by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
What is Gwent?
It’s rare that a game within a game becomes so popular that it spawns its own standalone version. Then again, few games are as fun and captivating as GWENT.
For those unaware, GWENT was originally a card game within the world of The Witcher 3, meant to be a diversion between killing monsters and saving the world. In it, players pick a deck that represents one of the game's factions, playing cards that either depict that armies melee, ranged and siege units or a magical card that represents a tactic, weather change or spell. The player with the most points at the end of a round wins, with the first player to win two rounds winning the game. It is a game that requires thinking ahead, intelligent deck building, and most importantly, the ability to bluff.
For many players, including myself, GWENT became an obsession, as we hunted down every last card to build out our decks and ignore the ever growing backlog of quests in our journal. CD Projekt Red is developing a standalone version as a response, one that I am happy to report looks to dramatically expand and improve upon the original.
Not just a cheap spinoff
Far from being a mere port of The Witcher 3’s GWENT, the standalone GWENT features improvements in a large number of areas, the most noticeable of which is the game board itself. Compared to the drab and static game board in The Witcher 3, the redesigned version has better art, enhanced animations and is better at conveying important information. Flavor text on many of the cards is gone, replaced with a description of their special abilities. It’s clean, pleasing to look at, and a noticeable step up from the original.
Far from simple aesthetic touch ups, CD Projekt Red has also redesigned many of the cards and factions within the game itself. In the original version of GWENT, the four main factions (Northern Kingdoms, Nilfgaard, Scoia’tael and Monsters. Skellige was added in the Blood and Wine expansion) featured some differences between them, but did not feel properly balanced. By the nature of their cards, I felt that the Northern Kingdoms and Nilfgaard decks were overpowered in comparison to the other factions, who lacked a strong identity compared to the aforementioned two.
Switching things up
No longer. In my brief session with the game, the four factions I played all felt markedly different from one another and required different tactics to take down. Northern Kingdoms played much the same as they do in the original version, relying on siege, spies and coordinated melee units to get the job done. Monsters now benefit from bad weather, turning the game on its head and forcing players to try alternative methods to take out their horde of units. Scoia’tael can now place units that enter your opponent's board and lower their effectiveness, emphasizing the factions prominent guerrilla warfare tactics. As for Skellige, the deck focuses on late game power and shutting down opponents ranged and siege lines, requiring players to outwit their opponent in the early game.
The Nilfgaard deck was not included in my session of the game. The developers are reworking the faction in order to make it different from the Northern Kingdoms, as both factions relied on standard military units backed up by the ever powerful ‘Spy’ type cards. That said, Nilfgaard will make a return in the future.
My brief time with the multiplayer was exciting. While I have no doubt that several of the cards and decks will be changed in the coming months, my first impressions were great. If you’re a fan of GWENT in The Witcher 3, you’ll be a fan of the standalone GWENT as well.
Single player too
What may surprise many is that GWENT will ship with a single player campaign, something that I got a brief taste of in a presentation. In it, Geralt was travelling with a mercenary band headed to a nearby town. What sets GWENT apart from other card games is that instead of a series of cutscenes in between games, Geralt was fully controllable from an isometric perspective. You can explore the world, discover optional areas and make several important choices that shape the outcome of the story.
It is in these optional areas where choices are made that can affect which cards you can use. In the presentation, searching through some elven ruins led to the discovery of several materials which could make an elven bomb, which in turn granted us the card Scorch to use in battle. CD Projekt Red is aiming to use each card game as representations of actual battles within the world of The Witcher, a colourful way of making GWENT more than just a parlour game between two people.
The developers promise that each of the factions in the game will receive their own 10+ hour campaign that will be fully voiced and feature branching storylines. I’m intrigued, as I can’t recall a collectible card game that features such an expansive single player mode. While I only saw a snippet of it, the single player looks promising and I can’t wait to see more of it in the future.
GWENT will launch in closed beta in September. No release date has been announced yet.