Witchfire – Early Access Preview

Witchfire - Early Access Preview

Announced a couple of years ago and delayed after a change in direction halfway through development, Witchfire, the latest from the folks behind the cult FPS Painkiller and the classic walk-em-up The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, has arrived in early access. Taking on the role of the Pope’s personal Witch Hunter, players are tasked with exactly that, hunting witches. Along the way they will need to destroy the witch’s forces, level up some gear, unleash some magic spells and die… a whole lot.

Witchfire is, at its heart, an FPS Roguelike and it comes with all that genre entails. You start the game with a basic pistol and no skills and as you play you gain permanent upgrades, new weapons, new spells and new abilities. If you have played Hades or Dead Cells, Witchfire shares a similar progression structure. That said there is one key difference. Each run gives players the option to get the hell out of the level if they can make it to an exit portal. The reason for this is, that if you die, you bring none of your upgrade currency (known funnily enough as Witchfire) with you, so you won’t be able to use it to for the various upgrades in between runs. In a move obviously inspired by all those “souls” games out there, if, on the next run, you can get back to where you died, you can reclaim everything you lost. Should you die before you do, it is gone forever. 

It is a wonderfully addictive risk/reward mechanic that had me coming back time and time again. Like all good roguelikes, it has that “one-more-turn” factor that is so important to the genre. As I progressed, daring myself to go further and further during each run, I constantly found myself on the edge of getting back to the portal in time and avoiding crushing defeat. What’s more, while the map stays the same, the entry point each time I started a run is different so I often found myself having to cover quite a bit of distance through tonnes of enemies to get back to where I died previously. On more than one occasion my quest to reclaim lost goodies ended in tears because of this. 

While wandering through the map, you come across areas that need to be cleansed of enemies. These are marked appropriately based on how tough they are and are worth clearing out because each time you do, you get the choice of one of three random bonuses that do things like improve your health, give you more damage or make enemies weaker. These bonuses only last during the run they appear in and can’t be taken with you out of the portal. When you do escape from a run with all of your Witchfire, you can use it to research new guns, spells and abilities as well as level up basic stats like health, stamina and luck. As a further upgrade path, weapons can be upgraded if they are used enough, giving them powerful secondary abilities in the process. There is a lot here that allowed me to customise my avatar as I saw fit, really tailoring how I approach encounters in the process.

The goal of all this upgrading is to eventually beat the map boss. Tackling the boss is a massive challenge and takes all the skill and ability you have earned during your previous runs. Should the boss be defeated a new map opens up and you can continue your quest in a new area. What’s more, as I levelled up my character, the enemies, traps and encounters got harder, so there was no chance that I could grind my way to an easy victory. The game just doesn’t allow for that. 

The moment-to-moment action starts out a little slow, with a single pistol and no abilities to help players out. But after a few upgrades, there are a host of things that get added into the mix, like dashes that leave bombs behind, lightning strikes on weak enemies and explosive bullets that really mix the FPS action up nicely. There is also a stamina system that gives you more stamina as you kill, but you lose that stamina if you get hit. I had a great time dashing about with reckless abandon once I had a nice stamina boost and it really made me feel like an unstoppable force. What’s more, I have been playing on both the keyboard and mouse as well as the controller and both work perfectly in this game, which gives high hope for the eventual console release down the track. 

Graphically the game is looking nice without being outstanding. The enemy design is wonderful and the weapons themselves are all fantastic but the colour palette and general environment are both a little dull and can make things hard to identify. There are also a few (expected) glitches where players can get stuck in the environment. This was obviously known by the developers as they included an “unstuck” command in the game’s menu. Finally, the biggest issue I have at this point is the game’s balance. It seems off in many encounters, with some enemies, or enemy combinations, seemingly overpowered and the game feels like it takes too long to get moving. I expect all of these issues to be resolved during the early access period as developers get valuable insight into what is causing issues among players.

With two full maps to play with, a host of upgrades, spells and weapons already available and some tight, addictive FPS gameplay, Witchfire is already a good prospect, even though it has just been released into early access. The very talented team behind the game are clearly onto a winner here and I fully expect this game to gain quite the following in the lead-up to its full release. Should things progress as I expect them to, Witchfire could be the next big roguelike obsession for the masses because even at this early point in time, I am finding it hard to not keep going back for more. I can’t wait to see how this game grows and evolves over the early access period as it heads to full release. 

Witchfire is available now on the PC’s EPIC Games Store.

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