Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest is the latest visual novel set in the World of Darkness franchise, which was developed by Different Tales and published by Walkabout Games. The story is an engaging, multi-branching tale that acts as a great introduction to the setting, but it ends just as it starts getting interesting. Werewolf: The Apocalypse is a tabletop RPG that is set in the same universe as Vampire: The Masquerade, which has also seen a number of video game adaptations over the past few years.

While the story of vampires is one of addiction, the werewolves must contend with their anger and the consequences of giving in to rage. Heart of the Forest is set in Bialowieza, a village in Poland. The main character is an American student named Maia Boroditch, whose family originally hailed from the region. Maia has been having dreams about the ancient forest nearby, and she has come to Bialowieza to seek answers about her family history. She is quickly dragged into a conflict between loggers who want to tear down the forest and protesters who are trying to save it. Maia quickly learns about her heritage as a werewolf, and she is given the chance to use her supernatural powers to resolve the situation, but it potentially means giving her mind over to madness.

Heart of the Forest is a visual novel that uses elements from both CYOA books and the rules of the Werewolf: The Apocalypse tabletop game. The player has three main stats: Rage, Willpower, and Health. The current strength of these stats will determine the choices they can make in the story. These decisions will also influence the kind of character that Maia becomes. A more bullish Maia will have a high Rage score, which means that she will have an easier time standing up for herself, but will struggle to step back when the situation calls for it. In terms of gameplay style, Heart of the Forest is similar to the recent Vampire: The Masquerade visual novels, like Coteries of New York, with the player having access to a map that contains locations with different quests and storylines, which can be played in a different order. The player's decisions will determine Maia's backstory and stats, all of which influence how the story will play out.

The most striking aspect of Heart of the Forest is its visuals. The artwork that accompanies the text in the game is often gorgeous, sometimes grotesque, but always striking. It matches the tone of an outsider coming to a place that is meant to be the epitome of nature but is also utterly unnatural and unwelcoming. The quality of the writing is fantastic, which is vital with visual novels, and the story of Heart of the Forest is engaging throughout. The game also does an excellent job of introducing new players to the world of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, which is due to receive a new edition in the future.

The main flaw with Heart of the Forest is that it's too short. A single run-through can be completed in a few hours and a lot of this time is spent introducing the concepts of the world. The player is only given access to the full range of werewolf transformations during the last third of the game, which feels like wasted potential. On the plus side, there are multiple endings, and working towards them requires playing Maia in different ways, so at least the experience feels different during each run-through.

Heart of the Forest is an engaging game that has a much-needed new perspective on the World of Darkness, as it steps away from the vampires and offers a different kind of horror. The experience is over a little too soon, but it's worth going through each path and seeing how each run-through plays out. Short runtime aside, Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest is an interesting exploration of environmental issues tied into a personal story of anger, and it makes the prospect of more World of Darkness titles in the future more exciting.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest releases for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows on October 13, 2020.