The World of Darkness universe has been a popular staple in Tabletop RPGs since its inception. The same cannot be said for its foray into the gaming space. With the catastrophic failure of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines in 2004, the series kind of went silent… until recently. Abandoning notions of vast open worlds, and instead focusing on tight, narratively driven experiences in the form of Visual Novels, The World of Darkness has once again tried to make waves. Question is, does Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest deliver?
Being based on a Tabletop RPG with a pre-established universe, Werewolf has to do a lot to get you caught up and acclimatized. The game only has six chapters plus a relatively short prologue and epilogue to do this. As you might imagine, the game is rather short, and a fair amount of that time is spent expositing. To its credit, it somehow manages to pull it off reasonably well and strikes a nice balance between honoring its TTRPG roots whilst also delivering a mostly compelling narrative.
Popping on down to Poland
You play as Maia. She is having a mosey on down to Poland on the false pretense that she wanted to check out the last ancient forest in Europe. She decided to bring a mate along for the ride and has set up a meeting with a local lad to show them around and whatnot. What Maia isn’t telling her friend is that she’s been having dreams about this forest for quite some time and she is compelled to check it out. Basically, the forest is calling out to her for whatever reason.
As the story plods along you will bump into a variety of side characters who are more than happy to exposit more worldbuilding in your general direction, and mostly fall into a fairly generic character type. You have the mysterious, brooding sexy guy, the rebellious, outspoken, eco-terrorist lass, that weird dude who gives off weird vibes, and even some gal who, I assume, just thinks you’re the scum of the earth. It’s varied, but not massively interesting.
Less Character Development, More World Building
What is interesting, however, is the world Werewolf is in. All that expositing pays off when everything is steeped in this thick, viscous tar that percolates through the game’s very pores and drowns you in its gloopy embrace. It’s dark, brutal, and mysterious. Screw the characters, the damn forest bleeds character in a way that hooked me the moment the freaky stuff started kicking off – which is straight away, for the record. Oh, and if the title alone didn’t give it away, Maia might be more than she seems. I don’t think that counts as a spoiler, but it does count as a fricken awesome string of beautifully disturbing text snippets.
Being a visual novel, you should come in expecting hodds of text. Thankfully this is all well written, and despite being heavy on atmosphere, remains fairly easy to read. It felt bite-sized – almost light. Kind of like a tomato and herb extra thin bagel with a dash of cream cheese. What isn’t so light, is its visuals. Werewolf starts off with disturbingly surreal, dreamlike imagery, and even when you are awake, this style continues. Everything is beautifully drawn – in a grotesque kind of way.
Sounds As Good As A Howling Wolf
The sound design is probably Werewolf’s greatest immerser, though. The ambient sound effects scratch away in the background setting the tone for every scene. When you are traversing the titular forest I found it impossible to not feel like I was there. When the game calls for more…organic sounds, you better believe you can feel the hot viscera spatter over your face. There is no voice acting to be had, but there are plenty of screams of agony to keep you invested, and they are on point. The sound design is so immersive, that when it cranks up the volume for dramatic emphasis, I actually jumped out of my seat. Modern horror games don’t pull that nonsense off, let me tell you.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest, for the most part, is an experience. But it is also a game, with plenty of gamey elements to remind you of that fact. This is not a wholly linear experience, so you will often be graced with multiple choices. These could be something as simple as going to a certain location first, or deciding whether or not you want to beat someone to death. Nearly every paragraph of text is followed by some sort of decision, which absolutely hooked me in like a trout on a worm.
What makes the decision making so interesting is the light resource management that holds everything together. Maia has Rage, Willpower, Health, and relationship statuses. Some actions will increase, or decrease one, or many, of these stats, forcing you to make hard decisions on a regular basis. What makes this so special, is that many dialogue options are locked away, or change, based on what your stats are. For example, a maxed out rage Maia will have more aggressive dialogue options. A Maia with low Willpower will be unable to question other characters effectively. A Maia with no health is dead…probably.
It is clear the developers wanted to give players a reason to replay their game, over and over. What I found, however, was that once I hit the credits and nailed my first ending, I never wanted to play it again. Not for a long time at the very least. The story is so heavy, the atmosphere so thick, and my decisions (seemed to) matter. I made MY Maia and experienced the story MY way. My desire for more endings vanished, and I was instead left feeling supremely satisfied with what I got.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest may have a run-time shorter than its title, it might fumble some of the characters, but it absolutely nails the landing. As someone who is relatively new to Visual Novels, it has opened my eyes to the potential of the genre, the scope in which the genre can encompass, and kept me engaged cover to cover. If you want less anime tiddies, and more gritty, grimdark monster mashing, then I cannot recommend this title enough.
WEREWOLF: THE APOCALYPSE – HEART OF THE FOREST IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks goes to Walkabout for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.