Over the past year we have almost had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the World of Darkness universe. Most of those games centered around vampires, like the Coteries of New York and the Shadows of New York games. There is also the text adventure, Night Road, which I was particularly fond of playing. But there are more than just blood-sucking monsters in the World of Darkness. The pen and paper RPG also featured werewolves, which came with their own rules and adventures.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest is the first title to feature a werewolf as a main character from the World of Darkness universe. Only you don’t start off as one. You are just a normal college girl named Maia who is taking a break from school to learn about her family roots in Poland. But the village she visits in the Polish-Belarusian borderlands has got a lot more than just family secrets hidden in the wilds outside of town.
Like the vampire-themed games, you will need to balance your stats and know when to apply your skills. But stat management is a little more active in Heart of the Forest. Even before you become a werewolf, you will be balancing the stats of Rage, Willpower and Health. For example, when interacting with an annoying NPC, you might have the option of spending willpower to keep calm and try for a peaceful solution. If you spend willpower points you will probably succeed in your task, but will then be spent for a while, so you might not get the option to do that again in the next encounter.
Behind the scenes, the game is watching how you spend your points. Depending on what you do and how you handle different situations, you will become a specific kind of werewolf with unique powers. It’s pretty cool that it does this, because it makes the game accessible to anyone, even those who have not experienced another World of Darkness videogame or the pen and paper RPG.
Your werewolf basically follows your playstyle from the time before you turned, so it’s less of a shock. The game also does a nice job of explaining new terms to players when they come across them. So don’t worry if you don’t know what a Garou is at first, because the game will tell you it’s what werewolves call themselves.
The game is played in a graphic novel type of format, very much like the Vampire games I reviewed previously. The only real difference is that the Werewolf system seems more integrated into the gameplay. Again, you will be balancing your stats and spending points right from the start, and doing this can really change the story and what is possible. There are lots of branching paths which could lead to multiple plays, but the story is not very long overall. You can get through a single play in about three hours.
The art work for Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest is very unique. It’s a mix of hand drawn, artistic stills combined with actual photos to give players a sense of place. The area where the game is set in Poland is a real place, and the use of real photos helps to reinforce this. The art style itself seems a bit more primitive or folksy than the slick, neon-soaked works in the Vampire games made by their developer, Draw Distance, but I think this is probably intentional. It shows the difference between vampires and werewolves, and the vastly different settings (rural Poland versus New York City).
Heart of the Forest is also a lot more action packed than any of the recent Vampire games I’ve played. While it’s a little slow to start, you will soon be using your powers to strike fear into the hearts of mortals, or just striking your claws into them. There is a modern versus old world type of conflict going on, and lots of very old wounds, and your character will be working through all of that as the game progresses.
The second half of Heart of the Forest is a little bit more on rails than the first part, but I never felt like I was being forced along a path that I didn’t want to travel. It helps that the story is pretty strong, with good writing, plot twists and a satisfying overall narrative. If you enjoy good stories, then Heart of the Forest is a really great game to play. And don’t worry about how much you know about the game world itself. Of course those who love werewolves from The World of Darkness will find a home here, but the game is pretty open and accessible, and fun to play, for just about anyone.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest makes for an enjoyable if brief experience. It’s a fine addition to the World of Darkness content, and I hope we see more from developer Different Tales in the future.