Despite Witchfire gathering inspiration from a variety of different games, it still manages to create its own vibrant personality. Of course, the gameplay loop and art style are evidently Soulslike but it doesn’t feel like a lifeless clone, instead it acts as an enjoyable experience. Witchfire managed to strike the balance between simply taking what works and repackaging it, creating something fresh and exciting. As a result, we’re presented with this respectable game full of intriguing mechanics and great visual elements. This Witchfire preview aims to dig deep and see what this game has in store for its players.
When asked how long the game will be in early access, the developers responded: “about a year, maybe a couple of extra months more – but that’s it. We don’t plan on dragging it forever.” This gives us a rough idea of when the release date is going to be. As things currently stand, the early access version of Witchfire is exclusive to the Epic Games Store. However, the developers have said that they will bring the game to other PC platforms after around a year or so. On top of that, they’re hoping to release the final game on consoles so look out for that! It’s truly inspiring what a small studio like The Astronauts (creators of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Painkiller) is capable of delivering.
Witchfire early access launched on September 20, 2023 and will be available to purchase through the Epic Games Store Platform for $39.99. Below you can watch the official Witchfire reveal trailer.
Story – Intriguing Lore
Having exhausted all their options, the Church are backed into a corner as a deadly war rages between them and the witches. As a last resort, they call on forbidden pagan magic to turn sinners into immortal witch hunters called ‘Preyers’. You play as a Preyer, using guns, spells, and abilities, to rid the lands of these dark terrors.
Your ultimate goal is to find the witch of the Black Sea and decimate her army. Whilst doing so, you are to retrieve an artifact that can finally end the war against the witches and turn the tides in your favor. This is your destiny, failure is not an option. You venture forth in this exhilarating first person shooter experience learning new bits and pieces of information as you progress through the game. Further story features include a short narrated introduction that explains the players current situation and background.
The best thing is, the game doesn’t have extensive, overly complicated lore, instead building a world that the player explores as a means of telling the story. When you start to play, you already have an idea of what’s going on. However, it is not until you begin interacting with these enemies and environments do you truly get to have a feel for the story and plot. That being said, we wish we got to see more cutscenes that help spread the narrative as you progress.
The trailers might have given off the wrong impression. The first teaser was horror focused and showcased more grit, tenacity, and darkness. On the other hand, the second teaser was more action packed, full of slashing and dicing. This gave fans mixed signals, leaving them not knowing what to expect. Worry not, we can confirm that Witchfire has the best of both worlds, managing to balance each aspect of the game accordingly. Furthermore, you get to control the pacing of the game as you can dive into fights or flee the scene whenever you like.
Gameplay – Soulslike, Roguelike, We Like
This game isn’t like ordinary first-person shooters, incorporating elements from roguelike games and dungeon crawlers. As mentioned before, the game clearly draws inspiration from souls games as the main gameplay loop involves you replaying a specific area over and over. However, unlike souls games, you can actually pause the game. On top of that, Witchfire is more forgiving than most soulslike games. For reference, we beat the first hidden boss fairly easily on our first try yet it was still incredibly engaging and satisfying.
Movement is a bit similar to Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Zombies and Doom. The game allows you to dash, allowing you to dodge incoming attacks from enemies. This is basically the ‘roll’ from Dark Souls, yet there is no ‘parry.’ Instead, you can use sliding and double-jump mechanics to gain the upper hand in battle. Portals are the main means of escape, acting as your method of transportation to hop in and out of worlds.
Ultimately, mastering movement is key as you can dodge ranged attacks and lure lone enemies away from the crowd to attack them. If you run out of ammo or need to reload but you’re under pressure, you can always double jump away. A neat trick we like to use is to dash forward and melee attack, giving you space and time to act accordingly.
There are a number of heavy spells, light spells, and special weapons that require demonic ammo that you can use. Of course, this ammo type is scarce, so it’s all about managing your inventory well. If you run out of ammo, no problem! Simply, re-enter the world and collect the required key to open special chests. In fact, you’re probably going to get demonic ammo from regular chests anyway.
Witchfire is also an atmospheric gameplay experience, meaning the environment around you is what shapes your experience. What we mean is, you can hit barrels and poisonous plants to deal AOE damage on your enemies. Not only that, but as you leave the area to upgrade your character, you’ll find that the world has evolved when you return, introducing new enemy types and hazards. This aims to create balance, preventing players from feeling too overpowered too quickly.
Upon clearing an area, a crystal drops that can be interacted with. Inspecting it will give you the choice between two random new abilities that you can take with you for the remainder of this run. If neither options seem enticing, you can use feathers to reroll the selections. These abilities include buffs such as; damage boosts, extra health, and more. Despite the game having a lot of over-the-top action, there are moments where the game feel eerie and quiet, introducing a sort of psychological fear-factor into play.
