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Witchaven (DOS)

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Developed by
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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Maw (884)
Written on  :  May 29, 2007
Rating  :  1.2 Stars1.2 Stars1.2 Stars1.2 Stars1.2 Stars

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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 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)