World of Darkness is a rich universe that has come to life through multiple, very different tabletop RPGs. Perhaps the most familiar to PC gamers is Vampire: The Masquerade, courtesy of Troika Games’ broken but famous video game adaptation, Bloodlines.
Vampire focuses on themes of morality and how different ideologies affect social status. The moon howlers of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, however, are more focused on living together and working together to put an end to a corrupt force, known as the Wyrm, which aims to defile all life. Earthblood sticks to that theme well in its narrative, but is sadly a messy mix of goofy stealth mechanics and the ill-fated reboot of Splatterhouse in 2010.
We’re introduced to playable character, Cahal, roughly halfway through a sabotage mission against Endron – an insignificantly named energy company believed to be promoting the Wyrm’s ambitions. Things take a turn for the worse when Cahal becomes enraged after his wife’s death and murders his wolf friend. After exiling himself from his pack in shame, Cahal discovers a plot by Endron to annihilate them with silver bullets, prompting him to return after five years on the road.
If the characters were in all very sympathetic, maybe i could care a little more about their fate. However, thanks to the stiff, platitudinous handwriting, almost everyone is an insufferable, cranky snob with a ridiculously gruff voice. Even the guards you mercilessly tear apart throughout the campaign are more endearing than the main cast. Those familiar with the lore of World of Darkness will get some of the credentials, but the narrative is not of the caliber of Bloodlines.
It also doesn’t help that Earthblood’s presentation is dated enough, and not like a conscious comeback. The character animations are rigid, the environments lack variety for the majority of the game, and a tiring soundtrack is constantly repeated. It is quite clear that someone really loves John Carpenter’s Halloween-themed music, as a weirdly similar pattern (which isn’t exactly weird) loops endlessly until you clear each section of a level. If only Michael Myers had shown, it would have made things a lot more exciting.
Had to create my own fun playing with exploitable enemy AI
But the big problem with Earthblood is that these little presentation issues get deep into the heart of the game. It’s annoying. Like, surprisingly boring. In each mission, you are tasked with infiltrating room after room to achieve an objective. Each room is filled with different guards. Most are generic morons, but there are a few beefy guys with towering mallets and mechs to avoid. That’s pretty much the whole game, and whether I sneak around to take them down or morph into a monstrous beast and beat anything in sight, I just wasn’t having fun.
Read more: The best stealth games on PC
I often had to create my own fun by playing with the easily exploitable enemy AI during the stealth sections, deliberately having me spotted by a guard for each of his companions to approach me one by one for a clobber, creating a bunch of unconscious bodies without ever sounding the alarm.
It’s not like Cahal has no ability to make things interesting. He can transform into a wolf to squeeze through the vents. There’s also the Penumbra Vision which, if your eyes don’t bleed from the piercing red tint, highlights enemies and electrical devices. Besides being a werewolf, Earthblood’s stealth gameplay is remarkably basic. The only redeeming feature is that the layout of the parts is varied enough to get me thinking and calculating my next move.
If the characters were likable I might care a little more about their fate
There is no real repercussions for getting caught. Instead, I’m asked to mash a button to hide, becoming a “Crinos” (werewolf, for you and me). You can switch between two different positions in this state, agile or heavy. I barely hit the heavy stance outside of tutorial combat as it was too slow and the nimble stance is more than capable of tearing up any enemy in the way, even with just basic attacks.
This doesn’t mean that enemies aren’t a threat to you. In fact, you can take damage quickly, especially if you get hit by silver bullets. However, Earthblood encourages you to aggressively slaughter anything in sight, as it fills up your skill bar, at which point you can press an insta-heal button for a large chunk of health. There are other skills, but they are nowhere near as useful as spamming that button.
Upgrades that use Spirit Points (obtained either by completing Objectives or extracting Spirit Energy from Plants) also help make Cahal an unstoppable killing machine, especially when entering Frenzy Mode, which brings Cahal to give in to his primary impulses and to attack savagely. I never felt like I was in danger. In fact, on normal difficulty, I only died once in my nine hours of play (to a boss about halfway through the game).
It’s just as good that Earthblood isn’t anymore. For nine hours, it’s a totally insane power fantasy, but beyond that, there’s really nothing to bite your teeth into. Neither combat nor stealth provide enough challenges to make me want to explore other fighting styles or polish devious routes through each level. The skills are out of balance, giving me no incentive to do anything but heal. Even the side quests, which require you to find spirits or shrines hidden in the central world, don’t bring any tangible rewards to be worth it.
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