An Early Access Look at Witchfire
Witchfire is an upcoming dark fantasy first-person shooter set in an alternative world in which witches are real and very dangerous, and where players take on the role of witch hunters in a war between powerful witches and the Church. The title is being developed by The Astronauts and was first announced more than six years ago with a brief reveal at E3 2017. The game was released in early access mode on September 20 on the Epic Games Store.
Who is the team behind Witchfire?
Unless you have played The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you have probably not heard of The Astronauts—an independent game developer made up of less than ten people and operating out of Warsaw, Poland. The Vanishing is their debut title; a weird fiction mystery game for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One that sold more than a million copies. The fact that the same developers are now working on Witchfire is significant for several reasons. The Vanishing won countless awards at the time of its release, including a prized BAFTA award, for its incredible storytelling and eye popping graphics that had no business being in this generation of gaming. With their first title, The Astronauts firmly established their reputation as skilled developers that can deliver beautiful games. The premise of Witchfire, as a frantic shooter, seems well suited to The Astronauts—some of the members of the team previously worked on first-person shooters Bulletstorm and Painkiller, and the team's prior effort, The Vanishing, serves to demonstrate their ability to incorporate amazing graphics into an engrossing story.
What is Witchfire about?
Witchfire was originally conceived as a sci-fi survival title; however, over the course of its 7-year development, The Astronauts transformed the game into what it is today: a combination of dark fantasy roguelite with first-person shooter mechanics. In their deadly war against witches, the Church has been calling on forbidden pagan magic to turn willing sinners into immortal witch hunters called preyers. As preyers, players are tasked with hunting and killing the infamous witch of the Black Sea using guns and spells. That journey from sci-fi survival to grimdark shooter brought with it changes just as significant as its shift in setting, tone, and genre.
Most recently, the team decided to shift the title from arena-style to open-world combat. Although Witchfire is not a fully open-world game, it does now feature what the studio calls open-world levels. That means it will be up to the player to decide how and in what order to explore a given area. The change to this new approach from one that was more akin to something like Killing Floor led to significant work and the decision to delay Early Access release to this year.
In the game, players will inhabit the shoes of a badass revolver-wielding witch hunter. Armed with old-fashioned weapons and forbidden magic, witch hunters are tasked by Vatican sorcerers to help the war effort against the very real and very dangerous witches and other threats that abound. An evil witch’s influence has stretched across the land, awakening an army of the dead and all sorts of other monstrosities. The player's primary mission is to find the infamous witch of the Black Sea, destroy the phantom army that protects her, and retrieve a mysterious artifact that can finally turn the tide of war.
The Astronauts have been fairly ambiguous with regards to information about the story of Witchfire. In a 2018 blog post, studio cofounder and creative director Adrian Chmielarz confirmed that Witchfire is not a traditional cinematics-filled journey like, for example, Uncharted or Bioshock, where you spend a relatively short time in an area, unlock a cinematic, and move on to the next area. Instead, Chmielarz likens The Astronauts’ approach to the storytelling done by From Software games. Which means Witchfire will offer various branching pathways that each tell snippets of the game’s story through the strength of its world design.
The Preyer short story
In October 2022, The Astronauts released a short story, The Preyer, that gave a brief look into the lore and powers at work in the game. Written by Chmielarz, The Preyer is set in the world of Witchfire and serves as an introduction to the world and some of what players can expect from the theme. The story unfolds in the forest one night, where a preyer, close to death, is tracking a witch when a group of bandits show up and make threats, not knowing who they’ve encountered. The short story also includes illustrations from artist Bernard Kowalczuk using a style similar to that of the game itself.
As a first-person shooter, Witchfire blends traditional shooting elements with the backdrop of a fantasy game in a roguelite style. The goal is to find some big guns and blow mystical enemies to pieces. The gameplay borrows from Bioshock and Dishonored by allowing players to cast magical energy with their free hand. Gunplay looks frantic and intense and has immediate arena-shooter vibes similar to Painkiller, DOOM, and Shadow Warrior 3.
Combat mechanics involve jumping, strafing, and dodging and are heavily focused on smart player movement while taking care of crowd control situations. There are crossbows, shotguns, repeating rifles, and revolvers, as well as some great spell effects that can cause chain reactions or freeze a powerful enemy mid-attack.
In a gameplay trailer released this February, Chmielarz delved into the intricacies of the game's weaponry, specifically focusing on a powerful hand cannon known as Hunger. This formidable firearm rewards players for landing critical hits by granting them extra powerful bullets upon reloading. As players progress through Hunger's Attunements, they can increase the power of their bullets even further by consistently landing critical hits. At the final level of Attunement, Hunger becomes even deadlier as the first body shot counts as a critical hit, allowing players to freeze their enemies if they manage to land all critical shots.
Spellcraft involves light spells and heavy spells, with the former being quicker to deploy and costing less stamina but not being as powerful as the latter. The different types of spellcraft available to witch hunters to use against enemies include spells, hexes, and curses, and the majority of spells comprise the four core elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Each has unique properties, such as setting enemies aflame and increasing the damage players can take. Using different elemental spells in quick succession can achieve combined effects.
Players will have complete freedom over the pace and direction of their exploration in any given region. This shift to an open-level design transformed the game from its original vision into an entirely new and superior experience, providing players with a greater sense of freedom and agency and making new paths to mastery available.
Built using Unreal Engine 4, Witchfire uses advanced photogrammetry to achieve a gorgeous and immersive dark fantasy world for players to explore, and the game's graphics look as though they could compete in the AAA space. The game features an impressive amount of particle effects, fire, explosions, and more that take up screen real estate, making for a vibrant and happening world.
The photogrammetry technique used to design the environments in Witchcraft involves finding structures and areas in real life, taking various shots from various angles, and loading them into a smart piece of software that rebuilds and renders them. The whole process takes a lot of time and effort as the images need to be captured in exactly the right light, and after the initial wireframe is reconstructed, a lot of texturing and polishing needs to be placed on top. The end result is exceptional photorealism. It is partly for this reason that, for the time being, Witchfire is being developed exclusively for the high-end PCs that can run all of this while processing the frantic fights that will be going down. Witchfire will support DLSS 3.0 for users with Nvidia’s top-tier graphics cards, specifically the GeForce RTX 4000 series GPUs. DLSS 3.0 will enable the game to run at much better framerates even at high quality settings.
- Intel® Core™ i7-12650H processor Deca-core 2.30 GHz
- NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 4060 with 8 GB dedicated memory
- 15.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 165 Hz
- 16 GB, DDR5 SDRAM
- 512 GB SSD
If you're in the market for a new gaming machine that will deliver the best playing experience in Witchcraft, consider taking a look at Acer’s Nitro 5 gaming laptop. This machine is excellent value for money, coming in at a low price point yet still being capable of handling the most demanding modern games. Acer has given this particular model a decent amount of high-speed RAM, and its inclusion of a GeForce RTX™ 4000 series GPU, which supports DLSS 3.0, makes it capable of running Witchcraft and other modern games at ultrahigh quality. The price of this machine is kept low thanks to the screen, hard drive, and battery, all of which are smaller than those in similar but more expensive machines. The laptop also has a responsive full-size keyboard and trackpad.
Witchfire release date and platforms
Witchfire will be made available on PC, with it being restricted to Epic Games during early access. For those with an Xbox, check out the amazing selection of games the Xbox Game Pass has on offer. If you’re thinking of subscribing, please note that with the purchase of a Windows 11 PC from Acer, you can enjoy one month free of Xbox Game Pass.
Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.