Witchaven

aka: Witchaven: Dare to Enter...
Moby ID: 3318
DOS Specs
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Description official descriptions

Grondoval, a knight from the land of Stazhia, has been just chosen to travel to the forbidding Island of Char. An evil witch named Illwhyrin has cast a curse of never-ending darkness on Stazhia, and built her lair, the Witchaven, on the island, sacrificing the few foolish humans who dare venture there. The witch's present goal is to remove a magical barrier known as the Veil, which serves as a portal to the world of demons. Should she succeed, unspeakable evil shall arrive and consume the world. Grondoval must defeat Illwhyrin's demonic minions, reach the core of Witchaven, and defeat her.

Based on 3D Realms' Build engine, Witchaven is a first-person fantasy slasher akin to Heretic, with the addition of a simple role-playing experience and level system: the player accumulates experience from killing monsters and acquiring items, so as to become more powerful (with seven experience levels altogether). The weapons include knives, swords, bows, morning stars, battle axes, throwing axes, and halberds. Spells such as Scare, Night Vision, Fly, Fireball, and Nuke, are available via scrolls found during exploration, although the more powerful spells require that the player character has attained a certain experience level (for example, Nuke, which disintegrates opponents, requires the hero to be level five to cast). Scattered around the levels are potions which grant the protagonist such boons as healing, invisibility and strength.

Spellings

  • Witchhaven - Common misspelling

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Screenshots

Promos

Credits (DOS version)

20 People

Executive Producer
Producer
Product Manager
Lead Programming
Additional Programming
Original Music & Sound FX
Creature Modeling
3D Animation and Artwork
Cover Artwork
Map Coordinators
Original Story and Maps
Documentation
Quality Assurance Manager
3D Introduction
  • Animation Factory
Weapons Provided by
  • Blacksword Armoury Inc.

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 66% (based on 13 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.0 out of 5 (based on 23 ratings with 4 reviews)

A poor attempt at an early first-person slasher

The Good
Witchaven is among the first of the medieval fantasy-themed "first-person slashers," and is noteworthy in that regard, though it paled in comparison to its superior counterpart, id Software's Heretic, published a year earlier.

Using 3D Realms' "Build Engine," it had a feel somewhat similar to that of Doom, although far more over-the-top and grotesque and with less suspense. Indeed, the general tenor of the game goes so far as to be simply sophomoric, though it may have a gritty appeal for some.

The game has a good variety of weapons, from the measly dagger (which looks more like a kitchen knife) to the fearsome halberd. In between, there are no less than three types of swords (the short sword, broad sword, and great sword), a morning star, a battle axe, throwing axes, and, best of all, a "magic" bow. If the weapons aren't enough for you, you get to collect scrolls with which you can cast eight different spells. Too dark? Cast Night Vision. Can't seem to get up to that ledge above you? Cast Fly. Don't want to bother with finding the key to get into the next area? Cast Open Door. Combat spells include Magic Arrow, Fireball, and the dreaded Nuke (which, really, is just a spell that disintegrates your enemies; expect no fancy fireworks).

The level design, though not the best I've seen, is decent, and includes lots of lava, arrow traps, pressure plates and spontaneously-appearing mazes (as in, walk into a large open area, see the item you need at the other end, confidently stroll in to grab it, and watch a maze of walls rise up to block and trap you).

Witchaven includes such role-playing game elements as experience points and experience levels, random items in treasure chests (including "Treasure Chests" which simply give you up to 500 more experience points), and the fact that your weapons eventually wear down and break. While not much to bark at for even a casual RPG gamer, these factors add a little spice to the game.

The Bad
However, even its novelty, variety and sheer extremeness cannot overcome the fact that Witchaven sports rather dull and repetitive gameplay.

