by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
Witcher’s card game
Card games are a dime-a-dozen on Steam at the moment. Scratch that: the vast majority of them are free, so they’re actually cheaper than a dime-a-dozen. So what makes CD Projekt RED think they can make it in an arguably oversaturated market where potential profit depends entirely on consumers’ willingness to pay for premium content? The answer: their fans. We got hands-on with a pre-beta build of GWENT at Gamescom and had a lot of fun with it. However, there are still questions about the potential viability of the game.
Not like the others
Set in the Witcher universe, GWENT is already familiar to any player of The Witcher 3. Appearing in the game as a mini-game played in inns, the card game became so popular that a community created stand-alone appeared soon after, as well as a Witcher 3 mod that replaced combat with a game of GWENT. The developers, CD Projekt RED, were flooded with emails and messages on social media asking for a full-fledged standalone game, which they intend to deliver.
Developed as a free-to-play card game with optional in-game purchases, the game will include many things other games of the genre which follow this publishing model do not. For one thing, the game will include a single-player campaign where the player will control a group of mercenaries as they experience a set of adventures set in the Witcher universe. The cards have fully 3D rendered visuals and hero cards and other units have voice overs, in addition to sound effects for other cards. Production values-wise, the game looks and feels like a full-fledged, professionally developed game, avoiding the problem suffered by many others in the genre of looking like amateurishly produced mobile games.
No switching cards
Unit cards are of three distinct types: Infantry, ranged, and siege cards. In addition to these, there are environmental effects and other magic cards that either allow you to draw from your graveyard or replace a card on the table, as well as environmental effects that either weaken the enemy’s forces or strengthen yours. Each card has a strength number and the sum of the numbers on the table, plus/minus the active effects, determine the victor of the battle. To win the war, you will need to win two of three battles. The twist is: the cards you start with are all you are going to get.
No mana, no drawing of cards between rounds, and no switching cards out after the game has begun. Before starting the match, you will choose your deck and get a random draw from that deck. You will then be able to switch out three cards before the battle begins. After that, those cards will bring you victory or defeat, and as I learned at Gamescom, the latter is a painful experience after an initial victory. The developers claim that you will learn the basics of the game in about 15 minutes, and the initial release will feature four playable factions: the Northern Realms, Skellige, Monsters and the Scoia’tael. Nilfgaard will be the first addition to the game in the future, although details about its release remain scarce.
You see, I haven’t played The Witcher 3, and was therefore not familiar with the rules of the game. When the presenter said these cards were all you have, I assumed that meant - during - the round and that I’d get them back before the next one. I therefore used most of my cards in order to win the first round, after which I only had three cards remaining against my opponent’s six. Luckily, one of my cards was a card that revived a random card from the graveyard and that way, I got a strong infantry fighter back on the table, but even though I gave them a run for their money, they ultimately had the upper hand. GWENT is not only about the fight at hand, it’s about making sure you have sufficient force left to fight the next two as well. The war as a whole, and not only the battle at hand, need to be considered for a successful game of GWENT.
Will it sell?
The developers have added a whole heap of cards to the game and tweaked the rules a bit for balancing in all-new PVP battles. At its core, however, GWENT is still the game players fell in love with in The Witcher 3. Where the viability of the game becomes questionable, however, is the fact that there exists a dedicated group of people already playing GWENT in the form of the various mods that exist for The Witcher 3. Those fans are the same people that have been asking for a stand-alone game from CD Projekt RED. The question therefore becomes: will they have already gotten bored with the game by the time it releases and will they prefer the new official version to the one they’re already playing? Will they like it enough to pay for the optional content? For an answer, we will have to wait for release.