Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
I am the target audience for this game. I’ve played World of Darkness games for more than 20 years. I know the lore. I love action games. I was primed to love Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood. But this is a mediocre action game that would’ve scored a gentleman’s 7 back in the PS3 era, and deserves a much lower score in 2021. Earthblood is a waste of one of the coolest IPs in gaming, and probably dooms the Werewolf: The Apocalypse franchise to another 20 years in the IP locker.
Here’s a quick summary of 20 years of tabletop RPG supplements. In Earthblood, werewolves are called Garou, and they’re furry ecoterrorists dedicated to stopping the destruction of the environment and restoring balance to the world. In this game, they are fighting the energy corporation Endron, who are creating legions of supersoldiers.
Three shapes, but formless gameplay
You play a werewolf named Cahal, a bald werewolf with this whole prepper meets leather daddy vibe. He can shift into three different forms - human, wolf, and Crinos, which is a man-wolf hybrid killing machine. The transformation animations themselves are weirdly lacking. A few ash swirls around you and your character model changes. Like most things in Earthblood, it’s underwhelming.
The game is divided into two sections: stealth and combat. The human form is used for talking to allies and enemies, exploring enemy facilities, sneaking around, and doing stealth takedowns. You can use a crossbow to perform ranged stealth takedowns as well, but there’s rarely a good reason to do this. That’s all this form does. You can’t fight in it. You don’t do parkour. You don’t climb anything. While the game industry has veered too hard towards overstuffed open-world games in recent years, this shortlist of things to do feels meager.
Human gameplay is a boring, watered-down stealth game that is outclassed by the original Metal Gear Solid. Guards walk unrealistic, repetitive, and boring patterns inside of small, single rooms. There are security cameras. And locked doors. It feels more like a high schooler’s 2005 game jam-proof of concept than it does a finished game. And given that most fights are fairly easy, there’s generally no reason to take things slow and steady. Just shift to Crinos and start killing.
The wolf form is a total waste. As far as I can tell, the only important thing the wolf form does is crawl into air vents. I’ve been crawling into air vents in games for decades and I didn’t need to be a damn wolf to do it. There are so many things they could’ve done with this wolf form - chases, following scent trails, pouncing on enemies, escaping - but what is this wolf form for? Air vents, that’s it. I don’t even know why it’s in the game.
If you blow your stealth or enter a scripted combat sequence, you shift into Crinos. All you do in Crinos form is fight. I’m actually okay with this since the man-wolf form was only really used for murder in the TTRPG. However, this form is also the be-all and end-all of combat. Human and wolf form are irrelevant. I don’t mean “they are too weak to be useful.” I mean “there is no attack button in those forms.”
Unfortunately, combat is basically just a mash fest. Fast attack your way to victory. Dodge a lot. Kill wave after wave of idiotic enemies. Then kill the mini-boss, which is sometimes a bruiser with a shield or a guy in an Aliens-style exoskeleton.
If you took God of War 2 and ran it through a food processor until nothing was left but a thin gruel, you’d get the fights in Earthblood. Every combat sequence goes like this - there’s one mini-boss and lots of gun-wielding mooks. Once you kill the mooks that were in the room when the fight started, the game spawns more through ubiquitous yellow metal doors. They reminded me of the bone piles in Gauntlet, and not in a good way.
You slaughter the mooks to increase your rage meter, which allows you to heal yourself or use special moves, like a charge attack. You can use a tough heavy stance or a lighter more agile stance, but neither stances attacks feel like they have much weight or power. As you attack, you also charge up your frenzy bar, which lets you enter a frenzy stance that lets you deal more damage with basic attacks and combos, but locks you out of special moves.
It was immersion-shattering that I could turn into a one wolf killing machine, slaughter 15 of Endron’s troops, they summon wave after wave of reinforcements, and then I can saunter into the next room and troops are wandering around aimlessly like nothing happened. Yay, another pointless stealth sequence.
A waste of a great IP
The writing is weak and the voice acting is wooden. You never really care about any of the characters - they give you missions, and that’s about it. The game has dialogue trees, but the choices don’t seem meaningful and appear to have little impact on the plot. Mild spoilers follow.
In the opening mission, Cahal’s wife gets fridged by an evil Black Spiral Dancer werewolf, causing him to enter a frenzy and lose control of himself. During this frenzy, Cahal accidentally kills his ally, a non-speaking character named Rafiq. Rafiq is never seen out of wolf form, and never says anything of consequence. Cahal’s wife (whose name I can’t even remember now) doesn’t do much either. The deaths of these characters are supposed to be traumatic for Cahal because after he escapes, he runs away from his pack (and teenage daughter) for five years. (This is a very weird turn because werewolves frenzy ALL THE TIME in the Werewolf: The Apocalypse tabletop game.)
The game picks back up during a mercenary mission where Cahal realizes his old friends are about to be attacked. He shows up and his daughter’s a little cranky but everyone else welcomes him with open arms. Why even have him leave if there are no meaningful narrative consequences? I wasn’t expecting golden age Bioware levels of writing for a AA indie, but I also didn’t expect a script written on a cocktail napkin.
It’s clear that the writers weren’t fans of the tabletop game. The world is so rich with conflict and pathos, but the game has none of that. There’s so much unmined narrative conflict in this game setting, such as the utilitarian conflict of eco-terrorism or the struggle between different tribes of werewolves. Five hours into the game and I still don’t know what tribe Cahal or his ally Rodko belong to. They could’ve addressed the doomed romances between werewolves (which is considered incest in Garou society). They touched on Wyrm corruption, and how werewolves can fall prey to it, but despite Cahal falling into a Death Rage frenzy early in the game, it never comes up again.
The environmental storytelling is wonky as hell. Cahal’s werewolf headquarters (called a “caern” in-game) is a five-second in-game walk from Endron’s training facility. I know the werewolf HQ is supposed to be under constant siege, but come on. It takes me longer to walk to my corner bodega than it does to the training center of this evil corporation. These guys could throw hand grenades at each other from their front yards. I’m not asking for a giant open world - but I’d rather instance into the mission area than take a five-second stroll into it from my home base.
A few years back, Paradox purchased the World of Darkness IP from CCP, and since then we’ve seen a flood of WoD-related content announced and released. It was Paradox’s ”biggest investment ever” and has been troubled since the start. With Bloodlines 2’s development seemingly in crisis and Earthblood’s disappointing mediocrity, I worry about the fate of these great IPs. Some of the best gaming memories of my life feature the World of Darkness, and it’s disappointing to see them mangled in this way.