The intangibles are by no means compelling. The plot, of course, is pretext, as is customary for games of its type, so one has no right to complain there. The enemies are reminiscent of naked, demonic and sometimes-smiling figures in a sick, twisted Claymation film. The first sight of the goblins (the very first enemies you face) is itself likely to induce a bout of eye-rolling -- but at least it gives you one more motivation to kill the damned things. From there, you progress through further hordes of fire-hurling devils, tall fist-pounding man-beasts reminiscent of the Goons from Popeye, and strange, obese gray woman-demons who pull their own entrails out (ouch) to throw at you and who look like nothing more than Paleolithic fertility idols given life.

After a while, the weapons don't even feel very different from each other (except for the bow, of course), and I just forgot about spells until the odd time I needed an Open Door or Fly spell. Nuke is the only really useful combat spell, and even it comes off as a fantasy BFG 9000 (the ultimate weapon from Doom that inflicted high damage on everything in view at the time it was activated).

In fact, the whole game basically comes off as if the designers were trying too hard to make the game as raw, gross and creepy as possible, in the end merely making all the horror fixtures -- such as horrifically-tortured and mutilated body parts -- into ignored banalities by virtue of injudicious over-placement. What seems designed for shock value becomes ho-hum.

The Bottom Line
Witchaven was a passable attempt at a hand-to-hand first-person shooter that just didn't come together right. It is unpolished and seems more designed for novelty and "grodiness" value than actual gameplay value. The attempt to integrate role-playing elements into the game certainly makes it more interesting, but cannot make up for the game's other shortcomings.

Indeed, Witchaven failed to meet even the standard set my Heretic a year earlier in 1994, which really, truth be told, was not that exciting itself. (In my opinion, a truly-excellent 3D fantasy slasher that focused almost entirely on melee weapons wouldn't come until Interplay's Die by the Sword.)

Overall, Witchaven doesn't have much going for it. The gameplay is uninspiring, and the art and atmosphere are unimpressive at best. It it is truly not a game for children or even moderately-squeamish adults (ESPECIALLY conservative religious ones, who are likely to freak out at the demonic/satanic regalia found in the game.). And it's not really even a game for adults, as it comes off as just plain sophomoric. That leaves the teenage and young adult crowd, who are far more likely to be playing modern console shooters than this. All in all, I simply cannot recommend playing this game.

Instead, if you want period first-person-hack-and-slashers, check out Hexen, Heretic, Die by the Sword, or any of the glut of similar-type games that have become fashionable today. But the old genre has not aged well, as the similarly-themed games of today are far superior to any of the older first-person slasher games (except perhaps Die by the Sword).

DOS · by Luckspeare (3503) · 2006

So terrible it almost defies belief

The Good
Released by Capstone, Witchaven achieved a small amount of fame within a certain niche of gamers (notice I say "small", it's not as if the game was a full-blown cult classic or anything) for being one of the first medieval themed FPS games, along with Heretic and Hexen.

In Witchaven you play as...er...some guy who has to do....something. OK, I neither know nor care what the game's about, and since you spend most of the time fighting endless armies of warty goblins I have a feeling it doesn't matter much anyway. The game is standard FPS fare similar to Doom or Heretic, although there are some RPG touches like experience points and an inventory. This doesn't add anything significant to the game (and Hexen took it much further by allowing you to pick a class, Gauntlet style) but it's still a point for creativity.

I'll have to end there.

The Bad
I hesitate to use the word "turd parade" to describe a game, but here I am left no choice. Witchaven is terrible. It is botched and ruined in almost every way. I won't call this the worst FPS ever made ("worst FPS" is like "worst haircut", i.e. something that's apparently made impossible by karma) but surely it must be near the bottom of the barrel.

So where do we begin our autopsy?

Witchaven isn't really a first person shooter but a first person slasher. Most of the game you'll have to use melee weapons like flails, swords, or your fists. Hit detection is horribly skewed and you have to get extremely close to attack an enemy, and there's no feedback as to whether you're causing any damage. You just hammer away at enemies until they fall over dead. The entire game consists of this. That's right, other than looking for keys and getting lost in mazes, you spend the whole time whacking away at goblins.

