Gwent Is Glorious, Will Contain Solo RPG Mode

Can a free-to-play standalone version of a card game within an RPG really be one of the best games at E3? I played Gwent [official site] yesterday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I’ve never been happier to be wrong about a game than I was about The Witcher 3 pre-release. From being a project that I feared might be reaching for the stars and grasping nothing but air, it’s become one of my favourite games – a vast, thoughtful and beautiful RPG that I reckon I could play for a lifetime.

Also Gwent. The game within the game that manages to distract some people from the hundreds of quests in their backlog as they scour the world for new cards, challenging every innkeeper and merchant to a quick hand or fifty. My expectations for a standalone version ran from a full singleplayer card collecting journey across the Northern Kingdoms to a bare basics competitive multiplayer game that did little to expand on the version in The Witcher 3 itself.

After half an hour playing the game today, along with a presentation showing the still-in-development solo mode, I’m completely won over. Gwent has a fantastic new interface that manages to display all of the necessary information cleanly and legibly, gorgeous card art, well-balanced decks, and fully voiced and animated singleplayer campaigns. The first of the campaigns isn’t ready for public consumption yet but a peek at the tutorial showed an isometric open world in which the player character gathers companions, collects objects and treks around completing quests. All of the elements, those characters and objects, become cards in your deck, and when battle commences, the game of Gwent becomes a depiction of that battle.

And so a card game that actually exists in the world of The Witcher is used as an abstract representation of combat in that same world. If I’d have been put on the spot and asked to predict how a solo campaign might work, I’d have guessed that it’d be the story of a master Gwent player, travelling from town to town. It’s smart of CD Projekt Red not to go with that idea since lots of people have already played that game – it’s called The Witcher 3 and Geralt is the master Gwent player in question.

The plan is to make multiple campaigns, which makes me happy for several reasons. First of all, the news that the game would be free worried me – a competitive multiplayer game with elements of deckbuilding could be completely undone if the more powerful cards had to be purchased. Instead, it’ll almost certainly be the campaigns that cost money, along with new factions (entire decks of cards) that might be added over time. The current plan, which might change depending on how successful the game is, involves a steady stream of new decks and campaigns post-release.

There’s another reason I’m pleased about the possibility of new campaigns though and it’s a simple one: I want more Witcher stories from CDPR. While the section we saw featured Geralt – though as a companion rather than the party leader – he’s not likely to be in every Gwent story. CDPR want to explore different periods of history and different parts of the world, either through the eyes of characters we know but haven’t spent a great deal of time with, or through newcomers with major characters on the periphery of their adventures. Don’t expect anything anywhere near the level of The Wild Hunt in terms of depth or decision-making, but as a means of delivering fresh stories with a familiar tone, Gwent is a perfect delivery vehicle.

And it’s a vehicle that has been given a fresh paintjob and complete tune-up. The highest compliment I can pay to the fantastic new interface and artwork is to say that going back to the plainer version of the game in The Witcher 3 will make me feel a little glum. Every piece of information, whether it’s a modifier on a row of cards or a buff on a particular character, pops, colourful and clear. When a card is played, its effect on the battlefield or other cards is made obvious through animations that are delightful to watch but, more importantly, communicate the changes taking place tidily.

As a game, Gwent is as good as ever. Better than I gave it credit for when I first encountered it, in fact. Playing against a human opponent – and online multiplayer will be the focus of the upcoming beta – makes the bluffing and deception of the game’s rounds much more enjoyable. I played against someone seated directly across from me so could actually read his reactions, but even the hesitation between plays gives you an insight into the tension and concern spent while picking a card.

Also, unless my mind was playing tricks on me, you can see your opponent’s cursor, a ball of light, flickering between cards, giving you an on-screen indication of where their eyes are trained. Perhaps you’ll read too much into their close study of your rank and file soldiers – are they double-checking a possible weakness that literally plays into their hand? – and perhaps it’ll be possible to create misdirection by suggestively perusing your opponent’s graveyard even if you have no means of drawing from it.

There are currently four decks (Monsters, Northern Realms, Scoia’tael and Skellige, with Nilfgaard to come later) and new cards have been added while old ones are being rebalanced. One minor change of note is that the text quotes on cards are gone in the current build; possibly to remove language that might have required an age rating – I didn’t see Poor Fucking Infantry either. I’m not enough of a Gwent expert to analyse the rebalancing, and it’ll be ongoing as the game moves through beta anyway, but the combinations of decks make for excellent and varied competition. The Monsters ability to exploit weather cards often counters my careful Northern plans while the tricksy complexities of Scoia’tael always fizzle for me but were lethally effective for my opponent yesterday.

My Gwent strategies tend to involve throwing the first round after luring my opponent into some heavy expenditure. I love medics, able to retrieve cards that have been removed from the field, and there are some new twists to that tactic in the standalone game. Having had a brief taste yesterday, I woke up this morning thinking of ways to modify my methods and craving a few rounds against a human opponent to test my mettle. I’m not one of the people who spent more time Gwenting than questing in The Witcher 3, but I’m going to be spending a lot of time with the standalone version.

That cuts to the heart of what CDPR are doing here. They could have released a standalone version to satisfy the people who wanted an easy way to play without loading up The Witcher and hunting for opponents, but instead they’ve reworked the interface beautifully, rebalanced and replenished the decks, and found a way to tell more singleplayer stories through the medium of Gwent. It’s almost enough to make the White Wolf raise a smile.

You can sign up for Gwent now, ahead of a closed beta launch in September.

