Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest Switch Review
You ever wanted to just drop everything, travel to Poland, and run through the forest naked? If you answered yes to any of these (and let’s face it, we’ve all at least thought about the last one) then you have something in common with the protagonist of my latest review. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is the latest game from Different Tales and Walkabout Games set in the deep forests of the Poland-Belarus border. This visual novel RPG really lets you walk on the wild side!
(Side Note: This is not to be confused with Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood game which is being developed by Cyanide, BigBen Interactive, and Nacon. That should grace our screens in February 2021.)
According to the development team, the game has some pretty staggering stats.
5 main endings you can come to through
6 chapters of the story
200,000+ unique story paths with branches at every step
120,000+ word count – the size of a full novel
100+ unique scenes you see from different perspectives that stem from your choices
17 developers, including 3 writers and 8 visual artists
Game length: Up to 5h (depending on how fast you read and decide)
Completionist playthrough: around 15h
That’s an impressive rap sheet for any game, particularly one with a small team working on it. It means this is a game that can be played over and over with differing results. I managed to complete the game a couple of times in quite a bit under five hours, however, the replayable nature means this is less of a criticism.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse Origins
Some of you may recognise the title of this game from an acclaimed tabletop RPG from White Wolf Publishing. Werewolf: The Apocalypse was designed by Mark Rein-Hagen for the World of Darkness Series and you may recognise another title from the series: Vampire: The Masquerade. Another great choice-based videogame whose sequel will hopefully be released this year.
In this 1992 Werewolf addition to the series, players take the role of Garou – or werewolves – and must take on the two-sided battle against urban civilisation and corruptive supernatural forces. Their characters’ main goal is to stop the upcoming apocalypse (in case the title didn’t give it away).
This tabletop origin allows Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest to tap a wealth of ready-made mythology that is just bursting with possibilities. Although it can be a little hard to keep track of all the titles and names, the game has a handy journal to keep you looped in. Scrolling through it can take some time but its worth it to really get into the game.
According to the game’s developers “the conflict between pristine nature and human greed makes the Puszcza a perfect setting for a World of Darkness story”. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is set at the height of these protests, but uses fictional characters to shape the narrative. It also respectfully asks difficult questions about outsider interference without swaying from the immersive experience.
The game opens as Maia, a student from America, returns to her ancestral home of Białowieża, Poland. She is plagued by strange and violent dreams which she hopes will be placated by learning more about her family. Accompanied by her friend Anya, Maia is drawn to the wild forest on the outskirts of the village and the people who occupy it.
The major positive to this game for me was the artwork – its a visual novel so the graphics have to be good! It is safe to say Werewolf is stunning to look at and I found myself drawn to different parts of it as I played. Yet it is well placed so that you don’t get distracted from the rolling text beside it. The art team were heavily influenced by the works of Elke Trittel, Wangechi Mutu, and Dave McKean. The latter is perhaps best known for some of his work on The Sandman graphic novel covers.
Piotr Gynp, head of PR and Marketing for the game describes the art as a “collage technique, which mixes photography with hand drawing, lets us create artful, moody illustrations that convey the feeling of savage, oneiric horror. We focus on symbolism and emotions rather than on photo-realistic portrayal of the locations and characters. This will ensure that our screenshots will stand out amongst other projects of the genre”. I think we can safely agree with him, judging just from the handful of shots I’ve included in the review.
The visuals are paired with a creepy, yet engrossing, soundtrack that incorporates ethereal music with pertinent sound effects. All of this together creates a really engrossing game that helps you imagine the events for yourself.
Actions Have Consequences
The big draw of visual novels such as Werewolf: The Apocalypse – The Heart of Forest are the choices you make. Like any Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, you have to feel like you are in control.
I really appreciated that there were no obvious choices. Often you couldn’t tell if you decision was the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, the ‘pacifist’ or ‘aggressive’ option. It’s fun because life doesn’t fit into those binaries either. Different characters with different backstories will react differently to each choice, which in turn then affects how they treat you later on in the story.
You have no idea how happy I am to know that The Puszcza – who is treated as a main character – liked me and my choices during the game.
Each choice could have an effect on your character traits which will also impact the available options you have. This nature of action and consequence make up the entire game mechanic so its good to get a firm idea of it as you play.
Rage is your main resource. The higher your Rage, the more ambitious and aggressive you become. However, this makes your perception quite binary, and you become unable to see all the shades of grey and the complexities of the world. Low Rage brings empathy and openness but also makes you fearful and less willing to act.
Willpower is the resource you need for self-control, to prevent you from being carried away by your Rage, especially at inconvenient moments. If you let Willpower drop to zero, you won’t be able to deal with many problems and situations. You gain Willpower by exploring the world, becoming better acquainted with it, and understanding it.
Personality describes the kind of person you are in the game world. There are five auspices available, which determine how you can approach any character, obstacle, or situation. Early in the game, your personality will be shaped by your natural choices. Later on, you will have to choose your auspice and determine your true nature.
This is a great addition to the text-based genre with fantastic writing and chilling visuals. Although I perhaps would have liked it to be longer, the devs have made sure the game can be replayed again and again without reducing the fun factor. The complex mythology can also get a little dense at times with lots of unusual names to remember. But all in all, this is a great game to whisk you away from the here and now, to somewhere greener.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is already out on Linux, MacOS, and Microsoft Windows. You can pick up the Switch version -on which the game was reviewed- from January 7th 2021, you’ll be howling if you miss it (sorry I couldn’t resist – I’ll show myself out).