I've been looking forward to Witchfire for a long time—since way back in 2017, in fact, when it was first announced. As I said when the most recent gameplay trailer was revealed in March at the Future Games Show, it's all about the pedigree: Witchfire is a supernatural FPS from The Astronauts, the studio founded by former members of People Can Fly, best known as the developers of Painkiller and Bulletstorm—two shooters I like a lot. (Especially Painkiller.)
There's been no Painkiller since Painkiller—multiple sequels have followed but they've been increasingly weak and in some cases downright embarrassing—and so when Witchfire presented itself as a sort of loose spiritual successor, I was immediately snapped to attention. The more I've seen since then (and admittedly, it hasn't been much), the more eager I've been to play it. And this fall, I'll finally have the chance: The Astronauts announced during today's Summer Game Fest that Witchfire will go live in early access on the Epic Games Store on September 20.
"The thing that excites me the most in videogames is the idea of experiencing different worlds," studio co-founder and creative director Adrian Chmielarz said. "To be a space pirate, a detective with supernatural powers, or a church’s witch hunter. It doesn’t matter to me if the game is focused on the story or on the mechanics—I need its world to feel like a real place. So even though Witchfire is obviously a shooter first, we invest a lot in its world and lore. I believe this enhances the experience even for the people who claim they don’t care about the stories in games at all."
I'm not really big on lore in my shooters, but I do appreciate that commitment to place. The levels in Painkiller are completely disconnected, but each one is a sprawling, detailed world worthy of a little sight-seeing. The Opera House and Snowy Bridge are two of my favorites: The shooting is great, but the attention to detail across such strange, disparate worlds is worth attention in its own right.
And despite what's been seen of it so far, Witchfire is not a "non-stop action fest," Chmielarz said. "Some fights will be incredibly intense, but there are also periods of quiet exploration, planning, thinking. It is much closer to Souls in that regard rather than, say, Doom."
There was a time when that would've put me off, but that time was before my life was thrown completely upside-down by Elden Ring. I'm still not a souls guy, but I am intrigued by the idea. After all, exploring the Lands Between with a magical G36 and some holy hand grenades isn't the worst idea for a game I've ever heard of.
So, consider me looking forward to September a lot more now than I was yesterday. In the meantime, if lore is your thing, you can dive deeper into what Witchfire is all about in the short story, The Preyer.