NOTE: this game is currently in early access as of the time of reviewing this.
I’m not going to lie – there are some games that I’ve reviewed that I rushed through, just for the sake of getting the review out of the way. And truth be told, Witchfire was going to be another one of those games. As I played the game more and more, however, I’ve taken more of a liking to it.
So, here’s my thoughts after sinking 30 hours into it.
Witchfire is developed and published by The Astronauts, who previously worked on The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It’s a small group of just twelve developers, who also happened to work on Painkiller and Bulletstorm. The group may be small but their current game is ambitious, and pretty close to AAA quality, from the graphics to the animations when the character reloads their firearm. It’s a dark-fantasy, souls-like first-person shooter with rogue-like elements.
You’re in control of a which hunter called the preyer. The Church has called upon you to find the witch of the Black Sea, eliminate her phantom army, and find an artifact that will aid you in your war against the witches. At first, you start off with just your trusty firearm known as the “Hunger”. It’s a hand-cannon similar to a revolver, designed for close-range combat.
You’re gonna die a lot. You’re going to be unprepared. You’re going to have an onslaught of enemies to deal with. So, hopefully you’re a sharpshooter. It’s common for rogue-likes to be like this.
Defeating enemies and collecting various chests scattered throughout the map will add to your “witchfire.” If you manage to escape the level without dying, you’ll take this witchfire with you. This witchfire can then be exchanged for leveling up your preyer. You can upgrade such things as the preyer’s maximum health, healing efficiency, stamina, spell recharge rate, and a few other stats. These upgrades are permanent.
But don’t think this will make your subsequent runs any easier. You might have more health, but the Witch will become aware of this and increase her defenses. New enemies will make their way, from grenadiers with much more health than the typical bad guy, to swordsmen with shields, where trying to defeat them will become a nuisance. Traps will be laid on the ground. One trap is a toxic plant that will detonate if you get near it. Another trap will have you temporarily frozen in place, and you’ll receive damage if you don’t shoot the “eyeballs” that come after you.
Each map has several spots where there’s a group of enemies. Once this group is defeated, a crystal appears. You can use this to aid you during your run. For instance, one perk might allow you to increase your reload speed, or the rate at which you can fire non-automatic weapons. Another can increase your max stamina, or allow you to regain it faster. These perks are temporary and only last for as long as you’re on your current run. They will be gone upon death.
Believe me, you’re not going to want to run out of stamina, as it will make your character weaker, but it happens quite often. Actions like dashing, sprinting, jumping, or even focusing with your sniper rifle will all drain it. Enemy attacks will also drain it. You can make use of potions to restore some of your health. These can be crafted with the Angelica that you can collect on your journey.
As your preyer levels up, so will be the amount of resources available to you. While you only start off with a hand-cannon, more weapons become available later on. You can unlock a sniper rifle, a shotgun, an assault rifle, and a few other firearms. You can carry two standard weapons at a time, and you can also equip a crossbow later on that requires a special type of ammo – but this weapon will be a huge assist in your travels, since the arrows that get shot from it are deadly.
As time goes on you’ll also be able to make use of Spells. You can equip one light spell and one heavy spell. As the names imply, the light spell doesn’t do as much damage as a heavy spell, but they recharge more quickly. You can throw fireballs at your opponents, freeze them, send a shockwave, have a personal grenadier fighting at your side, send a huge magical cross that electrocutes your enemies, and plenty more.
Finally, the preyer can make use of relics, fetishes, and rings. These grant the wearer with a bonus. For example, the Ring of Excreta will drop a bomb when the preyer dashes, causing damage to anyone that’s near it. The Bittersweet Nightshade fetish casts a powerful shockwave when the preyer is hit on low health. The Eye of the Madwoman strikes a lightning bolt to an enemy that’s on the brink of death. All of these items can be used to assist you in your travels.
Weapons, spells, relics, fetishes, and rings can all be upgraded. After defeating a certain amount of enemies with them and unlocking the Second or Third Mysterium Incantation, they can deal more damage or unlock other perks.
There are currently two maps available in the Early Access release: Scarlet Coast, the level that you start off with, and later on, after defeating the boss for that level, Irongate Castle. There’s six levels altogether, but the rest are currently not available. I’ve noticed Irongate Castle is a little more taxing on the Steam Deck’s hardware, so be mindful of that.
