and writers could have done to make this FEEL like a game taking place in the world of darkness, specifically Werewolf. They shot their crossbow, they were on the right field, aiming at what I feel was the correct zone, but the bolt fell far short of the target.
This game looks and plays as if it were written for a mobile system that was then converted into a console game. The graphics, simple controls, and thin gameplay. Put this in the realm of “Not for me.” This really hurts to say. I have over forty books for World of Darkness collected over the years. FORTY. I love the world, the setting, the fluff and the system. This just didn’t make the cut…and it makes me want to RAGE.
3/10. If this game is on sale, give it a shot.