Game name: Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood
Release date: February 4, 2021
Available on: EGS
Genre: Action RPG
When I heard that Cyanide was going to give the Werewolf: The Apocalypse license a go with a new action RPG title, my interest was piqued. The plucky French developer isn’t known for big hits, but I’ve enjoyed most of their games, and they always manage to give anything they create a personal touch that’s sadly missing in far too many bigger releases these days. It’s been a while since then, and I have to admit that I ended up forgetting about this once exciting endeavor, mostly due to the fact that it didn’t receive a lot of marketing until the past few months, when a gameplay trailer surfaced and reignited my desire to play Cyanide‘s take on the World of Darkness. Since then, we’ve enjoyed a few more trailers, and crucially, I was able to go through the game so I can share what I thought about it with you, dear reader.
The main draw of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is that Cahal, our main character, is a Garou, a being who can switch between wolf form, Crinos form (a tall and imposing wolf-human hybrid with enhanced strength) and human form, depending on the situation. Gameplay-wise, this means that we’ll use the wolf form for stealth or when we wish to cover long distances in a relatively short period of time, human form when we have to talk to people or interact with the environment, and Crinos form whenever a fight breaks out. Cahal happens to be part of a pack of Garou who are desperately trying to protect the world from the evil Wyrm and its human lackeys. This means we’ll visit several locations in order to engage in eco-terrorism as we try to bring down a giant oil conglomerate named Endron. The story isn’t going to win any awards, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and it doesn’t get in the way of the action. There are some RPG mechanics (a skill tree and conversations which sometimes include decisions, though I can only think of one specific choice having a real impact on the game’s ending). Overall, this is more of an action-stealth hybrid than a full-fledged action RPG experience.
My first impressions weren’t as positive as I’d hoped, as the game opens with a stealth mission that will automatically trigger a fail screen if you get detected (and stealth isn’t exactly up to Splinter Cell’s standards here). There are very few things I hate more than non-stealth games forcing us to be perfectly stealthy, so you can imagine that I wasn’t feeling too hot on Earthblood during those opening minutes. Thankfully, that was just one part of the mission, and soon the game let me freely break stealth and engage in all-out combat with the varied assortment of goons that dared oppose my mission. In a way, the main gameplay loop is pretty similar to the Batman Arkham titles, since our hero can go around the place in stealth mode, taking out guards and sabotaging the entry points for their reinforcements in order to gain an edge should he get detected. The AI isn’t exactly super bright, and there is a pretty useful upgrade that significantly enhances our stealth capabilities while in wolf mode, so clearing rooms without alerts is far from an impossible prospect.
Once the first mission was over and some lore was out of the way, I got access to the first hub area, which acts as a sort of mini open area where I could do some side quests to help my pack (and get skill points as a reward, of course). As we progress in the campaign, we’ll visit other hub areas, so it’s wise to check for side quests in every one of them before heading for the main path missions.
The stealth system is basic but effective. Moving around in wolf mode Cahal presents a smaller profile, so guards have a harder time detecting him, and he can also get into vents in order to move around unmolested or reach previously inaccessible areas. Our main objective during the stealth sequences is simple: remove enemies from the equation and sabotage as many entry points as possible, since that means that any reinforcements that go through sabotaged areas will join the fight at half health. Getting near most enemies will trigger a takedown prompt, and should we choose to go ahead with that course of action, Cahal will seamlessly transform into a human and proceed to break the poor sod’s neck. Aside from quick melee-range kills, stealth mode also features a crossbow (which starts with 3 bolts and can be upgraded to 5), but honestly, I didn’t find much use for it, as guards tend to notice ranged kills more than melee takedowns. There is an easy to get upgrade that will make our wolf form harder to detect, and I’d recommend getting it as soon as possible if you are having trouble with stealth (though aside from the first level, Earthblood doesn’t feature any insta-fail stealth sequences).
The real star of the show here is the combat system, which reminded me of Raven Software‘s take on Wolverine. When Cahal turns into a Crinos, he has access to three different combat modes, a fast and agile style that emphasizes dodging and quick footwork, a heavy but hard-hitting stance that’s best at dealing with tougher enemies, and Frenzy mode, which can be triggered once the Frenzy meter is full, and acts as a sort of mix of the two other styles, while at the same time buffing our strength. At the start of the game we’ll be able to perform jumps, dodges, light attacks, heavy attacks, jumping attacks and execution moves, but as we progress through the campaign and acquire skill points, we can learn new skills such as throws, rushing attacks, and other ways of making combat more interesting. All of those are fueled by Rage, which is acquired through the tried and true act of bashing our enemies to death with our claws. Aside from offensive moves, we also have a healing power (also fueled by Rage), so combat is always a fast and chaotic affair that encourages a very aggressive playstyle. Enemy variety is a bit lacking (we’ll fight an assortment of ranged and melee opponents, plus heavier variants and mechs for the first half of the game, and then we’ll get a bunch of much-needed new enemy types for the second half). Still, even with that caveat, this is a title that puts fun front and center, and I wasn’t disappointed with the combat system.
The RPG aspect of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is sadly a lot less interesting. There is a skill tree as I’ve said before, and we can invest skill points (gained through combat, completing missions, or found in the wild while using Cahal’s enhanced vision to access the “Spirit World”) in two categories: Tactical (stealth enhancements and other stuff) and Combat (I spent the majority of my skill points there, because that’s where the active skill unlocks are). Aside from that, we can also do some side quests for the denizens of each hub area, and engage in conversation with our friends (and some not so friendly characters). There are different dialog options we can choose, but aside from a very specific situation, I don’t think any of them had an effect on the final outcome of my mission. I did enjoy that when talking to characters that aren’t Cahal’s friends there is the option to go into Crinos mode and start hacking away at whoever we were having a chat with a second ago. This is definitely an underutilized mechanic though, so I wonder if it was originally intended as something more important to the game’s core loop.
Moving on to the technical side of things, Earthblood can be a mixed bag graphically, as NPCs look lifeless and plasticky. Cahal’s three main models don’t share this fate, thankfully, nor do his enemies along the way. Other good news include top notch performance and stability (I had zero crashes or bugs during my ten hours with the game) as well as a mostly endearing voice cast (Cahal sometimes reminded me of Wolverine, though I don’t know if it’s a real connection or something my brain made up since I keep going back to the Raven Software game).
Overall, I had a great time with the game. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is an engaging experience that mixes fun combat mechanics with serviceable stealth/RPG elements for a perfect AA package.
8/10 – Very good.