Project Witchstone E3 Impression
When I visited the IndieCade booth, I caught a glimpse of Project Witchstone’s marketing material. The claims like “consequence rich”, “sandbox”, “freedom of pen and paper”, and the like immediately drew me in and I happily took the chance to play the game and chat with Spearhead Games co-founder Malik Boukhira about the developer’s vision. It sounds ambitious to say the least, and while the quoted marketing phrases may typically overpromise and underdeliver, Witchstone really seems like it may break that pattern and at least come close.
For example, Witchstone doesn’t have a set ending. Instead, the game tracks actions and accomplishments about any number of things; for example, whether or not the player has unified different factions, or whether they have managed to conquer the land and become king. Each of these might involve NPCs, related stories, or a completion state, but they aren’t necessarily the goal of the game. Different players may choose to undertake any of these accomplishments, though some, such as choosing one of the many factions to support in taking over the land, will be mutually exclusive and also open up the game to replayability. What players accomplish is determined by the buildup of their various choices. For example, in the demo, Malik showed me two NPCs who appeared to be heads of two competing factions, who he had managed to convince to come to a meeting to reconcile their differences. In that same meeting he proceeded to mercilessly kill them. Each of these choices are tracked and combined, leading to the big-level accomplishments previously mentioned. It’s not clear exactly what all is tracked right now, and many things will be added based on what players most commonly do in this sandbox world when the game releases on Steam Early Access.
In terms of gameplay, Witchstone features a number of elements including combat, dialogue, stealth, romance, and maybe even a disguise system. The game is still early in development and other systems are being considered as well. The dialogue system seemed to have a lot of depth, inluding skill checks executed via a dice roll dependent on the character’s skill. The top-down point-and-click game features turn-based tactical combat, where characters can freely move within a radius on their turn and then select appropriate attacks. There are also out-of-turn actions that become available based on the combat situation and character skills. Directional area attacks, friendly fire, and a variety of spell and ability effects open the door to many interesting encounter designs, but it wasn’t clear from the demo whether the developer will end up maximizing the use of these mechanics in finely-crafted encounters. When friendly NPCs die in combat they stay dead, and at lower levels it can be difficult to find ways to revive them, though as players level up more options to do so open up. But because some NPCs you recruit may not be fighters and can die easily, this mechanic provides strong incentive to leave them out of fights and other dangerous situations.
I also got to see the stealth system in action, by jumping into a guarded house through a window, avoiding the line-of-sight of guards, backstabbing their leader, and proceeding to steal a fancy sword from his room. Speaking of gear, it’s currently planned to be a combination of preset rare and unique items alongside randomly-generated Diablo-style loot with a variety of effects and combinations. Malik mentioned that it’s also possible to plant evidence to implicate different factions when committing crimes like killing NPCs and potentially cause a war between them, though it wasn’t fully clear exactly how this system will work.
All in all, Witchstone is highly ambitious but has also shown signs that it may just be able to hit the mark. Only time will tell how it will end up turning out, and what the developer learns from Early Access will strongly influence the final state of the game. For those who wish to contribute to shaping the game’s vision, its Early Access is slated to start in late 2019 or early 2020.