Unforetold: Witchstone was maybe the biggest surprise for me at our PC Gaming Show: Most Wanted showcase. The Spearhead Games CRPG almost evokes Larian’s first Divinity: Original Sin game in its presentation, but instead of pursuing cinematic RPG production values, Witchstone is like an alternate evolutionary path emphasizing the construction of an open-ended, RPG sandbox.
“Freedom alone is cool, but you want that world to respond. In tabletop, you have a game master, you have other players, there’s always a response,” explains Spearhead co-founder and creative director, Malik Boukhira in an expanded interview with PC Gamer, noting that real videogame freedom “is also about creativity, feeling clever, feeling like you did things your way.”
The RPG’s promised influence system sounds like almost nothing I’ve seen in an RPG. You can turn up the charm on any NPC in the game, using your capacity for persuasion, intimidation, or downright lying to get anybody to do practically anything.
“We have recommended companions, but essentially anyone in the world could be your companion and take you all the way to your very end goal,” Boukhira reveals. Our very own Fraser Brown used intimidation to browbeat random townspeople into his party in a hands-on demo experience, but you’ll need the right tool for a given job: “A brave and courageous warrior might not respond very well to physical threats,” Boukhira caveats, “But maybe they’re a bit gullible and you can sweet talk them.”
Even with this more systemic reactivity, Witchstone will still have “recommended” companions who resemble your more traditional RPG buds, with fleshed-out dialogue interactions, personal goals that may conflict with yours, the works.
The only other time I’ve seen anything like this was in Troika Games’ cult classic, Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, where you could eventually recruit a train of henchmen following you everywhere if you had enough Charisma, but even that game had its limits. My mind’s been set on fire at the character building potential: moving persuasion dialogue from specific skill gates into this more general system opens it up to being one of the most powerful paths you could choose, a master manipulator with the world wrapped around their finger.
Boukhira cites framing a faction leader for the murder of one of his lieutenants as a potential strategy opened up by this influence system, and he even posits that “If you have the patience, you could wipe out an entire town by just turning everyone against each other.”
All of this dialogue-focused gameplay is layered on top of the kind of crunchy, tactical, turn-based RPG I know and love, and it sounds like you don’t even have to engage with the influence system very much if you don’t feel like it—you, the player, could just as easily be that brave, courageous, gullible warrior Boukhira described.
All of this is adding up to one of my most anticipated games of next year (my Most Wanted, if you will). Unforetold: Witchstone is slated to release in early access January 25, and you can currently wishlist it on Steam.