Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood Review
For the last week, we here at 3Bit have been playing Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood. This rather long titled Action RPG comes from developers Cyanide, and their Publisher Nacon and Big Ben Interactive. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is based on the board game of the same name and forms a part of the World of Darkness series, which has been led by the Vampire the Masquerade series of video games and board games. But is Cyanide's entry to The World of Darkness a howl at the full moon? Or is it a whimper at the rising sun? This review will answer all as we explore Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood (which we will call Werewolf: The Apocalypse from here on out).
Werewolf: The Apocalypse is built on a very basic action RPG construct, where you can level your character by gaining experience found throughout the level, rather than through combat and stealth skills found in modern RPG's such as The Elder Scrolls Franchise or through a currency system found in arcade-like action titles such as Devil May Cry. Experience in Werewolf: The Apocalypse is in fact quite rare, to be earned by these two styles, and I found early in the game I was not levelling up in a traditional way. The key source of experience toward skill points was not by playing the levels and ranking up through the trials of combat, but by locating plants and essentially inhaling their essence. Once this became clear that it was the way to level up, I found myself flying up the levels and able to use the skill tree a bit more actively. However, I found that only 5 of the many skill options were of use, and they were all combat-based. I personally believe that the levelling in this game would have benefitted from a systematic increase to health and ability points with the rare ability unlocking in place of the skill tree it currently has, which I honestly found little need for even on the harder difficulty setting.
Moving away from levelling and onto some of the more predominant gameplay aspects, my biggest gripe with Werewolf: The Apocalypse was Stealth. There is no chance to pull it off 100% in stealth in every level, and whilst it was possible to pull of a huge chunk of each level, there were also moments where stealth was designed to be impossible and open combat was inevitable. Each level of Werewolf: The Apocalypse is made of several closed-off arenas with a single entrance and single exit, When deciding to play stealth I found it quite arcade-like, enemies were presented in front of you to take out in a systematic pattern for melee only takedowns unless by some miracle you find elusive crossbow bolts, which in my opinion ruins stealth playthroughs, as usually when you use this "stealth" weapon, every enemy picks up on the soldier's death and instantly starts walking over to your location regardless of whether you were caught firing it or not.
As another option to stealth Werewolf: The Apocalypse introduces another pointless feature, the ability to turn into a wolf. Turning into a wolf allows you to crawl through various and conveniently open ventilation shafts, but as a wolf, you will also be noticed and hunted immediately, with enemies not giving up the pursuit until open combat ultimately begins. For me, it seems the wolf mode was a gimmick that was probably amazing on paper and could have worked out better with the option to take down enemies as the wolf. Unfortunately, it seems that the only purpose of the wolf is to run around empty locations fast and crawl through vents to unlock doors.
The most exciting part of Werewolf: The Apocalypse is the open combat, as it is the moment we play as the titular Werewolf. As a werewolf, the game's whole dynamic changes into an arcade-style hack and slash, which is best compared to the original Devil May Cry titles, where you will be locked into an arena against several different enemies varying in strength and skill. Some will use silver, which will permanently reduce health for the duration of the fight, some will pilot Exo Skeletons which can shock or burn you Werewolf as you try to batter down their giant health bars, and others are fodder to the slaughter, allowing you to build up a "rage meter" which you can unleash when the fighting becomes too intense.
When I first started playing Werewolf: The Apocalypse this was a lot of fun. However, as the game progressed this arcade-style combat became very repetitive, as new enemies and old enemies required the same two button-mashing combos and the occasional dodge, which was, in my opinion, another almost pointless feature, as regardless of timing bullets magically follow you even after firing. The difficulty of enemies never seemed to increase, as the AI all share a mob mentality, where they swarm you, ultimately making the melee combat easier. The only way Werewolf: The Apocalypse appears to increase the challenge is by introducing enemies that cannot be stealth eliminated and require heavy attacks only, or by just upping the number of enemies present in each arena.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse also features a few boss fights, and where you would think that these would present a further challenge to the combat in Werewolf, however much like the standard combat the boss fights are considerably basic and if they aren't another werewolf, they are an amalgamation of enemy types you have faced throughout the mission, with the same routine attack patterns and appearances, the only difference really being the giant health bar they possess. The only challenge I faced during the boss fights of Werewolf: The Apocalypse was when fighting the leader of another werewolf clan, who could prevent you from healing as you continued to slash their ever-regenerating health and even then, I was still able to beat this boss first time on normal difficulty and the second time on the harder difficulty.
