Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is well-written, but can it build on its intriguing premise?

by on July 24, 2020

I love a good book. The fantasy genre is chock full of great stories, but werewolves aren’t really as big these days. I blame those bloody Twilight movies, myself. I like to think of the silliness of Van Helsing or the dark comedy of Dog Soldiers, but I digress. Based on a Nineties roleplaying game, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a visual novel set in Poland. Specifically, the primeval forest, Puszcza Bialowieska.

Unlike most visual novels, there seems to be very little in the way of animated characters in Heart of the Forest. Instead, the game features a very “art project” kind of visual style, mixing what appear to be real photos with a painted look. In some ways, it reminded me of the Arkham Asylum graphic novel. It’s a striking look.

A screenshot from Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest

You play as Maia Boroditch, a young American woman who is plagued by dreams of the forest. She journeys to Poland to learn about her family’s past there, particularly in the Puszcza, with her Norwegian friend Anya. Together with a Facebook friend, Bartek, and local tourist guide, Daniel, Maia and Anya explore the forest and its places of interest, looking for links to Maia’s past.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is an interesting concept, a visual novel that takes the “novel” part very seriously. Be prepared to read pages and pages of text, as the writing helps to fill in the blanks left by the surreal images that accompany the story. It’s very well written, especially in light of the different paths the story can take.

This is governed by stats within the game, which affect the decisions you can make, and even alter scenes entirely. In the full game, your decisions will shape the kind of person that Maia is and affect her relationships with each character she meets throughout. Rage is the main stat resource, changing how you can act in certain situations. High Rage will lead to black-and-white choices, which can distance you from companions as you follow a more aggressive route through Maia’s tale. Lower Rage can make you more afraid, but can open up your choices and help to maintain the human relationships in the game.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest preview

The other important resource is Willpower, which can be spent to make more difficult decisions. You need to manage your use of this stat though, as using all your Willpower can stop you from making the right choices later on.

While the stats feel a little out of place sometimes, I did quite like how they make you think about each choice you make. Do you choose to increase your rage in order to learn more about Maia’s past, possibly pushing away a friend in the process, or do you keep a level head for now and see if you can find answers another way?

I played through the demo a couple of times, seeing two quite different stories. The first time, I enjoyed taking my time, thinking through choices a little more, which led to some interesting discoveries. On the second playthrough, I deliberately went for different choices, interspersed with a more “gut feeling” play style. I ended up meeting a character that was entirely absent in my first time through, but also learned much less about Maia, as she shied away from all the aggressive choices.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest screenshot

It’s quite interesting to see such changes in just a thirty-minute demo, which makes me wonder just how varied the full game will be. It’s like a “choose your own adventure” novel, but with far more dynamic storytelling. However, not an awful lot actually happened during this short demo, so it’s difficult to get a sense of how…werewolf-y…the full game will be. There are hints, during a couple of dream sequences, which are quite intriguing, but perhaps not enough to really grab me. Not even in two playthroughs.

That said, there’s no denying the quality of the writing in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest. But whether it leads to something worthy of that quality isn’t entirely clear yet.