HIGH Engaging choices and story.
LOW The first act is too short.
WTF Who’s talking to me?
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart Of The Forest (WtA:HotF).
I’ve played both the World of Darkness (WoD) tabletop games and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, I’m familiar with the general lore and the setting of the IP, but I was going in to Werewolf blind. However, I’m happy to report that after just a few minutes, I was pulled by a strong narrative and world.
WtA:HotF is a visual novel where almost all the gameplay involves reading prose text on the left side of the screen and making choices that branch out and define the player’s character — Maia, a werewolf girl returning to her ancestral home in Poland after being drawn there by dreams of a dark forest.
The main conflict is inspired by real-life events in the Polish forest of Bialowieza. The forest was being logged, and the work sparked massive protests. I hesitate to reveal too much of the plot since much of WtA:HotF’s appeal is how it reveals information to the player, but I can say that it’s a gripping tale.
As I made choices as Maia, her character developed. For instance, I tended to analyze problems and find solutions that made my ‘analytical’ stat increase. This later translated to my werewolf stats by making me more cautious. Similar choices continue and develop as the story progresses.
Further in, I was given branching options between places to go and people to speak to. While I could go back to some locations and conversations, some were cut off after I making another choice.
Another aspect of WtA:HotF’s are the Rage, Willpower, and Health statistics. These are key stats that are always at the top of the screen, and they act like a currency. If they were zeroed out, it meant that I would be unable to make certain choices.
For example, Rage is tied to the essence of being a werewolf and governs whether Maia is able to make rational choices. It can also act as a boldness that inspires action (like being able to fight off attackers) when the rating is high. However, this can also lead to overly-hostile actions including murder. Willpower enables Maia to make scary or difficult choices, and Health handles whether Maia is ‘impaired’ or not.
In addition, Maia’s shifts from human to werewolf are an exciting narrative element.After her first shift, the game will have her transform back and forth at key points. Again, I don’t wish to spoil the story, but the stats based on my previous choices and a choice of wolf forms vary the experience and give options in narrative situations. Does Maia handle something as a human, or as a total killing machine?
Unfortunately, just as these gameplay elements are fully introduced and the story gained momentum, the game ended. In some ways it’s a testament to how engaging the experience was, but less than an hour after major revelations, the story was over.
Another disappointment was the art. While WtA:HotF’s visuals are striking and unique thanks to an almost abstract style featuring dark shadows and bold colors, it’s so abstract that I was left uncertain of what characters looked like and who was who.
As text is in a prose format on the left side of the screen (including dialogue) the end result was more akin to reading a book with abstract illustrations than it was a traditional visual novel. This didn’t ruin the experience, but once my character became a werewolf, the cast shifted to their wolf sides and I found it even harder to track who was who, and who was saying what.
Ultimately, the climax of the story was driven by the choices I had made along the way, and each stacked upon the other — by the end, I felt happy with where Maia landed, though I could see how other choices could have made a differences. The ending, like the game itself, felt short, but I found its worth replaying and it left me with strong emotions.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Different Tales and published by Walkabout Different Tales. It is currently available on PC and macOS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: There is no ESRB rating, however, there is quite a lot of described violence and some disturbing images rendered in an abstract style — heads and limbs get ripped off. There is also some additional language and light sexual content, but nothing I encountered was as explicit as the violence.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are music and sound effects, but all text and important sound effects are described in prose on the left hand side. There is no spoken dialogue.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but all gameplay is done by selecting options with a mouse or hovering over highlighted text for information, all point and click text.
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