Werewolf the Apocalypse: Earthblood Review
There are two ways to review Werewolf the Apocalypse: Earthblood. First, you could bemoan the absolute waste of White Wolf’s World of Darkness vast source material. Earthblood is an action role-playing game developed by Cyanide Studio and published by Nacon that is extremely shallow in its story-telling. Second, lean hard into the sheer inanity of playing an overpowered action hero plowing through horde after horde of generic goons. Which actually is… fun?
To truly encapsulate all my feelings about the game, I’ll have to do both for this review.
Litany of the Tribes
In Earthblood, you play Cahal, a werewolf or Garou as they are known in the World of Darkness. In one of many attempts to live up to the source material, you are a member of the Fianna tribe, one of 13 tribes of the Garou, several of whom are represented in the game.
Unfortunately for fans of the tabletop RPG, the portrayals of each tribe are so shallow and stereotypical that my eyes started rolling as soon as the game began and never stopped. The Silver Fang is eccentric and aloof. The Glass Walker is a techno-whiz who never transforms out of her human form. And the Red Talons, with their commitment to wolf form, are othered.
But you cannot deny the willingness to present as much of the source material as possible. The many glyphs used by the Garou as a common visual language, as well as one of the most immersive parts of the RPG’s worldbuilding, are present consistently throughout the game. The game’s villainous organisation, Endron, comes straight from one of the earliest RPG sourcebooks.
Without any real immersion, the decision to incorporate so much of the lore comes across as pandering, as if they knew only fans of the game would be playing it.
As a story, the game doesn’t fare that well either, resorting to very old, very tired gaming tropes of rugged white male protagonist seeks vengeance against very evil villains with very evil intentions. Also our hero is dealing with intense guilt and shame, which he can conveniently switch off when the plot requires it. Oh, and it’s got none of the nuance that makes The Witcher 3, God of War or Red Dead Redemption 2 the instant classics that they are.
But where Earthblood does shine, is when the enemies start coming for you.
When will you Rage?
Earthblood is one of those experiences where your choice of game difficulty level drastically changes your gameplay style. There are two ways of playing – stealth and mass destruction.
Initially, you are introduced to stealth mode – taking out enemies unnoticed in your human or wolf/Lupus form and disabling security cameras. Later, you get to fight in your werewolf or Crinos form, taking on a gauntlet of foes by button mashing your way to victory.
In the tutorial, being spotted means you have to restart the stage, so I assumed the rest of the game would follow a similar pattern – i.e. there would be some stages that you needed to stealth, and some stages where you would get to unleash violence. Imagine my surprise later when I was accidentally noticed by a guard and the game just allowed me to wreak havoc without needing to bother with any stealth!
It turns out that you always start out most levels in stealth mode, and while you’re in stealth mode you’re essentially invincible. When you get discovered, the guards are alerted and try to kill you, pushing you to transform into Crinos form. This forces you into a gauntlet, fighting wave after wave of enemies.
This is where the game’s difficulty level comes into play – the harder the game, the more you’ll rely on stealth prior to resorting to destruction. Taking out foes in stealth mode builds up your Rage meter, allowing you to do special actions like healing yourself while in Crinos form. Stealth also gives you the option to sabotage devices around the environment, which will weaken subsequent waves of enemies, making life a little easier for you.
Rage Across the
World same location?!
My main gripe about Earthblood is how repetitive it felt. Despite no two levels having the same design, I felt they simply weren’t unique enough to warrant choosing stealth over button-mashing violence. Halfway through my gameplay, I stopped caring about stealth takedowns and staying out of sight, ready to switch into Crinos form as soon as I was discovered and attacked (you do have the option to switching to Crinos anytime you want – but I prefer reacting to acting).
Perhaps it was the level of difficulty I played at, that took away my need for a balance in gameplay styles. Regardless of how many enemies were sent my way, my Crinos form felt unstoppable and I was clearing rooms of enemies simply by spamming the attack button. Since you build your Rage during combat, I didn’t really need to try and get extra Rage prior to turning into my Crinos form. Throughout the game you also have opportunities to gain Spirit points, which will unlock passive and active skills in combat, making you even more invincible.
Nonetheless, the gameplay tries very hard to reward being subtle. Paying attention to dialogue you hear will help you talk your way out of a tense conversation with a guard or target without resorting to violence. The irony of course is that there’s no real penalty to kicking ass, and despite the repetitive button-mashing, it’s arguably the most fun part of the game.
I normally enjoy stealth games, but playing as a massive werewolf will always trump that for me.
With Fang and Claw
The only challenge at my level of difficulty was the boss battles. There is one in the tutorial, but then you’ll go four chapters or halfway through Earthblood before you fight your first real boss. And then, suddenly, with each subsequent chapter, the boss fights get more and more intense.
Because my combat style had not needed to evolve too much, suddenly fighting these bosses meant having to take stock of all my skills and paying more attention to what I could actually do.
The Crinos form has two stances, agile and heavy. Agile stance gives you a speed boost and allows you to gain Rage faster, while the heavy stance increases your damage and defence but slows you down. Both stances have their own skill tree and you can switch between them at anytime. To make life easier for you in the boss battles, you have to be able to switch between stances in order to enjoy the best of both worlds.
There’s also Frenzy mode, which combines the best of both stances, but prevents you from using any skills (such as Healing). Frenzy mode has its own passive skilltree though, which makes your already overpowered hero just that tad more OP. For example, Fae’s Swiftness stops time around you for several seconds when you enter Frenzy mode – more than enough time to do massive damage.
With some of the boss fights, though, it’s almost as if developer Cyanide Studio expects you to do this because of how hard it is to take them down otherwise.
Time of Judgment
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is not a good game. The price tag of US$30 on the EPIC Games Store should already be a warning not to expect much. With a total gameplay time of about 8 hours (assuming you’re not a completist like me), clunky animations that look like they belong in the 2000s, and a less than inspired voice cast reading the most vanilla of scripts, it’s one of those games that you should wait till its on sale to buy (and it was on sale not too long after its release!).
As a fan of the tabletop RPG that it’s based on, I was more than a little disappointed. Werewolf: the Apocalypse has been in video game limbo for most of my adult life, with three action-adventure games announced and cancelled since 1995. Earthblood is the first Werewolf action-adventure game to actually be published and yet it feels like it was made 20 years ago. In contrast, even with all its flaws (and there were many!), Bloodlines, the 2004 Vampire: The Masquerade cult classic was ahead of its time and set the expectations high for other World of Darkness games.
But I do want to appreciate that developer Cyanide Studio tried to incorporate as much of the source material as possible. It wasn’t the immersive experience I imagine they were hoping for, but at least it was faithful. Well, with the exception of the Frenzy mode, that is. In the tabletop RPG, Frenzy is a pretty serious breach of self-control and a potentially corrupting action. It’s not quite the consequence-free super Saiyan mode of the game.
Yet, all that being said, Earthblood is objectively not terrible either. And may be worth getting as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. The most enjoyable part of the game is the button-mashing combat, and if that’s your thing, then enjoy!
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is now available for PC, PS4, PS5, XBox One and Xbox Series X/S