Review | Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest
As someone who focuses on storytelling, games like Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest intrigue me. The Werewolf: The Apocalypse universe has been around for years as a tabletop roleplaying system like Dungeons & Dragons, and digital games can introduce the universe to a new audience. Heart of the Forest tries to capture the roleplaying experience through a visual novel: a text-based game where choices shape the story. It doesn’t always hit the mark, but Heart of the Forest mixes strong writing with creepy visuals and sounds to tell a tale worth exploring.
Developed by Different Tales, Heart of the Forest centers on Maia, a girl traveling to Poland to discover her family history. Mixing the paranormal with the real, you not only learn about your Werewolf heritage, but also discover a logging operation that threatens the forest. You’ll meet other characters too, many with their own ties to the spirits of the forest. The game blends Polish culture and language into the story as well, giving richness to the backdrop for the tale. Mainly though, the game centers around Maia discovering who she is and how much rage she’ll bring to her solutions as a new werewolf.
What kind of werewolf are you?
Players have three main stats: health, willpower, and anger. Like any good RPG, your choices affect who Maia becomes: a level-headed mystic in-tune with the spirit of the forest? A bloodthirsty firebrand who rushes in claws first? Sometimes you’ll choose, and sometimes the game chooses for you based on your stats at the moment. Decisions come with consequences: low willpower or health could make you too weak for intense situations. If you’re too angry, you may lash out uncontrollably. If you’re not angry enough, you may shy away from conflict, leaving the choices to others. It creates a world where you end up thinking about the consequences of your actions as a whole.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse is set in the “World of Darkness,” an RPG system tying the paranormal together with real-world issues. Werewolves in this world are protectors of nature, often times viciously. Heart of the Forest channels elements of horror alongside its rage; killing as a werewolf is visceral and tangible, matching gory descriptions with collage-style art. The strong writing creates real tension, fear, and anticipation in ways that good books have done for years.
Your choices, your consequences
That said, not every moment in Heart of the Forest hits the mark. Depending on your choices, some story beats won’t make much sense. It’s likely a consequence of trying to make a ton of different paths possible in a small game. After a prominent character in one of my playthroughs died, the scene that came after described them somewhat generically. This could be a consequence of crafting the writing to handle branching possibilities. Those events happen more in the last third of the game, but they only stick out because most of the writing is solid.
Also, though some actions are chosen for you based on your stats, they’re usually ancillary. I always felt in control of major plot points and direction, and that feels a little counter to the Heart of the Forest’s premise around anger and action. But the game is still great to play, with interesting ideas about the power of anger.
The power to change a world
Heart of the Forest starts off like a teen horror movie, with sunlight and vacation and potential romance…then it rips that away from you as you learn what’s happening behind the scenes. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest centers environmentalism at its core, but especially in the past year people have struggled with figuring out how to right the elements of the world gone wrong.
There are plenty of solutions, some peaceful, some not…but the ways we choose to grapple with our past and our own potential guide the paths we walk. Horror is often used to strike at the heart of human experiences, and Heart of the Forest does that. The question becomes: what do you do with the power you learned you had all along?
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