On the surface, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood should be a ripper of a power fantasy. In an age where corporate greed has done untold damage to the environment, having the chance to properly fight back and transform into a hairy engine of destruction for some wholesome eco-terrorism sounds like a good time any day of the week.
Instead, developer Cyanide’s dive into the storied world of the classic tabletop RPG that shares a universe with the nocturnal pain in the neck that is Vampire: The Masquerade, somehow manages to play its entire hand within 15 minutes and presents a toothless experience. It’s a game that genuinely feels like it belongs to another era, and would be well at home in the early 2000s with its setup that features minimal variation, budget action and a protagonist who checks every box for a lead character from that age minus a Nolan North voice-over.
The problem is, is that times have changed and gamers expect more from their product than just a paint by numbers action experience, especially one that attempts to bring a few interesting ideas to the table and then quickly tosses them aside for shallow carnage. Cahal, the lead gruff fella whose shaved head design is vanilla enough to distract you from the fact that you’re regularly talking to sentient procreation dolls, is on a mission to save the world and avenge his wife with maximum revenge and heavy metal music.
At least that’s what I think is going on, because Werewolf I’m Not Typing That Entire Title Out Again doesn’t just throw you into the deep end of its lore, it puts its foot on your head and keeps you submerged in esoteric mentions of story and themes that have been pulled from the history books of the tabletop series. If you’re completely unfamiliar with any of Werewolf’s story, good luck because there’s no after-school catch-up class on just what the heck is really happening here.
All of that narrative is also acted out with the talent of Tommy Wiseau doing Shakespeare in the park, as Werewolf is hilariously terrible during its scripted sequences. Voice acting is more hollow than the silver rounds of ammo fired at you, with some story beats essentially being dead-eyed characters grunting at each other as they deliver exposition.
A badly-acted and presented game could be salvageable though, if its gameplay was up to scratch. The first few minutes of Werewolf seem promising, as Cahal rotates between being able to transform into the goodest of stealth boys on four legs or switch back to his human form for some stealth and espionage. Human form is great for dealing with technology and popping a crossbow bolt into some unlucky goon’s head, wolf mode is perfect for sneaking around enemies and working your way through conveniently wolf-shaped vents.
When the inevitable bugger-up or urge for rage hits though, Cahal can shift into his Crinos form, a fusion of man and wolf that towers above mere mortals and looks like a furry cosplayer overdosing on the most exotic steroids that you could pull from a comic book. This is the main event of Werewolf, a chance to be a hulking brute that slashes through mobs of corporate security, shrugging off attacks from mechanised warsuits and dodging goons armed with silver-tipped bullets that can knock your health bar for a six.
In a way, this facet of Werewolf does work. You’ve got access to two stances that juggle speed and power, you can land several combos on foes, and a number of special abilities are designed to keep the experience interesting. Where Werewolf’s key draw fails is that all of these elements seldom coalesce to actually feel like anything other than a shallow brawler at best.
What should be bloody satisfaction with a head-banging soundtrack feels far removed from the lethal mosh pit that fans were expecting. Enemies seldom react beyond a simple script while you tear away on the battlefield, it’s simple enough to spam a single attack to clear any room of fleshy obstacles, and the Frenzy meter you build up isn’t the double-edged sword that the Werewolf lore paints it as, instead coming off as a power-up that accentuates the flaws of the game instead of being a fascinating and corruptive influence.
Admittedly there were a handful of boss fights where Werewolf’s gameplay actually did shine, but these were few and far between, hardly worth trudging through the broken stealth and combat systems to endure. Werewolf’s upgrade tree is hardly worth sniffing at either, as banking Spirit Points and investing them into perks and abilities merely unlocks underwhelming extensions to your skills and stats that barely alter how you play the game.
Customisation, a key facet in the Werewolf game and the Vampire series, is also non-existent. Much like their blood-drinking brethren, Werewolves are also divided into multiple clans who all possess unique traits of their own, but Earthblood locks Cahal and the player into a very clearly defined role from the minute you start the game. There’s an attempt to give you some façade of character development with branching character conversations, but when the dialogue is being acted out by people with the emotional delivery of expired pizza, there’s very little investment to be found here.
Anyone going into Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood with low budget expectations will be shocked at just how low the bar really is for what is only the second game set in a rich universe. Everything smacks of a barebones action title that feels more at home in a bargain bin of early 2000s shovelware games, a bottom of the food chain experience that preys on your expectations for a game that finally does the World of Darkness the justice that it deserves.
Last Updated: February 8, 2021