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Gaia needs you.

At its heart, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is a simple tale of nature fighting back against industrialization. The story follows a werewolf named Cahal, who must work with his pack to take down an evil corporation called Endron.

Developed by Cyanide studios, the game is an adaptation of a tabletop role-playing game from White Wolf Publishing called Werewolf: The Apocalypse first released in 1992. The board game was one installment in the Chronicles of Darkness series, and was popular enough to warrant a sequel, Werewolf: The Forsaken.

Drawing heavily from its namesake, the lore in the world is richly developed and the game gives a beautiful introduction to its workings. There are three powerful entities at play: the Wyld, representing creation, the Weaver, which shapes and organizes creation, and the Wyrm, which is intent on destroying creation. Werewolves represent the intersection between Wyld and Weaver, tasked with maintaining the balance of nature on behalf of Gaia, the ultimate deity. There are distinct packs across the world, and each pack serves a unique spirit god. Cahal and his pack worship Yfen, the spirit of the forest.

At the start of the story, the pack launches an attack against Endron, led by Cahal’s wife Ludmila. When plans go awry and Ludmila is killed, Cahal goes into a rage, and, in so doing, murders another pack member. Ashamed at his loss of control, Cahal chooses exile and abandons his pack, which includes his teenage daughter Aedana. Five years pass before Cahal sees them again, rushing to the pack’s aid in a brutal attack from Endron. As before, things have gone poorly and Cahal finds his former cohorts decimated. With Yfen and other forest spirits weakened, Cahal agrees to stay and help defeat Endron once and for all.

As a warrior of Gaia, Cahal has three forms at his disposal. The first is a human form, which allows Cahal to interact with technology and, in some cases, interact with Endron employees without arousing suspicion. Cahal also boasts combat skills in this form, able to kill nearby enemies with a crossbow or a simple takedown.

The second form is his lupus, or full-wolf, form. As a lupus, Cahal can infiltrate spaces more easily, staying low to the ground and using air ducts to explore. He can also run faster and jump higher as a lupus. However, if he is seen in this form, the alarm will be raised before he has a chance to take out the threat.

In both of these forms, Cahal is able to use spirit sight to sense the world around him. Using this ability, he can interact with spirits in and around the forest, see spirits within the Endron facility and sense nearby bodies and technology, allowing Cahal to scope a room before entering. The design for this ability is beautiful, turning the world a deep crimson flushed with mystic purple spirit bodies and sizzling blue electricity lines.

The third and final form is the werewolf, a massive figure designed for fighting. Cahal has a nice combination of quick attacks, power attacks and jump attacks that can be combined for some effective and gory executions. Landing successful blows will charge his health regeneration bar, allowing him to heal mid-fight. As all good werewolves should know, however, be wary of silver bullets, which lower Cahal’s maximum health for the remainder of the fight.

Gameplay is equal parts stealth mission and murder mosh pit, and Werewolf deftly provides players ample room to decide which experience they prefer. As Cahal sabotages his way through Endron sites, each room is designed with a unique layout that allows him to sneak through undetected. At times Cahal’s presence seems obvious and the guards’ lack of awareness is comical, but as long as Cahal is out of an enemy’s direct eyeline, no alarm will raise. If Cahal is spotted, he has seconds to quickly take down the guard or transform into a werewolf and go on a killing spree. Though many of Cahal’s missions stress the need for subtlety, there are no actual consequences for slaughtering everyone in his way.

For those players who prefer a more direct (i.e. bloody) approach, Cahal can transform into a werewolf immediately upon entering a room full of enemies. Those looking to live out their metal fantasies of thrashing to heavy, blasting rock music as they chomp through enemies, fear not, the game delivers. As players progress through the game, enemies will get harder to kill, imbued with mutations from the Wyrm.

Werewolf’s leveling system is standard, allowing players to gain spirit points as they complete missions within the game. Spirit points can then be used to enhance various skills such as aim, rage and health regeneration The game does offer a secondary route to earning spirit points, though. Using his special senses, Cahal can detect when there is spirit energy around him. He can then harness that energy, increasing his spirit point level. It’s a great way for a quick level-up before a big boss fight.

The narrative of the game, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. While the fridging of his wife and eventual kidnapping of Aedana are powerful motivators, it all feels like a stale trope. Many of the “twists” in the narrative are predictable, minimizing the emotional impact of what should be the game’s pivotal scenes. The theme of the game — reaping consequences of giving into primal rage and the Wyrm — gets somewhat lost amid gameplay which encourages players to create a bloodbath.

The game is also inconsistent in showing the payoff of Cahal’s missions. Cutscenes will fail to show a plant exploding or a prisoner being freed, for example. The climactic moments of the game also give no sense of closure, leaving players with more questions than answers. The stakes are also low. Similar to raging during what should be a stealth mission, much of the gameplay lacks tension. Many of the missions say they are time sensitive, but no pressure is applied for a player to hurry beyond dialogue. It would be much more interesting if players had a time limit to perform certain tasks, lest the actions of the pack elsewhere become discovered.

The one exception to this rule is the final choice in the game. One decision will lead Cahal to utter devastation, and since the game lacks the ability to load past save slots, the player has to live with the consequences or start a new file.

Players looking to invest in an RPG with next-level, engaging storytelling might want to wait until the game goes on sale. If, however, players are simply seeking a solid, old-fashioned werewolf murder spree, the gameplay more than scratches that itch.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood launches Thursday on Xbox, PlayStation and PC platforms for $44.99.

This game was reviewed on Xbox One.


Photos courtesy of Nacon