Games like Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood are a rarity nowadays. Over the past generation, the gulf between the behemoth open world AAA masterworks and small scale, artistic indie games seems to have grown ever wider. AA games, the term for those games that exist in the space betwixt the 2 polar extremes, seemed to release less and less. Sure, there are a few AA standouts from the past few years – Vampyr, GreedFall and of course A Plague Tale: Innocence – but they’re few and far between. Personally, I’ve sorely missed the slew of AA games that existed in the Xbox 360 and PS3 days. These projects took a few solid mechanics, more often than not a licenced IP, a talented studio and stretched them as far as the budget or development time would allow. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is a perfect example of that type of development. Steeped in existing lore and utilising a few core mechanics (maybe a little too often), Cyanide have managed to make a chonking big and enjoyable game out it.
Let’s address the Were-Elephant in the room before we continue. The game name. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is one hell of a mouth full and on paper looks utterly daft – but with some context, it starts to make sense. For those who don’t know, Werewolf: The Apocalypse is an award winning table top role playing game that was originally released in the early 90’s. It’s part of a series of releases which are all interconnected, forming the ‘World of Darkness’ universe. This series included Vampire: The Masquerade (the most famous of the bunch), Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion (which also has a game in development) , and Changeling: The Dreaming. In this instance, Werewolf: The Apocalypse is the role playing game it’s based on and Earthblood is name of the game. Cool? Let’s crack on.
If you go down to the woods today…
In Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, the player takes the roll of Cahal, a Garou (fancy word for Werewolf). The Garou believe in a trio of god’s that define how the world works; The Weaver is a god of science and order, the Wyld is a god of creation and chaos, and the Wyrm is a god that was meant to keep the balance between the others. Over time, the Wyrm became corrupted by the Wyld and in the game, it exerts its influence over the behaviour of man to combat he forces of Gaia, the force of nature. The Garou and their allies secretly fight from the shadows to protect Gaia and prevent the Wyrm for bringing about an apocalypse on Earth. All of this is explained in an opening cut scene that provides a little context to the rest of the game.
The narrative that plays out across Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is twofold. For those familiar with the table top game, the anti-corporation, eco-terrorist element of the game is front and centre. In the game, you’re fighting against a nefarious corporation called Endron that’s both profiting from the power of the Wyrm, destroying the environment in the process, and executing a secret plan to expand the deities power. On a more personal level, Cahal’s clan and cairn (like a den with a guardian with a strong connection to Gaia) are under threat from Endron forces that have set up facilities near their forest home. His wife and child get embroiled in the conflict which drives Cahal on to an even greater extent. I won’t spoil it but the story portrayed here isn’t exactly deep or absorbing but it serves a perfectly adequate framework to the blood soaked carnage you’ll get to unleash.
And yes, Cahal is a grizzled white man with a bald head and beard. As action game protagonists go, he’s like vanilla ice cream. He’s the default biker dude, like an extra from Sons of Anarchy that you see in a lot of scenes but never says a word. Armed with a crossbow and a leather jacket, he’s not the most imaginative character from the World of Darkness. Strangely though, his human form fits in this game that’s aping on our own world in a believable way while balancing that with the supernatural.
Living to tell the tail
It’s Cahal’s other forms that become the basis of much of the game play in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood. Whenever he’s not using his radio to communicate with someone, the protagonist can transform from man to his Lupis form, that of a wolf. With just a click of the circle button, the character shrinks down and sheds his skin and vice versa. As a wolf, Cahal is harder to spot, runs faster and can slip into vents that are too small for a man.
It’s in Cahal’s other form – the Crinos – that he does most of his fighting. When close to enemies in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, Cahal can choose (or, If damaged, is forced) to become ‘enranged’. This transforms him into a 9 foot tall beast of a werewolf. Once he’s transformed, he gets to rip people limb from limb in bloody carnage. The Crinos form has 2 different combat stances, Agile and Aggressive, both of which have 2 different standard attack types. These attacks, triggered with square and triangle, can be combo’d together in different ways. Each enemy in the game is more susceptible to a particular attack type. Basic Endron soldiers will fall to a swipe from either combat stance but others, like those carrying riot shields will shrug off forward attacks from the Agile stance. Evaluating the threat ahead of Cahal and changing up the stance with a tap of R2 to be most effective is the secret to success in to the combat of this game.
Having 3 separate sets of abilities – as a Human, Wolf and Werewolf – to play with informs all of the level and game design in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood. Much of the game is sectioned off into rooms that contain a group of unaware enemies (even if you’ve just given the room next door a new coat of sanguine) to deal with as you will. Some sections of the game play can be bypassed entirely with good stealth play, transforming into the wolf and using vents to travel unseen to the next room. Others are unavoidable aggressive fights that trigger as soon as you step in to them.