From this site

32 Comments

  1. Freud says:

    I enjoyed Gwent in Witcher 3. I love to collect stuff and I liked the simple rules and how it was implemented in the game world.

    I’m not sure I would love more Gwent, but what do I know.

  2. Hyena Grin says:

    The cards rebalance might be enough, and if the new cards introduce some new mechanics that might also be enough, but I was honestly hoping for a bit of an expansion on the ruleset. It’s a little bare-bones for a dedicated game, for me. Still, the campaign component raises it on the radar. I also want to see more stories from that world, so I’ll have to keep an eye on this.

    • jerf says:

      Juddging from the livestreams of some of the games of the new standalone Gwent, it’s heavily reworked compared to Gwent from The Witcher 3. I guess Adam really didn’t spend a lot of time with Witcher 3’s Gwent, because it’s immediately clear that new Gwent is a very different game. A lot of base rules (like how spies work and so on) were reworked, and a lot of new cards were added, and all old cards have completely new abilities and stats.

  3. Zelius says:

    This is one of the few games where I’m more interested in the mobile version than PC. I would love to play this on the go, or on my tablet while lying on the couch.

    I really hope they have it planned.

  4. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    I hope this is more Hearthstone and less Triple Triad.

  5. Kestrel says:

    I was actually just hoping for physical cards. I’d be happy with the limited set that was in Witcher 3. I play a lot of MTG but it’d be nice to have a different card game that’s quick and not a money sink.

  6. montorsi says:

    No, it can’t, but I suspect that won’t stop anyone from trying to hype it up as such.

  7. Anthile says:

    It’s no Arcomage.

  8. Booker says:

    I never would have dared to hope it would be this good. Never thought I’d be more than the game we already know as a standalone. Fully voiced singleplayer campaigns… Holy shit, seriously. I’ll have to get it just for that.

  9. Jiblet says:

    I am ridiculously stoked for Gwent. And I feel no shame.

  10. Ketchua says:

    I’m curious to know how many of the people who loved Gwent in TW3 have experience with proper card games, like Netrunner.

    Because all I could see was the poor design. As soon as I snatched a couple of spy cards it became, to coin a phrase, literally unplayable. I guess it’s a different story when you play against actual human beings, but that’s not Gwent from The Witcher.

    • Vandelay says:

      I kind of agree. It was a fun diversion and clearly large amounts of effort went into it, but it really doesn’t compare to even the likes of Hearthstone.

      As someone who enjoys Netrunner and, my personal favourite, Doomtown, I really wish there would be a digital card game that didn’t ape Magic and went for something with a little more interesting strategy and planning. Gwent at least doesn’t draw from the same inspiration as many other digital ccgs, but it doesn’t have the depth to compare to the current big names in the tabletop space (understandably so, for a mini-game in a giant RPG.)

      I’ll give this a go no doubt (it is free,) but it doesn’t sound like they are really adding that much to the actual game of Gwent.

      • Cockie says:

        You might be interested in Faeria. Haven’t played it myself yet (going to get it in the sale that starts tomorrow) but I’ve watched video’s and it looks really interesting.

        • AngoraFish says:

          There’s a sale starting tomorrow?

        • Kitsunin says:

          It’s really good. Maybe a smidge too slow for a digital game? But it combines CCG style combat and deck-making with light engine-building and tactics in a fantastic way.

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        Both Card Hunter and, surprisingly, that new Runescape cardgame have taken the CCG concept in refreshing new directions. Card Hunter being the decks are composed of gear on a party of 3 adventurers, each gear bit granting a few cards, and battles being sorta a dungeon crawl arena battle, and the Runescape one being where you instead play the monster cards against yourself to build up your hero or sabotage your opponent to prepare for a final showdown.

    • jerf says:

      The new standalone Gwent seems to be much deeper and more balanced. Spies, for instance, now work in a different way.

    • Imbecile says:

      Yeah, I play netrunner and shadowfist, and I found gwent fun, but kinda broken as a real game, mostly due to the lack of card costs.

      • Horg says:

        Cards having no cost shouldn’t matter for online Gwent as they’ve already said they will do matchmaking based on approximate deck power.

        • Imbecile says:

          Heh, that should work around it nicely. Presumably to approximate deck power each card is graded? Why not actually put that grade against the card and allow players to knowingly pit 50 point decks against other 50 point decks. You need to know which cards are going to compete for deckspace and knowing how they are graded is presumably the best way to do that?

  11. Jac says:

    So does everyone get all the cards with the option to then pay for additional singleplayer adventures and decks if you want or is it hearthstone style pack opening. Or both!

    • Premium User Badge

      X_kot says:

      As other companies have proved, it’s never to late to add microtransactions!

  12. Buggery says:

    God, just let CD Projekt Red make every game from now on.

  13. Vandell says:

    My biggest issue with a new Gwent is that, well, you become ‘good’ at Gwent by simply collecting better cards and then removing worse cards from your deck until you’re full of spies, heroes, and more. There was no balance or constrain to making your deck, you just pack it full of high-power cards and win, to the point that low-power cards are just pointless.

    Will deck construction be improved any, I wonder? Will an average level of power have to be maintained?

    Some other mechanic needs to be in the game to constrain deckbuilding from becoming just about putting in the best stuff, like a cost to play cards, or a power average (i.e. if you add a card with 10 strength you have to offset it by putting in a 1 strength card).

  14. Konservenknilch says:

    Reminds me of that (very basic) card game thingy in Might and Magic 7 and 8, which also got released seperately. Not sure how succesful that was, though.