At First Hard, But More Satisfying Later On⌗
The first couple of hours I spent with this game, I was frustrated. I kept on dying. The game was just too difficult. To make things worse, there’s this thing called “Calamity” that happens at the most inopportune times, such as when you’re low on ammo, or you’re low on health. You have to go to the right location within a certain amount of time and kill the skulls surrounding a red aura. If you don’t, enemies will spawn, and you’ll have to defeat a certain amount of them before your Sanity gauge runs out. And sometimes, when these calamities trigger, your max health is drastically reduced. I suppose I need to “git gud.”
As time went on, however, and I unlocked more weapons and upgrades, I found subsequent runs to be easier. And now, I find it ridiculously fun every time I do a run. It’s still challenging, and there are still moments where my character dies out of a sudden barage of enemy attacks, but man, it’s still satisfying. Facing an onslaught of five or more enemies, casting a freeze spell on them, then getting rid of them all with a few shots from the assault rifle…it feels good knowing that, as someone who was once defenseless, the upgrades really paid off and make the fights more interesting.
And don’t think the game gets boring after you’ve upgraded all of your weapons and items. The Witch keeps making you guess the more the preyer levels up, as I had alluded to earlier. Enemies get tougher, more traps are laid. And if you want a bigger challenge, try adjusting some of your firearms and your other equipment. This way you can also work on upgrading the rest of your inventory.
Steam Deck Compatibility⌗
It runs pretty well on Deck. I have the settings set on Medium, with the resolution set to 1152 x 720. The game can usually stay around 60 FPS this way, but it can flucuate pretty wildly, depending on where you are in the game and how many enemies there are on screen. The Irongate Castle map is more tolling on the hardware, and this can lower the framerate to around 40-45 FPS.
For a somewhat solid 40 FPS cap, I have the TDP set to 10 W and the GPU clock speed to 1,000 MHz.
The game is currently exclusive to the Epic Games Store (makes me wonder if the publisher is getting some extra funding from Epic this way). I’m not fond of this. It means I have to check their Discord or their subreddit if I want to see any patch notes. Being on the EGS also means there’s no forums and no workshop support.
That being said, The Astronaut just published a blog post a few minutes ago about this, and they said, in part:
We’re happy we want with this deal. Being exclusive to EGS for the Early Access period allowed us to keep our independence. Which is paramount to us. Also, Epic promotes the game well.
I’m not sure why, but the game needs to have an Internet connection when the game is launched. Heroic will complain that “Offline mode is not supported” if you’re not connected. This is frankly an odd requirement for a game that doesn’t have multiplayer.
The shotgun, the Echo, needs some buffs, even though it already did since a few patch notes ago. The max ammo capacity was increased from 36 to 48, and the damage was slightly increased. However, to me, it’s still not good enough. For one thing, shooting from this weapon costs some of your stamina. And it just feels weak overall. Sometimes I need to fire three times just to get rid of one enemy. In a future patch I’d like to see the stamina cost removed, and increase the damage it deals even further.
I did notice a strange bug when you’re selecting a level. If you press the right trigger, it will still cause the preyer to fire his weapon. You’ll know this because you’ll hear a gunshot.
Great FPS With Even Greater Potential⌗
Even though Witchfire is in early access, the game is already showing some serious potential. The animations are satisfying to look at, the graphics are fantastic, and once you’ve invested some time into the game with upgrades, the gameplay is good fun. I’m really looking forward to more updates to the game, particularly having the next level unlocked, as I finished the two that are already in it. I do hope the game comes to Steam someday, and the Echo could use a few buffs, but other than that, I’ve really enjoyed this game.
According to the blog post from The Astronauts, there is a “fat update” in store for the second half of Novemeber.
- satisfying animations
- immersive graphics
- the game doesn’t get boring later on since you have to keep guessing the Witch’s tactics
- amazing gunplay
- plenty of weapons/spells to explore and upgrade
- can be frustratingly difficult during the first few hours of gameplay, but it gets easier later on
- exclusive to EGS
- shotgun requires stamina to shoot and doesn’t seem to deal enough damage
Witchfire is available on EGS for $40.
Review key provided by Evolve PR.