World of Darkness is a rich universe brought to life through several very different tabletop RPGs. Perhaps best known to PC gamers is Vampire: the Masquerade, thanks to Troika Games’ broken but critically acclaimed video game adaptation, Bloodlines.
Vampire focuses on issues of morality and how different ideologies affect social standing. The Moon Howl of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, however, is more focused on living in churches and working together to put a stop to a corrupt force, the wyrm, that is supposed to defile all life. Earthblood sticks to this topic well in its narrative, but unfortunately it’s a messy mix of awkward stealth mechanics and Splatterhouse’s unfortunate restart in 2010.
Around the middle of a sabotage mission against Endron, we are introduced to the playable character Cahal – an insubordinately named energy company suspected of promoting the wyrm’s ambitions. Things go wrong when Cahal gets angry after his wife dies and murders his wolf friend. After shamefully exiled from his pack, Cahal discovers a plot by Endron to destroy them with silver bullets and induces him to return after five years on the streets.
If the characters were personable in any way, maybe I could take care of their plight a little more. Thanks to a stiff, flat script, however, almost everyone is an excruciatingly preaching, sullen snob with a ridiculously gruff voice. Even the guards, who mercilessly tear you to pieces throughout the campaign, are more lovable than the main characters. Those familiar with the World of Darkness lore will receive some of the references, but the narrative isn’t of the same caliber as Bloodlines.
It also doesn’t help that Earthblood’s presentation is pretty dated and not like a deliberate throwback. Character animations are stiff, environments aren’t varied for most of the game, and an annoying soundtrack repeats itself over and over again. It’s pretty clear someone really likes John Carpenter’s Halloween themed music, as a scary similar motif (which isn’t exactly scary) is repeated endlessly until you clear each section of a level. If only Michael Myers had shown up, it would have made things a lot more exciting.
I had to create my own fun by playing with the exploitable enemy AI
The big problem with Earthblood, however, is that these little presentation problems go deep into the core of the game. It is boring. How surprisingly boring. In each mission, you have to infiltrate room by room to achieve a goal. Each room is filled with different guards. Most are generic idiots, but there are a few beefy guys with mallets and giant mechs to avoid. That’s pretty much the whole game, and whether I was sneaking around, knocking them down, or turning into a monstrous animal and thrashing something in sight, I just wasn’t having fun.
Continue reading: The best stealth games on PC
I often had to create my own fun by playing with the easily exploitable enemy AI in stealth sections and being deliberately spotted by a security guard, only to have each of his companions come up to me one at a time to create a bunch of unconscious bodies without ever raise the alarm.
It’s not that Cahal has no skills in making things interesting. He can transform into a wolf to sneak through openings. There’s also the Penumbra Vision which highlights enemies and electrical devices if your eyes aren’t bleeding from the piercing red hue. Aside from the fact that you are a werewolf, Earthblood’s stealth gameplay is remarkably simple. The only redeeming function is that the room layout is so different that I have to pause to think about my next step and calculate it.
If the characters were personable, I could take care of their plight a little more
There is no real impact on getting caught. Instead, I’m told to press a button to come out and become a ‘crinos’ (werewolf, for you and me). In this state you can switch between two different positions, agile or difficult. I barely touched the heavy stance outside of the tutorial fight as it was too sluggish, and the agile stance is more than capable of tearing apart any enemy along the way, even with just the basic attacks.
That is not to say that enemies are not a threat to you. In fact, you can take damage quickly, especially if you are hit by silver bullets. However, Earthblood encourages you to aggressively butcher anything in sight as this will replenish your skill bar. At this point, you can hit an Insta-Heal button to get a large lump of heather. There are other skills, but they’re nowhere near as useful as spamming this button.
Upgrades that use Spirit Points (either by achieving goals or by extracting spirit energy from plants) also help make Cahal an unstoppable killing machine, especially when you switch to Frenzy Mode, giving Cahal its original one Give in to instincts and attack wildly. I never felt like I was in danger. In fact, on Normal difficulty, I only died once during my nine hour playthrough (about halfway through the game for a boss).
It is also good that earth blood is no longer. It’s an acceptably pointless power fantasy for nine hours, but there’s really nothing beyond that to empathize with. Neither combat nor stealth offer enough challenges to make me explore other styles of fighting or hone down sneaky routes through each level. Skills are unbalanced and give me no incentive to do anything other than heal. Not even the side quests where you have to find hidden ghosts or shrines in the hub world are tangibly rewarded to be worth it.