Heck, even controlling your character is a massive annoyance. Your character doesn't walk, he slides. It feels like you're on roller skates. And since you can clip through any enemy or object in the game (I think this is a bug) you'll often walk through the enemy you were trying to attack in a bizarre sort of osmosis. I've never really enjoyed first-person slashers since they're too damned hard to play because of the perspective. Some games compensate with a "Z-button" feature (I'm thinking Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) that automatically locks you on to nearby enemies, but there's nothing so sophisticated in Witchaven.

These problems torpedo the game on their own, but there's lots of other stuff to point at. Perhaps to enhance the paper-thin RPG angle, they included the "realistic" feature of deteriorating weapons, which is a nightmare unto itself..

Basically, if you use a weapon for too long it will break and you'll need to find a replacement. It's lots of fun when your sword breaks in the middle of a fight, but what's even worse is that weapons sustain damage even if you aren't hitting anything with them. That's right, you can wreck any weapon in the game by swinging it at empty air. As you can see, they've implemented a feature that makes the game less fun, slows down the action, and makes no sense.

Even the experience system is broken. You gain points every time an enemy dies. That's it. If a monster falls into a pool of lava on the other side of the room you gain experience. Even better: if you exploit infighting among the game's many enemies (goblins of different colors will fight each other) you can rake in massive points without lifting a finger.

Other than the pseudo-RPG features, there's nothing even remotely creative behind Witchaven's design or content, and the game comes across as just a really crappy Doom knockoff with swords rather than guns. Level design is cut-rate, the weapons are almost stupendously boring, and the enemies all feel like stronger/weaker clones of one another.

The game's graphics are competent, but the art is simply terrible. Seriously, the goblins look like they were drawn by children, and while the other enemy sprites are somewhat better they're still the sorriest bunch of claymation rejects you're ever likely to come across. Just look at the screenshots. Additionally, the sprites have almost no depth shading, and this makes them look like cardboard cutouts.

...You get the idea. Witchaven isn't a game where you have to look hard to find what's wrong. You have to look hard to find what isn't wrong. This is a game with almost no redeeming aspects at all.

The Bottom Line
Avoid. If you really want a medieval-themed classic FPS, play Heretic or Hexen. They're problematic games in their own right, but it's like the pearly gates of heaven opening up next to this.

(Although I should note that Witchaven uses an early incarnation of the famous Build engine, and therefore may be of technical interest to Ken Silverman fans)

DOS · by Maw (833) · 2007

Early but excellent medieval action.

The Good
This game presented 1st person medieval excitement. The levels were large (for the time), and the engine was quite advanced. The obvious detail in the warring goblin and ogre factions and the variety of monsters, weapons, potions, magic and power-ups made it the best twitch & kill fantasy game of the time. The variety in environments, including rooms that actually serve purposes (torture rooms, libraries, gardens, etc.) make it that much more realistic.

The Bad
The controls were relatively sloppy compared to other games coming out at the time. The game as a whole wasn't always stable, and some of traps were downright too difficult in the darker areas. The lack of an ending cutscene really killed any sense of closure to me.

The Bottom Line
Ultima Underworld with better graphics, absolutely no role-playing, and nonstop slaughter and adventure in a dark and twisted fantasy world, involving "vast" (for the time) outdoor environments and indoor dungeons as well. Definitely a shining example of a great game, but could have been something that could have been so much more with a few added story elements and some tighter controls.

DOS · by Jason Musgrave (72) · 2003

[ View all 4 player reviews ]

Trivia

Witchaven's cover art is by artist Ken Kelly. It was available as a mail-in as a wall-poster upon release as well.

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Identifiers +

  • MobyGames ID: 3318
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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Erwin Bergervoet.

Windows added by Plok.

Additional contributors: Rebound Boy, Luckspeare, Jason Musgrave, formercontrib.

Game added February 15, 2001. Last modified January 18, 2024.