Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest

by Different Tales


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An environmentalist family mystery that happens to have werewolves, March 12, 2021

Heart of the Forest (or HotF for short) is one of a recent series of works set in the World of Darkness tabletop universe, along with two Vampire: the Masquerade visual novels (Coteries/Shadows of New York), VtM - Night Road from Choice of Games, and some other games I haven't played probably. Those games were about vampires; this game is about werewolves. The mythology and continuity are taken very seriously (I would guess; I'm not that familiar with WoD).

The most ready comparisons for this game would be the aforementioned VtM visual novels and Night Road. Like the VtM visual novels, this game really excels at atmosphere. The art, the music, the sounds, and the writing all cohere to create a deeply creepy atmosphere. It works extremely well at transporting the player to the forests of the werewolves, at instilling the game's desired emotions into players' minds. As a game written in Ink, it is more interactive than the visual novels, but somewhat less so than Night Road. There is a simplified version of the Werewolf: the Apocalypse character sheet (as opposed to the full character sheet in Night Road and none in the VNs), with delayed branching based on stat checks.

The game is a little short for a commercial game (much shorter than Night Road and slightly shorter than the VtM visual novels), and you don't really spend a lot of time being a werewolf; it's only in the last third that you transform. The politics of environmentalism and family history are the primary themes of the pre-werewolf story. And that story is really good! It has interesting characters, complex political conflicts, and an engrossing, potentially supernatural mystery that all fall by the wayside when the werewolves show up. In fact, I would almost have preferred a whole game in that vein. Discovering that you're "just" a werewolf destroys some of the mystical aspects of the story; it slots you into a rigid classification system with highly specified rules and logic (thanks to the TTRPG). I feel like the authors just wanted to write a story about the Puszcza Białowieska, and had to add werewolves to satisfy their investors.

But the werewolf story is pretty good too. I didn't know much about the WtA universe before, and I feel like I do now. The most interesting parts to me were when you first transform, and go into a frenzy without knowing what's going on. And then you're introduced to the werewolf classes and subclasses and factions and have to take a test to pick a class. And then that's it; you get an epilogue after picking a faction. I kind of wish there was more, but I don't know how it would continue.

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