Enemies in this game are grouped together in certain spawn points on your map, each with their own difficulty level. There is a wide variety of enemy types. These include; melee, bowmen, riflemen, assassins, swordsmen, knights, and more! Also, there are events such as soul traps, cursed chests, and rituals that involve combat with enhanced enemies and even mini-bosses! Finally, you have a new feature called ‘Calamity Events‘ but we won’t get into it as we don’t want to spoil too much! Don’t worry, the tutorial explains how to deal with them efficiently, just know, it’s a unique game mechanic that keeps you on your toes!
The main nitpick here is that the starting area was a bit too simple. The enemies attacks were incredibly predictable and easy to dodge. Nevertheless, it did get a bit messy once you entered a crowded area and they all began swarming you. Enemy and portal spawns seem to be somewhat random each time you enter, sticking to a certain locational criteria. All in all, enemy variety is enough to keep things interesting but after a while, it gets a bit stale. You memorize their attack patterns and with only two worlds accessible at the moment, it begins to feel slightly repetitive.
Items, Upgrades, and More
Additionally, there are a lot of items scattered around the world. Interacting with them is optional as activating them has a chance to inflict a curse on you. However, can you really afford to give up potential power? All in all, there is a lot to explore, with the levelling system flowing naturally. You’ll find yourself hopping in and out of areas, going back to the main workshop hub to upgrade your character and enhance your equipment. This single-player extraction type of gameplay makes it so that even the busiest of people can hop in for a quick session or two.
Upgrading your character is split into different stations that you can access in the safe workshop. You can interact with a weapon station, a station that helps you level up stats such as Vitality and Luck, a mirror that can help you unlock new weapons and features, and finally a place where you can brew potions and vials. Crystals found in the witch-corrupted lands act as currency to spend on said upgrades. With a lot of options available, it is without a doubt that each run will result in you enhancing your play style.
Graphics – Gothic, Dark Fantasy
Art-style and Visuals
Witchfire was created using Unreal Engine and aims to deliver a dark fantasy feel. It kind of reminds us of Bloodborne. Some video games tend to sacrifice graphics to lend more resources to gameplay or story. However, Witchfire looks great. It’s not earth-shattering in terms of graphical quality, but it’s still really solid and at times looks otherworldly.
The art style is incredible, truly encapsulating that haunted, eerie feeling. Staring off into the horizon or admiring the environments around you can often feel bittersweet. How can chaos look this peaceful? Even if the graphics aren’t the best ever, the map and level designs make it so that you’re immersed in these gothic lands. At times, it almost feels like there is a slight noise filter applied, adding to the grit of it all.
Prop and Character Design
The weapons look and feel really great, making killing enemies all that more satisfying. The creatures designs are incredibly unique, all having a certain cohesiveness to them, as if they were all cut from the same cloth. So far we have not ran into any performance-related issues, being able to smoothly run the game. Thankfully, the monsters aren’t the only thing that looks good with an outstanding design for the main protagonist. You look like a total badass ready to kill some sons of witches!
In terms of HUD and on-screen messages, everything is clear and concise. Nothing really feels too glaring or distracting, except maybe sometimes for the incoming projectile alert. Normally it’s okay, yet when you’re fighting a group of enemies, it can start to be a bit annoying. Whilst an inconvenience, the feature itself is extremely useful in ensuring you dodge those ranged attacks. The title screen and inventory HUD feel so nostalgic, perfectly capturing the classic and organic look of in-game menus.
Music and Ambience – Eerie and Fitting
The world of Witchfire feels rich in content despite it being empty, broken-down places full of destruction and darkness. Part of this is due to the amazing music, especially present whilst exploring the first area. In terms of weaponry, they sound really solid, with each bullet feeling impactful. Sound design definitely wasn’t ignored as the effects are all consistently good. It seems like the team’s main focus was not only delivering a functioning title, but to have some fitting music to go alongside it. As the game approaches, we can’t wait until we play more of this non-stop action fest.
Final Verdict – You Beautiful, Son of a Witch!
Overall, Witchfire is a classic example of a game that truly feels cared for. It’s clear that the developers are trying to create a fun experience for their players. They aren’t trying to simply publish a soulslike cash-grab clone. That being said, there are still a few things to be desired but we’re sure that when the full game releases, these will all be addressed. One of which being that the enemy AI often feels bland and repetitive, spamming the same attacks over and over. The creatures don’t quite feel as alive as we’d want them to be, but that’s just a nitpick as for the most part, they’re menacing enough. At the end of the day, the game has a lot of potential to be great!
This preview of Witchfire was played on PC with a key provided by EvolvePR.