When a crackling campfire is in front of you inside a virtual reality headset, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually just wearing pajama pants and an old t-shirt in the middle of the afternoon at your apartment. On my left is a suspicious older man that keeps shifting back and forth in his seat and quickly glancing down, while on my right is a woman that won’t stop staring at me, studying my every move. The mood is tense.
As the Werewolf in the group, I know the guy across from me, on the other side of the campfire, is also a Werewolf, but no one else knows for sure. We have to keep it a secret and try to divert the attention away from ourselves. The timer is ticking down and I need to avoid further suspicion, so I proclaim that the person on my right is lying about who they are. They’re not a Villager like they said because I’m actually the Drifter and I know there is only one Villager in the group, and that’s the person across from me, the person I actually know to be the other Werewolf.
Arguments start. Someone stands up, silencing everyone else, to proclaim that they suspect this same person as well, and that we should all vote to eliminate him because he must be the Werewolf. Moments later, we cast our votes. 1 for me, probably from the guy I just threw under the bus, and every other vote for him. At the end, it’s revealed who the real Werewolves are, myself included, and everyone hangs their heads and laughs. I successfully fooled them all!
What I just described was far from my first time playing a round of Werewolves Within, it must have been my fifth or sixth game. The first time playing it makes very little sense due to how complex the rules and roles are. The second time you play a round, everything makes a whole lot more sense. During a game, you can open up a book that includes detailed information about each of the roles, a list of emotes you can set to hotkey buttons, and a bunch of other information.
Each role has a unique purpose and they’re randomly assigned at the start of each round. The role you choose will determine your objective. There is always at least one Werewolf, but there could be more as well. Their goal is to try and eliminate the Saint, or trick the other townsfolk into voting for the non-Werewolf players. Villagers can band together and nominate a ring leader to give them increased voting power. Drifters can identify two roles that are not present during that match. Trackers can lean in to whisper and identify which side of the campfire has a Werewolf. And so on. There are several different roles, each adding their own wrinkle to the experience, and casting their own forms of doubt and suspicion.
Werewolves Within is clearly inspired most heavily by Mafia, the classic party game, as it is about equal parts subterfuge and persuasion. Come on too strong and people might suspect you trying to deflect. Stay too quiet and people may get suspicious. Accuse the wrong person and it could backfire. You can even lean to your left or right to have a private whisper conversation with someone that no one else can hear, but it could raise suspicion.
Several subtle game mechanics help elevate the experience even further, such as the long list of emotes you can do, from thumbs up expressions, to laughter, and more. The voice recognition moves your mouth and face to mimic your tone and inflection, plus it causes your avatar’s hands to animate as they’re talking. Werewolves Within is playable on the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive — all without motion controls — and is cross-platform across all headsets with an identical experience.
Due to the fact that each match not only requires at least five players to even start, but also active, vocal, and social participants to work well, the multiplayer population of VR users could be a very noticeable bottleneck. However, the cross-platform multiplayer should hopefully alleviate those issues.
The lack of motion controller support at least as an option was a bit of a letdown, but it makes sense to advocate parity across devices. There are only a handful of maps, but they all offer an identical experience. It’s difficult to have the same type of match twice since avatars, roles, and the people you play with can be different each time, but unless you have a good group of talkative individuals, it could quickly grow stale.
Werewolves Within is a creative and comical social VR experience that’s unlike anything else available in the medium, but it comes with a high learning curve and high barrier to entry. The various roles are complex and difficult to remember, even with your quick-reference book, and the mandatory group sizes could quell the fun if the player base isn’t large enough. The cross-platform multiplayer is a great addition, but there seems to be a relative lack of variety in gameplay, especially considering how dependent on the intelligence and personality of others that you are. But with the right friends and a fun group, you could easily play this for hours and never get tired of the deceptive persuasions.
Werewolves Within is available for PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.