If you've ever played Dungeons & Dragons, you know it's one of the most addicting games in the world. It's not just about the fantasy of being an all-powerful murder hobo, it's about a level of immersion you don't really get from other games. Video games get better every year, but technology still can't quite replicate the fluidity of NPCs handled by a great DM. Or the suspense of having your actions rest on a literal roll of the dice.
Enter Project Witchstone, an upcoming PC game that will take on the challenge of putting pen and paper freedom into the digital space.
Spearhead Games, the developer of Project Witchstone, had a very early build of the game at E3. The game is still preparing to enter a Kickstarter campaign, so much of what I saw still used very simple assets, but it gave an idea of how Spearhead plans to incorporate classic D&D mechanics.
I entered into a town torn between two factions. It was to the point where even the sheriff just kind of lets the factions do as they please for fear of getting caught in between them. If I wanted, I could take quests from the sheriff. Those involved entering faction territory to scavenge some of their technology and steal food for hungry townspeople. I didn't immediately embrace the hero life, though. I decided to test my limits first by stealing from the tavern.
So far, that sounds a lot like Fable. Or... pretty much any "your choices matter" type of game. Where Project Witchstone sets itself apart, however, is how it deals with your choices.
When I stole some ale, the people in town didn't magically know it was me. No one saw me. In fact, I could have planted the evidence on someone else to frame them. That goes the other way, however. You might kill leaders of the factions in your session, saving the town from tyranny. But if no one sees you do it? Your great deeds could go unnoticed, robbing you of your rightful hero status.
There's a "Narrator" text block that keeps you informed of your notoriety. You could be well on the other side of town after committing theft, only for the Narrator to say "your theft was noticed, but no one knows it was you" or something like that. It's like your digital DM reminding you of the consequences of your actions.
The pen and paper feel also comes through via skill checks and combat. If, say, you try to intimidate soldiers to leave someone alone, you have to roll an onscreen D20 for it. In combat, you take turns sort of based on initiative, with a move speed you can break up.
My demo ended when I got stuck on a ledge while trying to stealth into an orchard to steal apples. So there's still some things that need to be worked out. I also didn't play long enough to see my choices bear fruit, so I can't attest to the "living world sandbox" Spearhead claims.
What I can say is that sometimes I don't want to go out and meet people but still need my D&D fix. Project Witchstone might provide. It's too early to tell, but I'll be checking back once it hits Kickstarter later this year.