Werewolf the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition - Review
This is a hard review to write. Hard, because it may come as me being overly critical of the product. But the thing that is important to point out, is that I am approaching this product as someone that never played Werewolf the Apocalypse (WtA). When I got into World of Darkness games in 1996, I of course was a bit of a proto-goth. I was into vampire films, listening to Marilyn Manson and Atari Teenage Riot. So of course I was running Vampire the Masquerade for the first time. I also eventually picked up Mage the Ascension, and of course some of the most influential films at the time for me would be Fight Club, The Matrix, and Blade. So a lot of things would classify me more towards the goth/cyber goth side of things, rather than metalhead. And in some ways, this is perhaps why at the time WtA didn’t appeal to me. It seemed all a bit too gung-ho and rather superficial.
So given the above and the fact I have never played WtA, yet I know plenty about the setting due to where Mage and Vampire crossed over with it, I am approaching this review blind.
Let’s start with the easy bit. Layout and art. Generally the book is excellent looking, but I feel that there is not a unified look to the book. I understand that much of the artwork is from the original books, or is new work by the same artists, and that in itself is a good thing as it means the product taps into the nostalgia of the fans of the game. But, as a new reader, I find the mixing up of full colour art, greyscale, and black and white line art, a bit jarring. Now some of the art work I do like, especially some of the more rough, dreamy pieces. I have to admit to not being a Ron Spencer fan. Sorry guys. But it's just all guts and guns, and rather flat and boring. But then I am a big Christopher Shy fan so you can make your mind up on that front.
So onto the text. There is a lot. This is a big book. All the tribes are there. Even the extinct ones - yes even White Howlers. Plus every Changing Breed is in there. I have also been told on good authority that every gift, rite and fetish is in the book, plus with a few mechanical changes to reflect adjustments in the rules (so Athletics and Dodge skills now are one thing), and of course changes to accommodate how our world has changed (so gifts that influence technology).
Speaking of changes, of course the setting has taken into account events around the world that have occurred since WtA was in print. We have a brief insight into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, fracking, the tsunami and nuclear power plant explosion in Japan, the more recent wars and conflicts in the Middle East, and of course the continuing degradation of the environment. All of these events have been looked at through the lens of WtA, and have been used to highlight the ongoing war of the Garou against the Wyrm and the Weaver.
So how would I sum up this book? I can easily see that this product has everything anyone would want for a WtA game. It would be difficult to exhaust all the content within. There are plenty of antagonists and examples. But then I feel I should also give my opinion as someone who has fresh eyes on the product. I think that while the Changing Breeds are an interesting addition in the book, I think they could have waited to have been released in a different book. I found their addition diluted the core theme of the game - the horror of being a werewolf that walks two worlds. To me they add an unnecessary distraction to new readers. I also have to admit that some of the Changing Breeds come across as a bit silly. Furthermore I have mixed feelings about the Tribes. Some of the tribes I like, since they represent a theme. A core concept, that you feel more free to manipulate and play with in order to fit the setting for your own game. Which is why I find the tribes based on ethnic groups less useful, and perhaps feel a little shallow and have a sense of cultural appropriation. Finally the scope of the game is a bit weird. There is a big, global scale theme to the game - that you and your pack will be fighting the manifestation of the Wyrm and Weaver, as they stretch out over the globe. The premise is that all the Garou who will fight in the final battles are already born. But, by knowing that, the core game makes personal horror, which I think really grabs the attention of players, pointless. It makes more mundane concerns, such as the safety of family, friends, your workplace, seem rather inconsequential. Which comes across strange, since the game is about the real world and the spiritual reflection, and so surely even the small battles on your doorstep should be made to feel important.
But as I have said, if you are an old fan I am sure this book won’t disappoint. Maybe this is all just me being rather post-millennial and all that shit.