CD Projekt Red, the mastermind behind the critically acclaimed commercial success The Witcher and its sequels, has released a single-player expansion to the digital CCG Gwent and we're here to lay all of its cards on the table.
A lot has changed since the Witcher days for the then mini-game, as we've seen it evolve into its own IP, challenging big multiplayer experiences such as Blizzard's hugely successful Hearthstone and The Elder Scrolls: Legends, but those who wanted a more single-player oriented experience didn't get what they were hoping to get out of the standalone game (other than the campaign mode, which was pretty much a smaller take on the mini-game version with the sole purpose to play being to collect more cards to use in multiplayer). CD Projekt Red heard the cries of its fans for more of a single-player focus, however, and came up with Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales - a top-down RPG mixed with the Gwent we know and love, giving fans of both genres an interesting hybrid experience.
In Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales you play as the graceful, courageous Queen Meve of Lyria and Rivia who is coming home after being contacted by the man in charge of guiding her son Willem in the ways of ruling the kingdom, in preparation for him taking over after his mother. The queen comes home to a land in turmoil after the neighbouring kingdom of Nilfgaard is invaded. The player then has to take back the land from an overpowering army on the warpath, and with the help of her right-hand man Reynard, Meve has to recruit troops to narrow the gap and level the playfield, bettering Lyria's odds for survival, keeping morale high, and helping her people along the way to a potential victory.
The player controls Meve in her top-down kingdom by clicking the beautiful, massive map with its many areas and varied surroundings. You're relatively free to roam said map with the exceptions of scripted battles and events, and the RPG elements are well implemented, giving the card game's single-player experience more of a unique edge. While roaming and collecting resources you will come across various challenges, environmental puzzles, interesting battles, and NPC interactions with varying outcomes (some being side-quests). And if you're worried about the travel distance - don't be, the fast travel points from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are present even in Thronebreaker to lessen the time spent walking between locations.
Starting with the resource gathering, this brings us to the campsite. Said campsite, which you can enter at any time other than during an encounter, is the home of various structures in which you can use resources to earn some important rewards. The resources (gold, wood, and troops) are also used to complete different objectives, for trading, for clearing environmental obstacles on the map, as well as creating new cards for your battle deck. In the camp, you will also find the training grounds where you can test your deck's strength against an AI opponent and a mess hall in which you can converse with your commanders, foot soldiers, and even more besides.
Of course Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is not just an RPG experience, as the battles in the game - be it against environmental hazards such as rockslides, random encounters with crazy cows, or good ol' fashioned combat - are all settled via a game of cards. This may not exactly come as a surprise - this is Gwent after all - but the rules are not as set in stone as in the main game and some things have changed drastically. For example, in Thronebreaker there are no siege units; the siege row on the battlefield has been completely removed, leaving only melee and ranged left on the board. The leader card, which of course is Queen Meve in different card forms, can also be used multiple times during a match with different abilities on each leader card - all of which, however, force the foot soldiers' abilities to trigger.
The matches differ quite a bit in many ways. For example, the objective of the matches can go from "be the last one standing" to "keep the opposing melee unit from reaching the far right position" or "get rid of the opponent's units with a limited amount of cards in one round". This setup helps keep the battles interesting without changing the concept too much. As in the base game, there are three rounds played at the most during a match, and the previous winner plays the first card in the next round. The exceptions to the three-turn rule are the puzzle stages, which can be restricted to a set number of cards of a set deck as well as the number of rounds. Winning is incredibly satisfying thanks to the reward of masterfully crafted dialogue and narrative as well as actually having to have used one's brain to get out of the battle alive. If these battles are too hard the game gives you the option to lower the difficulty - of which there are three; Adventurer, Battle-hardened, and Bonebreaker - and the first of them gives you the option to skip the Gwent battles to get straight to experiencing the story.
Speaking of story, the player can influence the narrative in some ways through the game's dialogue and the choices made in these conversations all have morality-racking consequences, both minor and major, that impact how you are perceived by the people of Lyria and the Nilfgaardian outsiders. The interactions with your troops and commanders are also very well put together, with the relationships you build over the course of the game feeling genuine.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is a breath of fresh air not just for the digital card game genre but for the RPG genre as well. CD Projekt Red has once again shown that it can push boundaries with storytelling and worldbuilding and this single-player experience truly is impressive in all senses of the word. It's a 30+ hour campaign too, so get stuck in - we highly recommend it.