Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest is a strikingly beautiful visual novel from Different Tales and Walkabout out now. With Different Tales continuing their Linux support just like with their previous games.
Set in the same big fantasy universe as Vampire: The Masquerade, it's set in the centre of modern Europe where you play as Maia, who comes to Poland hoping to trace their family roots. As you do so, you uncover dark family secrets and hidden truths about the last wilderness of Central Europe.
As someone who doesn't follow World of Darkness, I appreciated that Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest is a pretty welcoming game to newcomers because it's a properly self-contained story. So it's suitable for pretty much anyone who enjoys a good choice-based visual novel. A genre I tend to struggle with but in this case with the seriously rich artwork, along with the compelling writing it made for quite an engrossing experience.
If you've played the Vampire titles from Draw Distance like Vampire: The Masquerade - Shadows of New York and enjoyed the atmosphere and the way it's presnted, you can't really go wrong with Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest. Honestly though, I found Heart of the Forest to be a much more engaging game.
What makes it interesting is you get a clear idea of who (and what) Maia really is, the game certainly doesn't even try to hide it or stretch it out in any way. That's what makes it so slick as a story as it's all about the journey, what horrors you will face and how you plan to react to it as your character grows and changes with your decisions. The decisions you choose reduce points from a few main statistics like Rage, Willpower and Health - while others will build them back up. Each of them being essential in their own way.
Even though some parts are clear from the intro, the way the story unfolds still caught me by surprise. The story and what happens may be fantasy but it's very much grounded in real life and current events, for better or worse. Forests being destroyed, protests, dealing with police and more with it being inspired by real-life protests from back in 2016. When it truly started breaking into the fantasy elements, things get very exciting and at one point I will admit to getting the chills and I could feel the hairs standing on the back of my neck - such a brilliant atmosphere unmatched by many other visual novels.
How it actually explores the idea of Werewolves is certainly…different. The way it describes transformations and different forms in detail, it's as much a learning experience about the World of Darkness as it is a story. It doesn't over-do it on the fantasy naming though, and when it does you get a nice tool-tip if you need it to explain what a few special words mean.
At one point I was a Werewolf carrying a bag of explosives. What more do you need in a novel?
Sadly, when you're really getting into it, you realise it's over. It's only a few hours long overall on a first play-through and I feel like I just need more. I want to test out more of the Rage mechanic and see what else you can do, and what decisions really change how conversations go and who sticks with you. Walkabout Games mentioned in an email to us that there's "200,000" different paths due to the extensive branching narrative and 5 main endings. It's pretty clear that from some of my actions, there were drastically different paths that could I could have gone through and I'm definitely temped to load it up again to do so.
Overall, it was genuinely great! Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest was a brilliant stepping stone into the World of Darkness. I can only hope they plan to expand on from this. Well written, visually fantastic and it had some good ambient background audio along with certain audio-action that really comes together perfectly to round-out the experience. Headphones on, audio up, curtains drawn — it's a great way to spend your time. An example of how to do a visual novel to appeal to everyone who loves a good story. I'm glad there's teams like Different Tales and Walkabout creating experiences like this.