Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Developed By : CD PROJEKT
Published By : CD PROJEKT
Category : Card game, RPG
Release Date : Jan 28, 2020
When I played through The Witcher 3 a few years ago, I barely touched any of its Gwent related content. The fictional card game seemed cool enough, but I was always more interested in following the main story or completing a more important sidequest. With Gwent being a core part of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, I had plenty of time to acquaint myself with this side of the Witcher series that I’d ignored for so long. And, at the end of this lengthy spinoff, I’m glad that I finally did give it a chance.
Unlike the main series that focuses mostly on Geralt’s adventures, Thronebreaker instead tells the story of warrior queen Meve. Returning to her lands after a meeting with other rulers, she finds herself dealing with problems that have sprung up in her absence. Stolen gold, monsters prowling the roads, and an impending invasion all require her attention. Events quickly escalate though, as Meve is forced to gather together a new army after a sudden betrayal.
As you’d expect from a Witcher spinoff, there are a lot of characters to encounter and multiple novels worth of dialogue and worldbuilding. The writing is excellent, bringing to life Meve and her allies in a way that rivals the main series. Consistently stellar voice acting elevates the storytelling further, and it makes for an engrossing adventure. There are even a decent amount of meaningful choices that can be made during the story, that have an effect on what ending you’ll get. For what could have been a simple story to tie each encounter together, Thronebreaker manages to make most of its lengthy runtime interesting.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, some elements aren’t quite as positive. The main problem is that exploring each map can feel like a chore at times. Areas are mostly flat and lacking in variety, and many times your only reward for exploring is some currency that goes towards your deck or upgrades. Meve herself is slow, so the act of scouring every part of the map can take far longer than it really should. The game might have had better pacing if these segments were removed entirely, replaced with a simple map screen that could be navigated quickly.
At least the actual card game is fun, closer to the F2P Gwent game than what was in The Witcher 3. Unsurprisingly, battles and other encounters in Thronebreaker are resolved through a round of Gwent. The basics of Gwent revolve around two rows that you and your opponent can play cards on. Each card has a value, and the total value of the cards you’ve played determines your score. Have a higher score when both you and your opponent have stopped playing cards, and you win the round. Most encounters in Thronebreaker only last a single round instead of the usual three, likely in an attempt to reduce repetition due to how many battles there are during the game.
Success in Gwent is reliant on how you build your deck, especially in the midgame where you have a decent number of cards, but aren’t completely overpowered. Like most of these games, synergy between cards is a big factor in deck building. There are cards that are buffed when certain other card types are destroyed, or ones that can summon addition cards after certain conditions are met. Even if you’re used to the old version of Gwent, it doesn’t take long to understand the changes that have been made.
Regular battles are fine, especially when you have a larger variety of cards to choose from. Using money gained by exploring and winning battles can also be used to purchase new cards or upgrades, leading to some powerful decks by the end. Fighting all these battles can become tiresome after a while though, since you’ll eventually figure out how to steamroll the AI with powerful card combinations.
Instead, it’s the puzzle battles where Thronebreaker is at its best. Here, the goal isn’t to just have a higher score than your opponent. The winning conditions during these parts are instead far more varied, usually requiring you to take out specific cards or manipulate the board in a certain way. These battles also give you a unique deck to work with, giving you a break from your normal deck.
Rounding things out is the game’s pleasing visual style, blending together 2D environments with 3D character models. Sure, it’s not going to be as fancy as the main games’ fully 3D cutscenes and grand scale, but for a card game spinoff they’re more than good enough. Each card has its own unique art, along with animated variants, and it’s nice just to browse through your list of cards to admire them.
Thronebreaker is a solid game overall, combining an engaging story with strategic card battles that manage to stay interesting for most of the 30-hour playtime. If you’re not a fan of digital card games, this might be hard sell even if you enjoy the Witcher series, but otherwise this is an easy recommendation.
*The Switch Effect was provided a code for this game*