EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Dan Lenois
previewed on PC
A World of Opportunity...
The world design within Witchfire, both in regards to its art design and graphical fidelity, as well as its plentiful, varied abundance of enemy encounters, traps, and setpiece areas, is easily its strongest positive attribute. Witchfire is easily one of the most visually-impressive indie games of this generation. The amount of detail in each map far exceeds expectations. However, there are nevertheless a few specific areas where the gameplay experience could be readily improved.
Most of the objectives on each map can essentially be boiled down to "Eliminate all enemies within this defined zone". There typically is no completion bar indicating how many enemies are left in most of these encounters. The player must instead simply keep defeating each group of enemies that spawn in, until the game arbitrarily stops spawning reinforcements and instead presents you with a reward, usually a crystal containing a new passive one-time perk which will expire upon death or when the player ends their session by leaving through a portal.
There is a secondary variation of this objective players can find on the map, where the player will encounter a larger band of tougher enemies. But aside from these two objectives, as well as a few trap placements marked on the map, there isn't a whole lot of life to be found within the level, hostile or otherwise.
A Guide Forward...
It's worth noting, in discussing combat and other gameplay systems or mechanics, Witchfire doesn't exactly do new players a lot of favors, in that it effectively throws everyone into the deep end, with what amounts to the ambivalent attitude of "sink or swim". While its optional tutorial teaches players how to aim and shoot, how to reload, recover health, etc., it doesn't teach players what actually matters. Unless Witchfire is your first-ever FPS game, odds are you as the player already know how to aim your mouse, run around with WASD controls, hit left mouse to shoot, and hit R to reload. This is all incredibly common-sense stuff.
The important things more unique to Witchfire, such as how to unlock new weapons or items, how to acquire and spend currency on permanent character upgrades, how to equip crafted weapons and/or items, etc., are left completely unexplained. Had the game chosen not to offer any tutorial at all, this could have been excusable, as the implicit understanding would have been that this was a game specifically marketed toward hardcore players only. However, the fact that the developers thought it worth investing at least some time into creating tutorial systems, but never thought players would need to know anything beyond how to aim and shoot, is baffling.
Guns or spells? Why not both?
The combination of guns and spells is crucial to Witchfire's core gameplay formula. And yet, the player is given no information whatsoever on how to begin utilizing that ideal combination of mechanics. Only through extensive grind and exploration can the player begin to put two and two together. This feels less like a deliberate, conscious directional choice from the developers, and more like an overlooked consequence of unintentional design.
It's also worth noting that combat is filled with often-excessive grind and poor weapon balancing. Damage falloff is both extreme and nonsensical. Should a player shoot an enemy which stands approximately five or more meters away, the damage inflicted is reduced by roughly 90%, even if the weapon in question is a sniper rifle or other medium-to-long range weaponry. In order to deal any damage whatsoever, you need to run up close with your sniper rifle, and fire off a headshot at point-blank range.
Or alternatively, you could run up with your shotgun, and hit the enemy with a close-range headshot, only to find that the shot only detracted a third of that basic enemy's health bar. Killing a single enemy can sometimes, quite literally, require you emptying an entire shotgun clip.
A Less-Than Ideal Performance...
Players will not be encouraged to hear that, at launch, Witchfire is marred by a plethora of bugs and performance hitches. For performance testing purposes, this game was reviewed both with Nvidia DLSS enabled and later disabled, on two separate playthroughs. Frequently during enemy encounters which involved dozens of NPCs, a bombardment of visual effects and various weapon animations, etc., there would be frame drops that went far below 60fps, even when Vsync was later turned on in order to provide better stability. The game was played on a Nvidia 3070 RTX gpu, on an SSD, supported by 16 GBs RAM, all of which far exceed the developers' own recommendation of Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB + Intel Core i5-8400 CPU @ 2.80GHz (6 CPUs), ~2.8GHz.
NPC pathfinding also appeared to be a consistent issue. Hostile NPCs, most often the common enemies, would group up and just stand in a singular spot staring at the player without moving. One consistency seemed to be an inability to move around trees or rocks. Instead, the NPCs would just remain stationary and observe the player with the same studied caution as a demon hunting a person who had just stepped into a church or other holy ground. Said enemies would still be vulnerable to incoming damage, making it very easy for an insightful player to exploit this flaw in their design.
Witchfire lays the foundation for what could easily become a phenomenal FPS roguelite. However, its performance difficulties, along with its poor weapon balancing and poorly-executed onboarding process for new players, makes it difficult to unreservedly whole-heartedly recommend it as a must-buy for anyone interested. Hopefully, over the course of its early access period, its flaws will be firmly ironed out, and hordes of new content and map reworks will make all of the above critiques obsolete. But only time will tell.
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