What is it? An eco-warrior werewolf sim that plays better than it looks.
Expect to pay $40/£35
Reviewed on GeForce GTX 1650, AMD Ryzen 5 3550H, 8 GB RAM
Link Official site
The Bloodlines 2 release date may keep running away from us like a startled deer, but here's another chance to enter the World of Darkness. Concerned with werewolves rather than vampires (clue's in the name), it's an action RPG where the 'RPG' bit is pushed to the sidelines until it's almost invisible. It's earnest, a little bit shonky, clearly wriggling through some budget constraints… and proof that one rough but fun game is worth a hundred glossy but dull ones.
It's not a game to wow somebody who happens to walk past while you're playing. The character models have arrived fashionably late from 2010. The graphics overall, while they do the job perfectly well and suffer from no framerate issues, won't threaten to melt your GPU. But that's a good thing, right?
Earthblood is refreshingly keen to throw you straight into the action. The game starts off with a chat between you and a few members of your pack regarding your plan to sabotage a nearby fracking site. A few minutes later however, Things Go Wrong, and you're sent into the fray to rescue your wife (no spoilers, but I think her nickname might be Character Motivation). By the time another 20 minutes or so have passed you've inhabited all three of hero Cahal's forms, most of the game mechanics have been introduced, and sufficient drama has taken place to kick off the next leg of the plot.
The story jogs along at this pace until the end, which works very well. The bulk of the game is made up of fairly small areas full of enemies and, fundamentally, it's all about making your way to the exit so you can enter the next area. This is where the ability to change forms comes into play.
In two-legged form, looking like a ne'er do well more likely to start a fight than stop one, Cahal can silently take down guards and shoot a (strangely cumbersome) crossbow. He can also sabotage reinforcement-spawning doors, if he remains undetected, dealing hefty damage to anybody who comes through. In wolf form meanwhile, he can move faster and slip through vents, great for a stealthy approach. There's also an unlockable skill to make the wolf even harder to detect.
If you're careful—more careful than me, certainly—you can make your way through a surprisingly large amount of the adventure without engaging in combat. While I give myself a pat on the back each time I successfully escape unseen, more often than not I get caught sneaking across the floor like a guilty child with their hand in the cookie jar, which I think is the best way to experience the game. As soon as I get hit, I automatically transform into the third, most powerful, full-on werewolf form used exclusively for combat.
You can if you wish initiate this transformation at the first sign of an enemy, and there's reason to do so. Combat is rather simple—AI isn't exactly Deep Blue level, and it's a bit button-bashy—but dammit it's fun. Tearing through squishy humans, occasionally grabbing one to rip apart, is a violent joy. When you're forced into combat after a bungled attempt to slip past unnoticed, though, you benefit from having thinned out the numbers a little and (hopefully) weakened at least some of the reinforcements. You may even have disabled turrets by accessing computers or shooting them with your crossbow. In this way, the time and effort you put into trying to be stealthy is still rewarded.
The story is largely self contained, and doesn't require an understanding of the cavernous depths of lore behind the TTRPGs. The gameplay's pleasing balance of shonk and unfiltered fun is reflected in the script, which has an intelligence that pokes its head out when you least expect it. It's a story that simultaneously recognises the fact that humans are a blight on the planet, and that there are still people who fight against that, and hope is not entirely lost.
I do wonder if there's a first draft of the script somewhere at least twice the size of the one that ended up being used. None of the characters are given room to grow into fully developed people, and so much is thrown into the mix—the aforementioned environmental bent, a long list of characters, familial abandonment and reconciliation, balancing a thirst for vengeance against rational thought—that no one aspect is explored to the depth that it deserves. In this way, the runtime of 8-9 hours or so is a double edged sword. I love the fact that this is a game that doesn't demand dozens and dozens of hours of my life… but I would've liked to see these themes examined more.
Another sign that the original vision for the game may have been grander than the available budget is the implementation of choice; or, rather, the general lack thereof. Conversations rarely offer any meaningful decisions, and there are only really three occasions where you can approach a situation in two very different ways. But what occasions they are! One, in a prison, tasks you with running errands for a mafia boss in order to access a secret area. This is what I did… at first. In my second playthrough, I simply slaughtered him and everybody else in an epic fight, after which my friend—after expressing hilarious shock at my actions—gave me the keycard I needed, which had been recovered from the bloody corpse of the mafia guy.
Combat is arguably oversimple, and rarely a challenge on any difficulty. The inability to backtrack or create multiple saves means the rare instances of choice are one-shot deals. Yet I've played this game start to finish twice, and enjoyed it both times, which counts for a lot. It's a B-movie experience in the best possible way; not so bad it's good, but so determined it's good.