When it comes to sheer ambition relative to the size of a development team, Witchfire certainly ranks quite high. Made by a team of just 12 people, Witchfire takes inspiration from a host of different sources, ultimately coming to form an interesting, and rather unique identity of its own. The studio, whose previous works include The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and with some of the developers even having worked on fast-paced action titles like Bulletstorm, seem to be tapping into just about everything they’ve worked on, as well as other contemporary shooters for Witchfire.
Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way first: Witchfire is an excellent looking game. The title makes use of a photorealistic aesthetic, juxtaposed with inventive and clever monster designs to create what it refers to as a grimdark world. The game makes use of quite a few modern technologies to accomplish this, including the use of photogrammetry technology to make its environments look so good.
The beauty of Witchfire extends to more than just its environments, however. There has been an obvious level of attention spent on minor details, even down to how gorgeous the game’s several antique-looking guns can end up looking in your hands. Even the game’s magic effects manage to straddle the fine line between looking cool but still maintaining general readability of your situation and surroundings.
"The beauty of Witchfire extends to more than just its environments, however."
And really, general readability seems to be the main thing Witchfire has been going for. Enemies are quite easily distinguishable from their surroundings, and the game even gives you helpful indicators for when you’re about to get attacked by an enemy from a direction you can’t see. This means that, despite it being quite easy to get lost in how gorgeous Witchfire can look, you won’t be losing sight of any enemies among the hordes you’ll have to take on.
The more interesting thing to talk about when it comes to Witchfire, however, is its gameplay and general game loop, and how well they actually work together. Right from the outset, it’s obvious that Witchfire is taking quite a bit of inspiration from games set in the Victorian era, which mean that Witchfire can tap into old time-y guns that take ages to load, and have all sorts of fancy engravings on them.
At its core, Witchfire feels like an FPS Soulslike with a gameplay loop similar to extraction shooters like Escape from Tarkov, or more appropriately, the single-player ZERO Sievert. The game has you jumping into different levels, with only 2 being available during launch, with the ultimate goal of eventually killing the two witch familiars in the level. Along the way, however, there are plenty of other enemies to fight, and in the process, loot to find. The primary method of progression comes from the loot, and especially the currency referred to as the eponymous witchfire. This witchfire can then be spent on leveling up, while other loot you find can be used in crafting new weapons and other tools that make subsequent expeditions easier.
When you’re ready to fight some things, you get to start a new expedition. On reaching your level of choice, you can look at the map and pick out whatever targets you might want to take down. Early on, you’re encouraged to stick to smaller fights since you only really have one healing item, relatively low stats, a simple starter weapon, and essentially no magic. Getting into a few fights, finding some loot in chests, and making your way to an exit portal lets you then spend all the resources you found on different things; witchfire can be spent on stats, research can be assigned to let you unlock new weapons and magic, and materials can be used to craft potions.
Armed with your new gear, better stats, and maybe even a magical gun, you can then go back to an expedition to hunt down more challenging enemies. Witchfire’s world is mildly reactive to the player’s actions; an expedition that is going incredibly well for you will mean that the Witch you’re supposed to take down starts taking you more and more seriously. This means that the expedition will now be much more challenging. This, however, also means that the potential for loot is much greater, and you’ll be earning much higher amounts of witchfire.
The general extraction shooter-styled loop is quite simple, but can be incredibly fun and addictive. It’s quite easy to end up in a situation where you’ve just unlocked a fancy new rifle that causes multiple explosions with headshots, its’ 3 am, and you decide that you still have time for “just one more run”. This feeling is further supported thanks to the fact that, while death has quite the consequence—you lose all the loot you found—it’s never a big enough setback to feel truly frustrating.
" Early on, you’re encouraged to stick to smaller fights"
Interestingly, all the progress you make in a level, namely in all the fights you’ve fought, persists between expeditions. This means that players also have no choice but to seek out more challenging fights rather than just grinding out the weakest mobs in an area to amass witchfire. On the other hand, more challenging fights will also essentially disappear once you’ve completed them successfully, unless, of course, the witch decides to send in some reinforcements because of your success in killing her minions.
At the time of publishing, Witchfire has two levels: Scarlet Coast and Irongate Castle. Each of these levels has a witch familiar as its primary boss, which all seems to lead up to an ultimate battle against the witch in what will seemingly end up being the final level: Witch Mountain. The game indicates that there are four more zones that will be released during its early access period, bringing the number of levels up to a total of six.
The premise in Witchfire is quite simple: you’re a witch hunter, known as a Preyer, who has set out to hunt one of the most powerful witches in the land. By the time you got close to her territory, however, you were all out of supplies and witchfire, and were only left with a single gun to your name. Thankfully, your general hub area is shrouded in a fog that prevents the witch from detecting your presence, giving you a place to gather your thoughts and forge new equipment.
"Its’ 3 am, and you decide that you still have time for “just one more run”."
There isn’t much more to the story as it currently stands other than the set up and the descriptions of items and levels. A lot of the current story of the game is left up to the environment, which means that players will have to work quite hard to decipher just what’s going on. This is likely a problem that will get solved the further we get into Witchfire’s time in early access.
Witchfire has a lot of potential, most of which will hopefully be realized throughout its early access period. The game is slated to stay in early access for a year, during which time it will get a host of new levels with new settings, and hopefully, a larger variety of enemies, weapons, and magic for the players to use. As it currently stands, the only real negative thing I can say about Witchfire is that it’s lacking in quantity, while still maintaining a decent level of quality.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Looks gorgeous; Great gunplay; Addictive gameplay loop.
Lack of content.