Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales Review -- A Fun Way to Learn Gwent
This time CD Projekt Red killed two birds with one stone. The famed Polish developer of The Witcher series of games released two games in one day: Gwent: Homecoming, which has finally left the beta testing phase, and Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, a single-player isometric RPG set in The Witcher universe.
Gwent card game is already super popular and is one of the few competitors to Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering. Thronebreaker, on the other hand, was most likely made as a means to promote the card game even further, although it does have a few merits of its own.
Thronebreaker incorporates Gwent in more than one way, and if you want to know why this is more of a companion piece rather than a fully realized game, keep on reading our review below.
Story and Setting
Queen Meve of Lyria returns home from a long trip when Nilfgaardians invade and steal her possessions. On top of that she learns that some of her closest servants betrayed her. Now she must find a way to free her native land from foreign invaders and treacherous traitors.
As a result Meve travels across her own lands and the lands of other rulers with her small army. On her way she gathers resources, such as gold and wood, and recruits new units for her army. And this is the point where Gwent overrides the idyll of this beautiful isometric RPG.
Units are represented by cards with varying powers and abilities. When the battles begin you see an already familiar Gwent playing board with two rows and a handful of cards. At this stage you almost forget that you were playing Thronebreaker, and fully devote yourself to the game of Gwent.
Fortunately, Thronebreaker has a few surprises and distinct features that make it a worthwhile investment of a few dozens of hours. For example, there's a lot of compelling dialogue, during which you must make decisions that will influence the rest of the game.
The map is filled with hidden treasures and puzzle battles, which is a new look at the Gwent mechanics, where you must follow a different set of rules rather than your typical "win two rounds and move on." But eventually you don't want to play a card game, eventually you'd rather just play the RPG that is called Thronebreaker.. but it doesn't exist, at least not without Gwent all in your face.
Alas, the game was developed by CD Projekt Red that is more interested in promoting the card game more than anything else at this point, which is totally understandable. The market share of CCGs is huge nowadays making it one of the most profitable in the video game industry.
Your task in Thronebreaker is to collect as much gold, wood and recruits as possible. All these resources are required to build and upgrade your Workshop and Tents, where you train your recruits and craft new cards. The army in the game is represented by the deck of Gwent cards with a leader Meve, who is the main protagonist.
The only difference from Gwent is that the developers designed 250 brand new cards for Thronebreaker. However, the deckbuilding still feels a lot more constricted in comparison to what you can do in the actual Gwent card game. This means that veteran Gwent players will feel completely unchallenged even on the hardest difficulty. But it can serve well to those, who are completely unfamiliar with the game and wish to learn how to play it well.
In any case, if you lose or win your Gwent battles or make certain decisions during dialogue scenes, your army's morale will reflect on the quality of your cards. Some of your units will start losing their power points if you make bad decisions, and at times you may even lose some of the units entirely.
With all that said, apart from your typical card battles, Thronebreaker offers something completely new that may interest even the most experienced Gwent players -- the puzzle battles. These are special Gwent games with their own peculiar sets of rules. You can read more about puzzle battles in our Thronebreaker combat guide.
Puzzle battles can be really exciting and this is undoubtedly the best feature of the game. It is both familiar and innovative, and that's exactly what makes it so great. You will find these puzzles everywhere and some of them can get really complicated. But when you do find the solution, the result is extremely satisfying.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is a fun little game despite its actual long length. It has excellent writing and a few interesting RPG elements, but ultimately everything boils down to a game of Gwent.
This means that long-time players of CD Projekt's battle card game won't get much out of it except the puzzle battles, so Thronebreaker may be more along the lines of a 5/10 for hardcore fans of Gwent. Newer players may enjoy it much more, though. As it stands, the rating is a 7/10 -- the middle-ground between what I feel to be a new player and a veteran's enjoyment of the game.
If CD Projekt Red focused on making an original RPG based on The Witcher universe with its own unique combat system that has nothing to do with Gwent, then it would be a 10/10. For now that's just a fantasy.
[Note: A copy of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales was provided by CD Projekt Red for the purpose of this review.]