Review and Study: Son of a Witch

2017-10-21T00:11:04+00:00 October 21st, 2017|

Game: Son of a Witch Official Site | Steam Page
Genre: Procedural rogue like ARP
Average Play-through: 30min-1 hour per run
Number of Players: 1-4
Ranking: Good  (Check Official Random Art Attack Ranking)
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the game to review.
Recommended: Great weapon and item system, fun combat, enjoyable game loop. Pretty expensive though.

What is Son of a Witch:

Son of a Witch is a 1-4 player co-op roguelike game in which you play as one of several different characters, each with their own unique starting stats and gear. The basic gameplay loop is very simple, you proceed through different randomly generated stages fighting enemies, collecting gold, weapons, items, pets, and powerups. There are a few unlockable characters to be discovered along the way, but ultimately when you die you start back over at square one.

The story is quite thin at this point, you are a son (or daughter) of a local witch who gets taken. You are trying to fight your way into the local castle and rescue your mother, all-the-while the castle is being sieged by goblins. There are light story elements scattered throughout the game but you don’t need to know or interact in any meaningful way with the actual story.

The game is currently in early access and is relatively short at this point. There are only 5 acts, and each act plays out relatively quickly, but that is pretty on point for roguelike games. It is actively being developed and as of this video, I have seen several updates come out within the time I have been reviewing the game. The game is being sold for $19.99 on steam.

Review:

Son of a Witch, is quite enjoyable, despite the fact I hate puns in game titles. The controls are quite solid, the graphics have their own charm to them, and the item/weapon system is quite complex. I enjoyed the game’s single player well enough, but really enjoyed the game multiplayer with my friends. It took only one to two tries before my friends were planning item distribution, level approaches and the like. It is an easy game to pick up and play.

Let’s talk about the game’s biggest strength, the items. Son of a Witch has a beautiful item/weapon system. There are literally around 100 different items that each have their own unique abilities, uses, and stats. There are different types of weapons that drastically change how you approach combat. You might find a sword that drains life with each swing, making you play aggressively. Or you might find a wand that allows you to shoot from afar and spawn food to heal your party. One of my favorite items is a voodoo doll that you can curse an enemy with. If you then drop the doll from your inventory and hit it, the cursed enemy takes damage no matter where they are at.

Each item has a unique personality, and because of this, each run-through is remembered from what loadout you had by the end. I still remember specific run-throughs were I had a hammer of freezing and had consumed several potions that made my attack speed so high I could permanently freeze enemies in place. I was sure I was going to make it all the way through the game with this particular loadout, only to be killed by a shopkeeper’s bodyguard. In my defense, the shopkeeper shouldn’t have been standing in the way while I was swinging my hammer.

There are potions that have a variety of effects ranging from upgrades to curses. There are magic scrolls that can be stockpiled and used against hard bosses to help even the playing field, keys to open chests, runes to upgrade stats, bombs to access secrets, and much more. On top of a robust item/weapon system, the game mechanics of cycling through all of your equipment is very well thought out and effective. It may take a little time to wrap your mind around, but once learned a player can easily switch weapons and items seamlessly mid-battle.

The combat and gameplay are also polished and smooth. I have never run into any frustrating moment while playing, no bugs, no unfair encounters. The combat is deceptively good, each enemy has their own abilities, equipment, and patterns. The more you play the better you understand the threat and the more confident you get. You feel like you are getting better at the game each time you play.

Son of a Witch is a good game, but it isn’t without its flaws. The sound design is weak, the music is repetitive and dull. There are some strange audio effects that seem overly to loud or sound like they were recorded from a home microphone (says the guy recording this video at home).

The art assets don’t have a consistent style. The characters and enemies look very different than the painterly background they are on. There are some games that purposely try to have two different art styles and it works because they are designed to work with each other, but the art in Son of a Witch feels a little to- thrown together.

The AI isn’t the best nor the brightest, and basically boils down to: follow player and attack. This leads to being able to kite the enemies or lure them into deadly traps. And you know what, despite the poor audio design, inconsistent art style, and poor AI; Son of a Witch is still fun. So do I recommend Son of a Witch? Yes, but with a caveat.

Son of a Witch is a fun game, but it isn’t a revolutionary game. Besides the brilliant item system, there are not a lot of unique or creative game mechanics involved. It is your typical randomly generated roguelike. And it is expensive to boot. I try not to have price come into my reviews, but I feel like the price bears weight in this particular instance. I recommend Son of a Witch but would encourage you to wait for a sale or price drop.

