Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a gothic visual novel set in the World of Darkness universe and developed by Different Tales, a small storytelling studio with a massive amount of talent. If the name World of Darkness sounds familiar to you, it’s actually a tabletop roleplaying game that takes place in the same world as Vampire the Masquerade. While it is available on multiple platforms, this review will focus on the Nintendo Switch experience. This is our review of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest.
Our story begins in a nightmare-like dream sequence. Maia Boroditch has felt the pull to her family’s ancestral home Bialowieza, a village in Poland, for years since her mother escaped her father’s side of the family. Raised in America, she now embarks on a journey with her new friend Anya to uncover the history of her past and find her place in this old world.
Your choices define Maia’s legacy in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest, as you walk the fine balance between maintaining your Rage, Willpower, and Health. Rage can accomplish great feats, but it can also result in dire consequences. To resist the rage welling up inside of you, Maia can spend her Willpower to instead choose a less violent response to a situation. However, once your Willpower runs out, you will typically be left with a neutral option or a Rage-induced response to the situation. Sticking to the goal you picked for Maia at the beginning of the story (finding out about her past, figuring out what the forest wants from her, etc.) allows you to recover more Willpower.
Rage fuels the werewolves, and though you may not have been born as a werewolf, Maia soon comes to find out that the call of the moon runs through her veins. In a flurry of rage, she can very quickly demolish relationships, sever ties, and end confrontations-permanently. And unfortunately, there is no save-scumming to be had here. You have to deal with the consequences of your actions. Your relationships do matter a great deal in this game because it can determine who comes to your aid in times of great duress and how they respond to your requests. The ancient forest, for example, can also make life easier or more difficult for Maia depending on how she interacts with it in certain scenarios.
The artwork that depicts each scene is stunning, with powerful illustrations that howl at the reader not to ignore them. Oftentimes, there is a lot of symbolism and metaphorical imagery to indulge in, so it is well worth your time to pause after reading lengthy passages to dig through all of the colorful goodness. While there aren’t a ton of scenic changes, the impressive ambiance and descriptive writing do wonders for supporting the scene and really immersing the reader in the ancient forest.
A pleasant surprise and holdover from the tabletop RPG is that there is a character sheet for Maia that can be pulled up at any time to be viewed from the menu. This character sheet shows her current stats such as bravery, cunning, and spirituality as well as where her current relationships stand with the denizens of the village stand. I never used this sheet much, unless I had spent a great deal of time away from the game in between playthroughs, but it didn’t take anything away from gameplay.
Since Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest relies so heavily upon the choices you make, I expected a little more clarity when you were making those choices. However, what I experienced was slightly stressful. It felt like every time I made a choice, I was never 100% positive about how that choice would affect the people around me unless I had to expend Rage or Willpower. I knew Rage would typically lead to a bad outcome, and Willpower would result in a more diplomatic or neutral solution, but if you messed up even once you were pigeon-holed into a declining conversation that depleted your stats even further. At that point, you no longer really had a choice in how Maia’s story was shaped. The game was taking control of the reins and layering consequences on top of consequences. Maybe that was the point, but it creates for a slightly upsetting playthrough when the story begins to shift around Maia based on her decisions, and Maia is no longer at all the person you wanted her to be. I’m all for consequences and the world around you changing because of your decisions, but it just felt a little too harsh.
With that being said, I played through the entirety of the game four times to try to get an idea of what changed based on your decisions. I could never bring myself to let Maia become completely engulfed by her Rage because the results were heartbreaking even when it happened accidentally. I can certainly say that the story has a linear direction and end goal for Maia and there are static events that absolutely have to happen to keep the story moving forward towards that goal, but there are many, many important scenarios that can change at the drop of a hat because of how you treated people and cultivated your relationships. Pissed off the press? You can bet your sweet furry butt that they won’t be helping you with the logging operation protest. But the forest scene where the wolves chase down Maia, Anya, and Bartek will remain the same and Maia will always turn into her true form: a werewolf.
At its core, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a fantastic game, with tons of replayability and a lot of bite. It took me about three hours to make it through the story the first time I played because I was so wrapped up in the consequences of my choices and not wanting to make things worse. After my first completion, however, I noticed that there was an option to make the text scroll a bit faster so I was able to skim through the parts I didn’t want to waste time reading again. When it came to the decision-making, though, it was always nerve-wracking. With every playthrough, I was always right on the edge of my seat, trying my hardest to keep Maia’s sanity afloat. While I never found myself extremely attached to the characters, I never wanted them to die. I liked them enough that I agonized over any decisions that might sever our relationships or cause them harm.
What bothered me the most about the conclusion of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest was that Maia’s story was just getting started. It took about halfway through the game for her transformation into a werewolf to take place, and we were just starting to learn about the lore and supernatural intricacies of this setting before it came to a swift halt. As my introduction to the World of Darkness series and this setting in general: it was a great jumping-off point. This title has absolutely piqued my interest in the lore of the series as a whole and is a fantastic introduction for anyone who wants to get into the world. There’s just enough lore there to wet your palette without completely beating you over the head with tons of exposition.
While I wish it had been longer, there had to have been something great there to make me play it four times in a row, right? The first two times I began a new playthrough, I was up until the moon fell away and the sun started peeking through my curtains. Like a great book, I just couldn’t put it down. The story itself is beautifully written, with lots of rising action to keep you turning the pages. All in all, I loved Heart of the Forest. I was frustrated by some of the choice mechanics, but it was never enough to make me stop playing. I wanted to push through to the end every time to see whether or not their stories could be saved. A game that keeps you coming back well after the first playthrough is a precious treat in my eyes, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest had me eating right out of its paws.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest, you can find it on the Nintendo Switch store for $14.99 as well as on Steam.
A copy of this product was provided for the sake of this review.