Werewolf: The Apocalypse Earthblood feels like a competent remaster of a game I would have loved in 2006. Late in my playthrough, as I spent another hour ripping the limbs off of enemies and dodging silver bullets, I accepted the game for what it was: a fun and functional escape into the world of a tabletop roleplaying game from the 1990s. It feels like a game I would have rented from Blockbuster at 15, played for a weekend, and remembered fondly years later.
It’s a nostalgia trip that’s comforting and functional. It doesn’t do anything original and deployed storytelling tropes firmly rooted in the past, but it also lets you rip men in half after transforming into a werewolf. I don’t love it, but I can’t hate it. I had a good time, but I didn’t have a great time. I won’t play it again, but I will tell anyone who likes the World of Darkness—the game’s setting—that they should pick it up.
The werewolves of Werewolf: The Apocalypse Earthblood are a bit different then the typical tragically cursed monster. This is a werewolf in the style of the tabletop RPG universe the World of Darkness. In this world, the werewolves are eco-terrorists born into packs that fight against an eldritch entity called the Wyrm at the behest of another eldritch entity called the Wyld. In practical terms, this means the werewolves are always blowing up chemical plants and factories that are fronts for Pentex—a mega-corporation destroying the planet at the direction of the Wyrm.
The player is Cahal, a Garou (werewolf) who abandons his tribe after his wife is fridged during the game’s opening mission. Garou can take on three forms—the human, the wolf, and the werewolf. In human form, Cahal can perform stealth takedowns and engage in some light social stealth. As a wolf, he’s quiet and fast but can’t interact with anything. As a werewolf, he deals death to his enemies with tooth and claw. As a human, sometimes you can talk to guards and pass through scenarios without violence.
The stealth and action in Werewolf compliment each other. When I play something like Cyberpunk 2077, I feel like I’m picking a playstyle. In Werewolf, you have to be good at both the action and the stealth. The stealth exists to tamp down the difficulty of the action set pieces that immediately follow them.
The gameplay loop is pleasing. Cahal progresses through a series of linear levels and tackles them using a mix of stealth and combat. The basic formula for every room is the same. You move around the level as a wolf and shift into human form to disable guards and damage doors through which reinforcements may come. Every kill builds a rage meter that fuels Cahal’s powers when he’s in werewolf form. At some point, the stealth will go wrong and Cahal will explode in a torrent of fur and blood, assuming his werewolf form and rending flesh as the game stops being about stealth and starts being about action.
In the long run, this does get repetitive. The enemies don’t change much as the game progresses, but the level design does. Every new room is like a small puzzle box with its own unique distribution of enemies and obstacles. Every few encounters, the game introduces a new obstacle or enemy to spice up the formula.
The social stealth allows you to bypass some of these encounters or delay them to see story content. In one early mission, I had to pose as a recruit outside a chemical plant. The plant needed more guards and I had to answer a battery of questions to be let in. At any time during these encounters, you can just hit a button to turn into a werewolf and rip everyone apart instead of talking. Werewolf knows that sometimes, you want to abandon stealth and just kill everyone in the room.
Stealth-action games often have this give and take. In Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid, I move around the map silently taking out enemies until someone notices and things turn into a shooter. But in Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex, I pick a playstle and stick to it. When things turn bad for Solid Snake or Adam Jensen, I reload a save. Werewolf is designed around the idea that, at some point, the Pentex guards will get wise and unholster their weapons. When I break stealth in Metal Gear, I feel like I’ve made a mistake. When I break stealth in Werewolf, the game stops being about stealth and becomes a brawler.
Like stealth, the brawl mechanics are functional and feel like an Xbox 360 game. Cahal moves through the waves of enemies with little resistance, their bodies flying through the air and blood flooding the screen that seems disconnected from the source. With the exception of silver bullets and supernatural monsters, most damage rolls off his back and I would slide into a meditative button-mashing state as I cleaved through waves of generic enemies.
I know that one of the reasons I enjoyed Werewolf so much is that I have a previous relationship with the IP. Werewolf is set in the World of Darkness, a tabletop roleplaying universe where vampires, werewolves, and other monsters run the world and act as humanity’s hidden keeper. The vampires in particular are like a blood drinking Illuminati. The franchise began in 1991 and I started playing tabletop games when the World of Darkness was giving Dungeons and Dragons a run for its money.
Towards the end of Werewolf’s first mission, Cahal is warned there’s a Black Spiral Dancer prowling the facility. This got me excited because I spent my teens reading lore books about this world and I know that Black Spiral Dancers are terrifying Garou that have been corrupted by the machinations of the Wyrm and twisted into monsters.
There’s only so much you can get from context clues and players who didn’t spend their teens in game stores pretending to be a vampire will probably have no idea why they should be scared of a Black Spiral Dancer. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine the player who would stick with The Apoclypse Earthblood without being all-in on the World of Darkness. As a fan, I feel serviced. But I don't think games like this are going to create new fans, and I'm not sure they're trying to.
After years languishing unsupported and unpublished, the World of Darkness is experiencing a renaissance. There’s a new edition of Vampire: The Masquerade, a high profile RPG in the works, an incredible Crusader Kings III total conversion mod, a VR Game based on the ghostly Wraith, and dozens of other projects in the works. Some will be good, some will be bad, and some—like Werewolf: The Apocalypse Earthblood—will just be OK.
As someone who grew up playing these games, that’s exciting to me. Warhammer is an incredibly popular franchise that has its roots in an expensive and obtuse war game, but that’s not how most fans interact with it. Millions of people know what Warhmmer is because they’ve played a video game set in its world. Video game publisher Paradox Interactive now owns the entire World of Darkness and it’s pushing the franchise into the world of video games.
Some of them are going to suck, but some might be brilliant. Most will be like Werewolf: The Apocalypse Earthblood. It was the same with Warhammer, Games Workshop hit gold with Relic’s Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War in 2004, but it spent the decade before that publishing bad games no one remembers save for Warhammer fans. Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer franchise is the gold standard for adaptations.
After Dawn of War, Warhammer video games exploded. People love Blood Bowl, but few people remember the bad 1995 tragedy that was the original video game adaptation. Fans enjoyed it as a novelty, but it didn’t create new fans. Werewolf: The Apocalypse Earthblood will be enjoyed by World of Darkness fans as a novelty, but I doubt it will bring new fans to the table.