CD Projekt Red introduced The Witcher fans to a wonderfully simple yet strategic card game called Gwent in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In that game, Geralt could take a break from taking on monster contracts and instead challenge a slew of characters in a game of Gwent in an effort to become the very best, like no one ever was. For many, The Witcher 3 was a grand adventure into a wild and exotic land filled with monsters, but for some, it was time to duel in Gwent. And with both Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh references out of the way, let’s talk about Thronebreaker.
CDPR’s genius little card game got its own multiplayer card game, but we’re here to talk about the single-player, story-driven game with choices and consequences. A game where problems from dealing with bandits to even minute squabbles are solved with a quick game of Gwent.
In Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, players assume to role of Queen Meve of Rivia and Lyria and her struggle to protect her kingdom from the incoming Nilfgaardian army. But like I stated before, there aren’t any character combat mechanics to worry about, everything is handled by way of Gwent.
Unlike the Gwent many players are used to from The Witcher 3, where it was quite literally a card game, Gwent in Thronebreaker is simply a representation of events that Queen Meve is dealing with, whether it’s grand battles that are part of the lengthy main story, or any of the slew of side-quests that can be picked up along the way.
Gwent here is a bit more streamlined than players are used to. There are only two rows of cards per player instead of three, and each round consists of drawing three cards but only playing one card per turn until someone passes or runs out of cards in their hand.
Of course with many card games, there’s some luck involved in terms of drawing the cards you need at the right time, but given the streamlined nature of Thronebreaker, that seems to be less of an issue. There are also plenty of character and card abilities that help negate the randomness of cards, allowing you to play specific cards at will instead of simply believing in the heart of the cards.
What’s more, Meve has various special abilities that she can use during the course of each match which can turn the tide of battle but require a cooldown once used. Couple this with the ability to continually enhance your deck with stronger cards, and you have a simple yet addicting gameplay loop of fast-paced and strategic battles.
These battles are all presented with gorgeous card and environment animations. Queen Meve and her opponent will always stand to the side of the screen, but each of the cards has beautiful illustrations, all credited to the artist who drew them.
Gwent battles are all but one part of the Thronebreaker experience, however. As Queen Meve, you will also get to explore the world in an isometric view that shares a similar hand-painted aesthetic seen in the game’s various cutscenes. Here you’ll not only move from story beat to story beat, but you’ll also be able to take on numerous side quests, pick up materials that are used to upgrade your camp and cards, and meet a ton of characters.
Anyone familiar with CDPR’s Witcher games and their attention to detail even down to the smallest of side-quests will appreciate the writing in Thronebreaker without a doubt. Despite it being a game mostly about card battling, the story is filled with twists, turns and tough decisions, aspects commonly found the core Witcher games.
The Camp screen is where all the upgrade magic happens. Utilizing the materials you’ve acquired through adventuring, you’ll then use that to improve your camp buildings, which in turn will grant access to even more powerful cards and other useful bonuses. Here players can also create their own custom decks, as well as chat with various side characters to get acquainted with their personalities and motivations.
Thronebreaker’s transition to the Nintendo Switch seems relatively seamless, playing just fine on both handheld and docked modes. It is a shame that there was no implementation of the touchscreen, especially for the card battles themselves, but outside of this one small complaint, the game plays great. It is worth it to note that unlike its PC counterpart, the framerate is locked at 30.
Even though there is quite the influx of card games no matter where you look these days, it’s still commendable to see CDPR take such care with their card game creation, and add an interesting story and decision making into one solid package. It might be a little late to the party on the Switch, but given its modest asking price and lengthy campaign with a lot of replayability, this is one game that deserves to be a part of your Switch library.