This game is best when the player combines the two types of game play – both stealth and aggressive combat – which is facilitated in most areas. In almost all of the rooms there are yellow hatch doors. These will spawn in reinforcements should Cahal break stealth and openly murder everyone in there room they lead too – but each has a control box next to it. If you stealthily reach this box, they can be sabotaged and will damage any unit that steps through the hatch. As you progress, you’ll come across security cameras and turrets which can be deactivated if you can sneakily reach a terminal or shoot them with a crossbow bolt (which are often in short supply). Many units can be killed stealthily by avoiding everyone’s line of sight and sneaking up behind them. This is best applied to Endron snipers that fire silver bullets at the protagonist which, if they land, do semi-unrecoverable damage to him. To assist in stealthing around, Cahal can activate Umbra sight which turns the screen red but highlights enemies and useful wires that connect cameras/turrets to terminals.
Regardless of which play style you adopt, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood offers a pleasing challenge. The Endron guards aren’t pushovers and they don’t fall into many of the usual stealth game play tropes. They don’t find a body, search around for a second before going “huh, whatever, back to my usual patrol route”. Once Cahal is seen or a body is found, everyone in that room starts to search for an intruder and they won’t give up. Conversely, combat can be quite a stiff test on anything above the easiest difficulty setting. In each level, a new type of enemy type is introduced to the mix which offers a new type of challenge to overcome. Mech walkers with different offensive set ups, shotgun wielding tough guys, massive brutes with mini-guns and snipers await Cahal in the first half of the game. In the second half, the game is turned on its head by introducing a whole rogues gallery of much more terrifying villains that I don’t want to spoil here.
As Cahal progresses through the game, he gains spirit energy. This is awarded for completing objectives or can be picked up from errant nature spirits around each level that can only be seen via Umbra Vision. This sprit energy eventually culminates in upgrade points which can be spent on an RPG-like skill tree. Every aspect of Cahal’s powers can be powered up or improved here. New combat moves, better stealth while in the wolf form, more health, more dangerous periods of Rage (a temporary buff during combat after Cahal has taken/dealt out enough damage), bigger carrying capacity for crossbow bolts and much more can be improved with these unlocks.
So long as you’re keeping on top of these skill points and spending them in the most appropriate places for your play style, the difficulty of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood shouldn’t ever be too frustrating. The boss battles, of which there are many, will be the steepest challenge. Some of these boss fights are a straight forward brawls that simply tests the player to read the opponents attacks and dodge when they’re about to unleash them, then reply with their own attacks. Others are more nuanced, with timed area of effect attacks that must be avoided or come with a heavy penalty. Many of these bosses are steeped in the lore of the Werewolf: The Apocalypse game which gives them surprising depth.
A few bones to pick…
It certainly feels like Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood was made for fans of the RPG first and foremost. Much of the lore from the game is unceremoniously spouted out by supporting characters as you talk with them without much explanation. Sure, the context means that it’s often easy to grasp what is being referred too but it’s a little immersion shattering to sit there thinking “what the flip is a Cairn?” the first two times you hear someone refer to it. When you do get your head around this lore though, it’s so deep and engrossing that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in. I imagine long time Werewolf: The Apocalypse players will get a kick out of that.
My main issue with Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is the structure. The first half of the game is primarily branching out from a hub area in an North American forest. Each mission branches out to different Endron facilities – a mine, a dam, a Fracking site – around this forest which have their own mission area. The structure of these areas can become a little repetitive. Room full of enemies, room full of enemies, corridor where a little more of the narrative is delivered, room full of enemies. It gets a little tiresome before the halfway point in the game, heading to the well on these mechanics a few too many times. It’s a bit of a slog at times and could have been tightened up because at the halfway point, something happens (no spoilers) which makes everything in the game far more interesting. This is also tied to the game moving from the forest onto new locations.
The other bone I’d like to pick at would be the visuals. Much of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is very pretty on the PlayStation 5. The visual effects during combat can be stunning, especially the blood splatter which covers the floors and walls as you hack and slack. Some of the vistas in the forest and later in the Nevada desert are fantastic too. These are offset by some drab looking Endron facilities which ironically look a little too life like. They have that corporate synergistic grey walls with grey ceilings, like a factory you’d find anywhere in the world. You’d be hard pressed to identify one room from any other in some of these levels as they look so similar. Some of the NPC’s look very rough too, especially the main villain for the game whose beard looks like it was gaffer taped on.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood – A Howling Good Time
Despite these few issues, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is one of the most engrossing games I’ve had the pleasure to play in a while. The savagery to the combat, accompanied by guitar riffs that would make Metallica proud, is intoxicating. The thrill of the stealth play, picking off as many Endron lackeys as possible before letting rip, is full of tension. The world and lore might take a bit of getting used too but it’s a wonderfully deep mythology to get lost in. As soon as I’d finished this game, I delved into the see what other World of Darkness games are out there and was hankering for a sequel to this one.
One of the best AA games to release in quite some time, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood combines brutal combat, smart stealth and a well-developed lore into a 20 hour long action adventure campaign. It can get a little repetitive before the midpoint but there’s some excellent moments waiting for those that can push through to the end.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is launching on PS5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S | X and PC on February 4th, 2021.
Developer: Cyanide Software
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.