The Steam Early Access program launched on March 20, 2013. Over the past four years, great games have emerged from the service. However, with them have come broken, undeveloped titles that leave consumers wondering about the legitimacy of the promises offered by developers. The unfortunate reality of Steam Early Access is that developers, with little to no experience, are able to lead on customers with lavish and unrealistic goals that these developers often believe are within the realm of possibility. Witanlore: Dreamtime is a brilliant example of this.
Developed by Druid Gameworks Studio, Witanlore is an open-world adventure RPG. The game begins with a lengthy, and somewhat interesting, cutscene explaining the history of the world and why the tribes of Ursine are entrenched in years of war, setting the scene for Witanlore’s adventure. Players assume the role of a young Ursine about to uncover his/her destiny by communicating with a deity through the tribe’s traditional ritual, ‘The Dreaming’. This ritual will be an opportunity for the Ursine to understand the deity’s plans for his/her future. However, a set of tasks must be completd before the player can jump into this sequence.
Few quests exist in Witanlore at the time of writing, giving the player only a few hours of content, and all of the quests involve little more than walking from one NPC to the next. Witanlore continually presents a complete lack of care in nearly every aspect of the game. Before even reaching The Dreaming, the player must collect flowers from a mountain for the progression of the ritual. Unfortunately, the flowers cannot actually be acquired despite them existing in the world and so the player’s adventure stops there. After a few hours of playing Witanlore, these oversights start to manifest themselves into a pattern of incomplete ideas.
Graphically, the limited content available in Witanlore adheres to a relatively high standard. However, serious issues arise, with exceptionally unstable framerates and intense ghosting. The game consistently drops in framerate despite little happening on screen. Animations are clunky and stilted, and the character will often clip, get stuck on, or refuse to interact with the game environment. Many of the forum posts under Witanlore’s Steam page are authored by disappointed customers who have purchased the game only to have the program crash on launch.
Futhermore, Witanlore has a day-and-night cycle that makes playing impossible half of the time as the game becomes pitch black during the nights. Witanlore’s combat has not yet been fully implemented, and as a result, the only content that is currently available is a series of fetch quests. This focus on exploration requires the player to pay close attention to the minimap, especially during the game’s nights, to find whatever the last NPC has demanded. Unfortunately, in another stroke of brilliance, Witanlore’s minimap does not line up correctly with the world map. In many situations, the player will appear in a blatantly incorrect location, making the completion of fetch quests virtually impossible when compounded by the darkness of the game’s day/night cycle.
Lighting and map improvements are planned, alongside the implementation of skill/xp functionality, according to Druid Gameworks’ latest post on Steam. Although, updates are rare, with months passing between patches. Witanlore is growing with a clear direction and obvious potential. However, at this point in time, Witanlore is nothing more than an empty, lifeless shell of a game.
While the sword-and-shield combat system is reminiscent of a rudimentary version of that found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the world lacks enemies. Narrative is Witanlore’s strong suit with most of the quests being interesting and fun to follow, but the general lack of content draws any enjoyment to a quick close.
Witanlore is a collection of interesting ideas that is clearly too big for Druid Gameworks to handle. The direction Druid Gameworks is taking the game is clear, and, despite the slow pace at which the team releases updates, Witanlore has the potential to become exactly what Druid Gameworks first set out to accomplish.