When you pick up a game that costs over £40 and is made on the Unreal Engine you often anticipate some breathtaking graphics with ray tracing and stunning details, be it a cartoon-like game or a realistic styled game. Unfortunately, Werewolf falls incredibly short of the mark when compared to many games made using this engine and shows that Cyanide has not taken advantage of this fantastic engine, especially when it offers next-gen console editions. We reviewed this title on the PlayStation 5 to see if Werewolf: The Apocalypse does take advantage of the next generation of gaming. Unfortunately, even on the PlayStation 5, the graphics were not ideal, especially during cutscenes. Lip syncing was off, character models felt basic, and every level looked the same by design, with the same grey arenas with orange reinforcement doors making up for the majority of the game.
Even when taken to different environments, such as in the forest where your clan resides, or in the desert as you follow the evil corporation Endron, graphical textures fell flat. They would probably be more at home as a late PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 title or early PlayStation 4/Xbox One title. Personally, I would not have been as harsh on these graphics were the game to have released as a PS4/Xbox One only game. However, as the title has a next-gen option too, the state it is in shows that Werewolf: The Apocalypse is clearly not ready to come to these platforms. What disappointed me the most was how exciting all of the trailers looked for this game. Artistically they were beautiful, and that first cinematic trailer blew us away. Cyanide even opted to use that cinematic as the opening to the game. However, as soon as the game began, the trailer's magic died and the reality of the game's graphics set in.
The soundtrack to Werewolf: The Apocalypse seemed pretty edgy at first, but the excitement of transforming into a werewolf to heavy metal riffs was overshadowed by a lot of the other issues found in the game. All of the tracks in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, be they heavy metal, calming atmospheric or chilling stealth pieces are incredible pieces of work when listened to on their own and set the moods they represent perfectly, unfortunately when put into the game the entire soundtrack is overshadowed by everything else happening, good and bad, and the sense of immersion usually given by a soundtrack is lost. The other issue is that each of the pieces used during the combat phase is too short and looped, making each combat phase a repetition of the same 1- 2 minute track in a fight which can last anywhere between 2 and 10 minutes depending on the number of enemies in each arena 5 or 6 times per level. Another disappointing aspect I found was that the soundtrack was too generic and could have benefitted from a more tribal sound like it used in its cinematic trailer.
When it comes to the voice acting, I was honestly shocked at just how emotionless it all was. Anger and rage seem to be a key theme of the game and our main protagonist Cahal certainly loved to show that by becoming the big bad wolf. Unfortunately, his acting along with many other cast members failed to carry that through with their acting. The anger in Cahals voice sounded more like when a parent tells their child "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed" rather than the savage rage of a man whose entire premise is rage. It isn't just the anger that is missing however as all emotion seems to be missing from the script, happiness, sadness, concentration, there is no change in any of the actor's tones, as they bring their characters to life. The voice acting in Werewolf takes away so much from the game's experience and even though it introduces what could have been a strong and fearsome female antagonist throws it away with the voice acting and scripting. The unfortunate state of emotionless voice acting ultimately takes away from what could have been immensely powerful and gripping scenes throughout the game's story.
As I mentioned in the audio section above Werewolf: The Apocalypse had a lot of potential to bring an emotionally heavy and gripping story to the table. It is unfortunate that an amalgamation of all of the above factors took away from this, as there was a lot of potential for this game's themes to be explored in a lot more detail. Werewolf: The Apocalypse could have been a great story about environmentalism, revenge, family and the rebirth of nature, however it all seems to have been mashed together to create an action-heavy title with a story that appears to have been rushed. Werewolf: The Apocalypse The Boardgame offers a tonne of lore and history that could have been implemented so well into the game, but Cyanide and its publishers chose to create an RPG experience that lasted about 8 hours, cutting out a lot of potentially awesome plot points and padding it out with unnecessarily long combat. The Story of Werewolf: The Apocalypse is, for the most part, carried out in cutscenes. However, there are some limited dialogue choices that also help progress it, where you can learn a little bit about each character through a brief encounter.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse had a lot of potential to really bring its characters to life, with some potentially great personalities such as the Werewolf Alpha Rodko, the notorious antagonist Major Dusk, who goes by the rather anticlimactic nickname of "Tank Girl" and many more side characters had the potential to be used more to bring a more immersive and powerful story
To conclude, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood had a lot of potential to be something incredible. However, it still has a long way to go before I could even consider calling It a premium game with the price tag it is asking for (£45). The game felt rushed in all aspects that we consider in a review here at 3Bit and in many areas also incomplete. I would have like to have seen more from the story, perhaps a more open environment for stealth, more options for the werewolf and a stronger levelling system. All of these would have made a better impression for a fan of both action and RPG genres like myself. On an additional note, one thing I like to see as I play a game is visual progression, be that changes in appearance as I level up, or the ability to pick my own appearance. Werewolf: The Apocalypse offers neither of these options, leaving our character to look the same, no matter the hardship they endure throughout.
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