The Earth’s Guardian Has Red Claws
HIGH Fighting a winged serpent.
LOW A needlessly bleak boss fight.
WTF A glitch forced me into first-person.
I was talking to an arms dealer about his sideline of dealing in silver munitions when a dialogue prompt appeared. It said ‘enrage‘. Assuming that I was supposed to scare the man into talking, I tapped the button. Immediately my character, the brutish werewolf Cahal, transformed into eight feet of fur, fangs, and claws and the conversation was over.
That’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood in a nutshell. Talking is fine, stealth is all well and good, but let’s face it — players are here to hit the enrage button and start tearing things up.
A third-person Brawler/RPG, Earthblood follows Cahal’s story as a sabotage mission goes awry, costing him his place in his clan. The script then jumps years into the future when his extended family is under threat from nefarious energy corporation Endron, and he’s the only one who can save them — but only if he can make peace with the failures of his past.
Earthblood’s strongest asset is how ready it is to let players approach each level their own way. There are eight main missions and explorable hub worlds linking them together. While each one has its own spin on the objectives, the basic idea is that Cahal is a werewolf (most at home in the forest) has to make his way through a high-tech facility. Sometimes that’s a mining base or sometimes it’s a prison, but the threats are always the same — security cameras sweep corners looking for threats and armored goons start shooting if they spot anything suspicious.
There are two possible approaches to every encounter. The player can sneak around while padding quietly on wolf paws, barking to lure lone soldiers behind boxes to be taken down, and darting into vents that serve as shortcuts. Or they can simply tap the button that starts a fight.
Each one is a viable option, and Earthblood doesn’t judge the player based on their decision as successful brawls earn Cahal exactly as much experience as sneaking silently through a room, and no morality meter will pop up to suggest that gutting mercenaries is a bad thing. It’s truly up to the player how they want to engage with the content, and if they’re competent at the combat, they’ll only ever need to sneak in a handful of story-related sequences. The rest of the time they’ll be free to smash everything in sight.
Fortunately, the stealth system is up to the task of shouldering an entire playthrough. It starts out fairly challenging, but as the player unlocks new abilities they’ll be able to disable cameras and sentry turrets from long distances or become nearly invisible when in canine form. There’s more forced combat than there is forced stealth — there’s no way around boss fights, for example — but the devs have ensured that stealth players get huge advantages there as well. They can sabotage the doors that enemy reinforcements come through, so when a boss fight does kick off, the adds will start at 1/3rd of their maximum health, for example.
The combat system is equally solid, and built around a three-stance system. The werewolf can quickly to zip from foe to foe, or go into power mode to lumber around and whomp stronger enemies. There’s also a Fury bar that gradually fills to unlock the third stance which has all of the advantages of both power and speed. The only drawback to this supermode is that the player can’t use special abilities while it’s active, but it’s so devastating that losing out on pounces and sonic booms is a small price to pay.
Earthblood has a decent roster of enemies, but fully half are sectioned off into the final third of the campaign. There are a handful of corporate mercenary types, both shooters and brawlers, and every one of them has a second ‘corrupted’ form that livens up the final act. However, the first few hours can feel stale, especially if the player is focusing on combat. On the other hand, Cahal’s upgrades feel meaningful — each new combat ability had obvious and immediate effects on fights, and my werewolf became a force to be reckoned with.
While the gameplay is there, I can’t offer much praise for Earthblood‘s story. There are clear goals and threats, but the whole experience feels somewhat perfunctory. The central characters occasionally drift into having two dimensions, but the supporting cast feel as thin as cardboard, and I literally never learned anything about the villain. As far as I can tell, he’s a guy who looks smug while escaping on helicopters and…. that’s about it.
Also, this is a game about environmentalist werewolves battling supernatural polluters and it finds absolutely no joy in that premise. I understand environmental threats are a serious subject, but every character is flat and serious all the time — narratively it’s just a gray slog. I should be driven to continue by something other than the glee in tearing up mech suits.
Earthblood does just what it’s supposed to — the developers have done a great job of making a ‘play it your way’ action-RPG that lives up to the player’s werewolf-associated expectations. It lacks any extra spark to make it feel essential, though — sneaking and brutalizing my way through the levels was enjoyable enough, but I wasn’t at all interested in why I was doing it.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Cyanide and published by NACON. It is currently available on XB1/X/S, PS4/5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Violence, Blood, Drug Reference, and Strong Language. Somehow the ESRB missed the alcohol use? Cahal literally drinks from a flask of whiskey to get power himself up before fights. While I’m not saying this is kid-friendly, it’s much less gory than one would expect from a werewolf game. There’s blood, but Cahal doesn’t tear people to pieces — in fact, the ‘execute’ animation is literally Cahal doing a ‘rip the head off his shoulders’ animation, but the head doesn’t come off, suggesting that at one point this game was much more violent and a decision was made to tone it down.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled. Subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.
- The Cleaner Review - May 31, 2022
- Sniper Elite 5: Preview Follow-Up - May 4, 2022
- PREVIEW: Sniper Elite 5 Is A Dangerous Game - April 27, 2022