Study:

For this study, I want to look at Son of a Witch’s biggest accomplishment, the unique and well fleshed out item system. There are four areas that make the item system so great that many games could benefit from as well. First the usefulness of each item, not just the amount of items.  Second the uniqueness of each item and the interesting effects they have. Third the flexibility of the items and weapons. Fourth and finally the personality each item or weapon has.

Each item in the game is useful in its own right. Even the weapons or items that appear to be weak can be used cleverly to achieve great outcomes. Though it is true I would rather have the powerful throwing hammer over that of a goblin sword, the goblin sword is common and can be used well while trying to get to the position where I can obtain more powerful items.  Also, if combined with other items and abilities the weak goblin sword can actually prove very powerful in the correct hands. It has a high attack speed which makes it lethal against slower enemies whose attacks you might interrupt. This is just one of a hundred examples of the usefulness of the items, and when taken as a whole makes every item dropped interesting. It is true you will pass up several items as you explore each stage, but every skipped item is a calculated decision of weighing your options. This decision-making process is satisfying to the player.

There are also random effects from some items which lead to a risky choice which is also enjoyable to the player. The majority of magic potions have beneficial effects, but you never know what they might do until you actually spend money or time identifying them or risk it and drink them. This randomness doesn’t disrupt the strategy of each run, but rather adds yet another layer of choice. This is extremely gratifying as a player to manage risk and reward in an intelligent manner, and it is only possible because of the creative and unique design space of the potions and their effects. I am more likely to get a potion that makes me faster than a potion that makes me slower, but do I drink an unknown potion immediately or wait until the direst of situations?

Besides being useful, every item is also very unique. There are very few items that are simply stat changes and the ones that are simply stat shifted still feel significantly different because the stat differences actually matter. There are clever abilities associated with every weapon, and unique modifiers from the different pets, scrolls, rings, and potions you find. To give you a sense of what I mean by uniqueness, there is a staff that balances health from all the players in the room. This particular staff also takes health away from enemies and npcs as well. So if used against a boss it can quickly level the playing field of raising hero’s health and lowering the bosses total hp. If used in the shop, it will trigger the guard to come and attack the players because you just damaged the shopkeep. This fun interaction keeps you on your feet and gives you a variety of different ways to employ the staff. But that is just one of many different weapons and items. There is a hammer that you throw and it returns back to you, a vampiric sword, a staff that summons healing food, a bow and arrow that fires a slow but powerful spread shot, a pet that will stun enemies, a pet that will pick up items from unreachable positions, scrolls that will teleport you to a random room in the dungeon, potions that make collecting gold heal you, etc. etc. etc.

I have already spoken in part about the utility of the different items and what this utility adds to the game, but I want to speak about player skill level and how this utility effects this. If every weapon is only useful in one specific set of circumstances, the player can’t get better at a game past a certain point. The player will discover when to do x and when to avoid y and then they are done improving. But with Son of a Witch’s deep item system, the learning curve never felt like it truly ended. As silly as a comparison as this might be, it felt a lot like Rocket League to me. Easy to learn, hard to master.

An example of this learning curve is the starting sword. For the first few hours, I thought the beginning weapon to be a useful enough item, but I would quickly discard it if given the chance. One particular run I didn’t find any replacement item and found myself using it against a boss. When I used the sword’s special attack I realized it stunned the boss, for quite some time. This was not an arbitrary thing, this was game-changing. Such an outwardly simple skill dealt massive damage, stunned the boss, and gave my teammates and me the ability to fight a boss in a completely different way. Now what I do is I keep the starting sword for as long as I can. I switch between it and more powerful weapons, but if I need a stunning attack I can simply switch back and bam, instant utility. This is one of literally hundreds of examples I could give. Usefulness of items in a variety of situations and settings makes Son of a Witch that much more of an enjoyable game.

The final point I wanted to look at was personality. The last few months while making review videos I have played a lot of indie and AAA games. Besides solid game mechanics and the like, the number one key feature I find that makes a game enjoyable is personality. Assuming the game mechanics are not broken, if a game has personality, I usually like it. When I say personality, I mean some characteristic that makes it stand out in my mind. Dry toast has no personality, but toast with apricot jelly, on the other hand, is memorable (and depending if apricot jelly is your thing) enjoyable. The items in Son of a Witch all have personality. They all play differently and it makes me like this game quite a bit. Anyone making a game, whether it be a puzzle fps about vampire chess players, or a generic rts game: please, please, please inject personality into it. If you are currently designing a game, simply look at this game and make a list of 5 places you could put more personality into it. Your game will always be better because of it.

So that is the last thing I learned from Son of a Witch, despite its few shortcomings, it’s weapon and item system is oozing with personality.

 

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