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Action-role-playing designers do a lot of things well. You can get satisfying combat, interesting progression, good stories, and some gorgeous-looking worlds out of those games.
You know where many struggle? With stealth. And I get it! Stealth mechanics can be difficult to pull off, especially if you’re working on a game that doesn’t focus on just sneaking around and making kills from the shadows.
With Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Earthblood, Cyanide captures the spirit of White Wolf’s long-running The World of Darkness tabletop RPGs. I feel like a werewolf, fighting for the planet’s well-being against a dark evil and corporate greed. Communing with spirits has weight. I can sense the bloodlust that comes from ripping through security goons and leaving a veritable sea of red on the floor. Cyanide nails this.
However, the studio struggles with handling stealth, making it feel boring, time-consuming, and not tense. And I just didn’t feel like I had enough player agency when it came to making decisions in the story. Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Earthblood launches February 4 on PC, PlayStation 5 and 4, Xbox Series X/S and One, and I reviewed it off an Epic Games Store code that publisher Nacon provided.
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Be the wolf
You play as Cahal, a werewolf of the Fianna tribe. They lair in a homey forest camp, full of earth spirits, other Garou (these are the werewolves), and humans who want to help their eco-warrior campaign. Their target? Endron International (an intentional pun on Enron), an energy company that’s poisoning Mother Earth, strengthening The Wrym (a great spirit of darkness) in the process.
The story starts on a mission in which something horrid happens, and Cahal overreacts, giving in to the Rage of the Wolf. He ends up leaving the pack and going off on his own for five years … abandoning his daughter along the way. But a merc mission brings him back to the Pacific Northwest, his pack, and his daughter, and they reunite to fight Endron.
You do this by breaking into facilities, navigating your way through rooms large and small, corridors, and HVAC ducts. For those, you turn into the Lupus form, a wolf. It also helps you stalk about some rooms.
Cyanide set up these rooms with pathways for sneaking. You just have to figure out the patterns of the guards and other baddies. Or you can embrace your Garou spirt and become the Crinos, the frightening wolf-human hybrid that shreds through flesh faster than a Freddy Krueger mowing down ’80s teens.
Yes, there will be blood. Pools of it.
And that’s where a great deal of the enjoyment comes from. As you build your character, you can funnel skill points into stealth, or you can choose offensive abilities. And the Crinos can make mincemeat of most of Endron’s security forces. You rip them apart. You can grab them and throw them across a supply dock. You can slash them with a leaping attack, which is essential with snipers.
As you slaughter your foes, you build rage, which you can use for stronger abilities, to heal yourself in combat, or to go into a frenzy, which turns the Crinos into a walking Cuisinart.
And you need these abilities against some the stronger foes, who are either powered-up freaks using drugs to make themselves larger and stronger (think Bane but without the cool mask) or riding mech suits equipped with sawblades, flamethrowers, and cannons. Smashing one of these mechs is a gas, as you can rip the driver out of the armored suit and tear them apart.
As you explore, you can also interact with nature spirits, which help you earn experience points (and some look rather cute).
My only critique here is that combat does get repetitive over time, but that could be more a failing on my part than on Cyanide’s. Even in action-RPGs, I prefer ranged combat (either with spells or weapons and abilities, like in Cyberpunk 2077) over up-close action, so I got bored with it.
Why use stealth?
As you move around Endron facilities, you’re in a slow, sneaky mode. You shut down cameras (or shoot them with your crossbow), and you hide behind barriers, walls, computer stations, and so on to avoid the guards spotting you. You also have a special sense that works like a detective mode, helping you find hidden spirits and people.
If the guards see you for longer than a few seconds, or come and investigate your presence, they raise the alarm.
Early on, I failed sneaking around a warehouse, so I wound up slaughtering the guards. And I didn’t suffer any ill effects for doing so. I went on and finished the mission.
The next time I failed a stealth segment and got caught, I didn’t suffer any penalties, either. So I decided it was just easier and more enjoyable to go into a room, turn into the Crinos, and put those claws to good use.
I appreciate that Cyanide designed the stealth so that it wasn’t necessary, as I don’t care for it. But if you make it an important part of the game that one can skip … why make it at all?
That Eurojank spirit
When I think of games from Spiders, Cyanide, Piranha Bytes, or Reality Pump, I appreciate how often ambition overcomes limited resources. Their games (such as Gothic, Two Worlds, Greedfall, Of Orcs & Men) may have glitches and fall short of triple-A standards, but they tend to be fun, have good stories, and mechanics and systems that I enjoy interacting with.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse has most of these. I enjoyed taking on an evil corporation, learning more about how the Garou fit into The World of Darkness, and tearing my foes about. I won’t hide from that.
But just don’t ask me to hide from Endron’s guards again.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Earthblood launches February 4 for PC, PlayStation 5 and 4, and Xbox Series X/S and One. The publisher provided GamesBeat with an Epic Games Store code for the purposes of this review.
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