Dark Light

If you had told me 10 years ago that World of Darkness IPs would be making a return to their heyday in the near future by getting back-to-back video game adaptations, I’d simply laugh in your face. For a long time, I kept telling myself that White Wolf wouldn’t dare to even look at the video game market ever again after what happened with Bloodlines- but I’m glad that I was wrong.

It’s the second decade of the 21st century and Vampire: The Masquerade- Bloodlines 2, Coteries of New York, and Swansong have brought WoD’s iconic Vampire IP back to the video game scene. At the same time, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Vampire‘s lesser-known sibling is getting some love as well. While most people have heard about Cyanide’s upcoming attempt to bring the children of Gaia to the scene with Earthblood, I’ve not heard many people talk about Heart of the Forest, a Visual Novel-esque RPG set in the Werewolf mythos that’s due out this year – even within the most underground RPG forums.

Thanks to the publisher- Walkabout, I, your resident RPG enthusiast, got a chance to try out an extended demo of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest and tell you guys my impressions for the upcoming adventure RPG.

Simply put, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest takes the much-discussed environmentalist themes from the tabletop RPG and combines it with the personal discovery angle of narrative-driven VRPGs into one slick package. At the same time, the game tries to stay away from the unidirectional storytelling present in most VNs in favor of a reactive and choice-driven narrative aimed to simulate the feeling that you’re playing a digital version of a tabletop.

Heart of the Forest doesn’t take long to establish its tone and themes. The game puts you in the shoes of Maia Boroditch, a 24-year-old who sets out on a trip to Puszcza Białowieska, one of the last primeval forests in Europe. You’re a girl on a mission: to trace the origins of your family and put an end to the abstract nightmares that plague your slumber. While telling a dark, personal story deeply rooted in WoD mythos, the developers want to bring into light the protests and environmental issues surrounding the Białowieża Forest. Thus, a large portion of the narrative is centered around stopping the exploitation of natural resources by multinational corporations. As a degree-holder in Zoology, I can get behind that.

Right from the get-go, you are introduced to the two pivotal attributes in the game- Rage and Willpower. Complementing these main attributes are skills the game refers to as Personality Assessment – Brave, Inspiring, Analytical, Spiritual, and Cunning. There are also other reactive elements in the game such as your reason for exploring the Puszcza as well as your relationship status with various NPCs and the forces of nature. Each decision you make in the game affects the two attributes – as well as the proficiency of your skills – ultimately leading to the formation of specific character archetypes aka auspices, which determine the ways you can approach any character, obstacle, or situation.

What’s interesting is that the three attributes are not some static points that serve as the base for your character, but are represented as HP-esque bars that can be depleted/refilled depending on your actions. The higher your Rage, you become less empathetic and give in to your primal feelings. Willpower is the exact opposite – helping you keep your urges in check, as well as thinking rationally. Your current rank in Rage and Willpower determines what dialogue options you get and ultimately plays a big role in deciding your auspice.

The one thing that annoyed me the most in Coteries of New York was how little your choices mattered. It seemed like all choices eventually led to the same path – this illusion of freedom is something I can hardly stand in a lot of games of today. But Heart of the Forest, on the other hand, puts a big emphasis on shaping the character of Maia around the choices you make.

Encounters are context-specific and depend heavily on your Rage/Willpower, as well as your Personality Assessment points. Like any good RPG, it’s possible to miss out on/gain access to extra dialogue options and encounters depending on the way you play the game. In the demo, the choices I made largely affected what kind of a person Maia is and how she perceives everything around her. For a game centered around self-discovery, this seems like the right direction to take. 

For example, in my first playthrough, Maia was a cunning spiritualist who felt each and every breath of the wild. She was good at making friends and using them to attain her personal aims. The Puszcza welcomed her with open arms and she waited for the right opportunity to strike at the corporations exploiting the resources of the forest. In my second playthrough, Maia ended up being a paranoid and distrustful person who just wanted the nightmares to end. She pushed away all those who came to her aid and wanted nothing more than get away from the damp, cold forest. Rather than the red pill, blue pill instances, it’s these subtle changes in her personality that made each playthrough fresh and interesting- something I look forward to in the final release.

It feels like I’ve rambled for far too long regarding Heart of the Forest‘s approach to the choice-driven narrative. That’s not the only thing that makes the game stand out. The striking art style that superimposes real, heavily stylized life images with gorgeous psychedelic art that oozes the charm of water-colored paintings is just straight-up visual porn. Compensating for the lack of voice acting are the well-implemented ambient sounds that simulate the feeling of walking through a dense and mysterious forest every step of the way.

The narrative, visuals, and sound come together to make Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest a truly engaging experience. Even though these are just impressions from the demo, what I’ve seen so far is compelling enough for me to get hyped for the full release. It’s truly a great time to be a WoD fan.


1 comment
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts