A strange forest has been haunting your dreams for as long as you can remember. These dreams are filled with strange symbols, spirits, beauty, and violence. The forest wants something from you. You, Maia Boroditch and a fellow college student take a trip to Białowieża, the town in which the forest from your dreams is located, to find some answers. What questions you’re asking, however, are completely up to you. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a text adventure game with a focus on player choices the likes of which I’ve never seen in a game before.
Werewolf is a game about rage and how it helps you accomplish certain goals, along with some things you regret to quote the opening lines. You’ll find Maia’s level of rage, willpower, and health at the top of the screen at all times, so let’s go through them in order. Rage at high levels can motivate Maia to take action, good or bad, but also makes her more difficult to control, i.e. some choices will be made for you, while low rage can help her be more analytical and see both sides of a situation. Willpower allows you to make difficult decisions, such as deciding to tell your friend the full truth about your dreams, but running out of willpower will make you impaired. Health is very similar to willpower, but allows you to perform physical feats instead with the same caveats when you run out. As you make decisions, you are constantly earning and spending these resources which then in turn passively affect other choices and factors like other people’s or a group’s opinion of you. It’s a simple system that allows for a huge amount of choice and consequence that feels like it matters. For example in one playthrough you may get a few characters killed along the way but ultimately succeed in your goals, while another may have literally everything go wrong and everyone hates you. It may only take a few hours to finish (depending on your reading speed) but the breadth of options and variations will make you want to come back for another playthrough or five.
Taking place in the World of Darkness setting (the same as Vampire: the Masquerade), the game is suitably dark and a bit mid-2000s’ edgy. While I couldn’t stand the writing in the most popular World of Darkness video game adaptation, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines, I was absolutely hooked from start to finish here. Maybe that’s because I just find werewolf mythology more interesting, but the story has a nice sense of mystery to it that drew me in. However, that mystery is solved about a third of the way through the story to get to the werewolf bits and I couldn’t help but feel like it was running out of steam. It’s still very enjoyable, but the opening hours felt less rushed than the rest of the game. To give an example, once Maia discovers she’s a werewolf she gains the ability to shift between five different forms all the way from human to a giant, hulking beast to an actual four legged wolf. Yet, you only use this twice in the entire game. For a game about werewolves you don’t actually spend much time doing werewolf things, which is fine but I don’t feel that the game took full advantage of its setting.
The story focuses on protests surrounding a logging attempt in the titular forest, which just so happens to be one of Earth’s last primordial forests. (The plot is actually based on real events, such as the 2016 protests in Białowieża, which is really cool.) Obviously Maia wants to stop the logging, even before she discovers she’s one of Gaia’s chosen warriors, and this is what the most attention is given to in the story. While this is a unique and interesting focus (werewolf eco-warriors for the win), it comes at the detriment to everything else in the plot. Characters aside from Maia feel very loosely defined and some of them feel like they just show up out of nowhere. In particular, I feel like the game could have focused more on the aftermath of the protests, since the ending is a bit anticlimactic, and how Maia adjusts to her new life as a permanent protector of the forest. The amount of choice here is extremely cool, but it unfortunately leaves certain aspects of the story lightly touched on or just unexplored.
On the flip side, it’s clear that a lot of love and care went into the visual and sound design. Each place you visit has a unique soundscape to it that easily immerses the reader in the scene. The town has noises of cars passing by in the street and people talking, but the forest can be eerily or comfortingly quiet save for branches rustling or animals and insects going about their lives. The art accompanying these places is a unique and beautiful watercolor style, giving you just enough definition to let your imagination fill in the gaps along with the narration’s description. Make no mistake, this is a high quality visual novel.
The Switch version unfortunately lacks the ability to mouse over words to read their pronunciation and definition, but it does still retain the several available fonts to choose from including open dyslexic. As the default font can be a bit difficult to make out at times, this is a nice option for those willing to sacrifice the aesthetic a little bit. The only way I could think to improve accessibility slightly would be a screen reader option and closed captions for some sound effects, and while not entirely necessary it would make it so even more people could experience this intriguing story.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest
Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest is a great visual novel with tons of impactful choices, great visuals, and excellent sound design. While it slowly loses steam after the introductory chapters, it’s still well worth multiple playthroughs.