I was never a fan of Gwent in The Witcher 3. It wasn’t so much that the game’s mechanics of using a single hand to survive three rounds of deception and misdirection didn’t appeal to me, but rather that there was so much else to do within the dense open-world that collecting cards seemed woefully unappealing. Gwent, the standalone card-collecting title from developers CD Projekt Red, is seemingly perfect for me then. But it’s also a much deeper, richer experience than the singular title suggests.
Gwent was announced just prior to E3, but its presence at the show didn’t go unnoticed. CD Projekt Red was back with a game that, from the outside, was much smaller and tighter in scope than the likes of The Witcher or their upcoming RPG, Cyberpunk 2077. But just as I learned sitting down for a presentation and hands-on with the title, it’s dangerous to rule things as simple when it comes to the famed Polish developers. And surprise me they did.
Gwent as a game is the same. Aside from an utterly gorgeous playing board overhaul and improved visual feedback, the game remains the same. You’re dealt a single hand of cards that you must use throughout three rounds of play. Each card can either add attack to your overall tally, buff existing cards or reduce the effectiveness of opponent’s ones. You’re patience and slyness is tested here, with smart round conceding and clever resource management usually prevailing against headstrong, quick plays.
In The Witcher 3 this was exclusively played against AI, but there’s a whole different side to Gwent when playing against another human opponent. This is essentially the market the card game is targeting, clearly trying to cut its own slice of the mobile card collecting pie that the likes of Hearthstone has already claimed the majority of. Gwent against another attendee was blissfully fun, with my strategies being tested in a truly real way in quick matches.
I got the chance to try one of the two new classes the game is offering, taking the forces of the Isles of Skellige into battle. These cards focused on abilities that triggered when cards were played from the graveyard, making my reserved play a little less useful. Playing loose and fast with the deck enabled me to wreak havoc in the later rounds, although this sort of strategy was exclusive to the class. The same could be said for the six others that will populate the game at launch, along with a whole host of new cards that come in the standard rarity brackets (the rarest of the lot treat you stunning 3D renders of their character are and special effects).
But if multiplayer isn’t your calling, Gwent offers a mode that I don’t think most would’ve expected. Akin to the way Hearthstone offers its own single-player adventure modes, Gwent will be doing the same, albeit in a lot more depth. Revealing a 2D, water art render of Geralt and some previously unknown characters, CD Projekt Red revealed that Gwent will offer an extensive Witcher 3 single-player experience – featuring an all new story, exploration and fully voiced cut scenes.
The segment shown involved Geralt and a party of new characters investigating a Princess, who had seemingly been attacked in a dwelling not far from the walled off castle Geralt and co. were meant to escort her to. After a brief conversation, which reintroduced the sultry voice of the white-haired monster hunter, the game transitioned into a beautiful world map. Geralt (or any other character that you are controlling) will be able to explore this space freely, following quest markers or simply going off the beaten path like core Witcher titles before it.
Exploration, it turns out, is the most suggested course of action, as it is through this that you’ll discover new cards to add to your deck. Aside from revealing more of the stunning cloth map-like world, these new cards increase the effectiveness of your current deck, which came in handy with the closing part of the demo. Geralt’s escorted princess turned out to be possessed by a demon (well, it’s certainly The Witcher), and transitioned then to a Gwent board to play out the combat in a neatly designed, contextualised battle with narratively relevant cards.
This was just a slice of an experience CD Projekt Red is suggesting will take around 10 hours to complete, and is only the first of many new adventures the studio has cooking up. It stands separate to multiplayer Gwent however, where standard, random card packs will need to be earned (or purchased) in order to play online. Gwent will be free-to-play though, and Lead Designer Damien Monnier promised that the studio’s adeptness to fair pricing won’t be lost here either.
All of this combined makes for a Gwent game that had far more of my attention that I previously expected it to take. It’s so traditionally CD Projekt Red in every way possible, with the studio once again aiming to go out of their way to break the mould of tradition and deliver a card game that is everything is can be plus more. It’s going to be interesting to see just how they decide to monetise the extensive amount of content they’re promising, but previous efforts have me inclined to believe this could be a treat for all parties concerned. I’m excited to see where it goes next.
Last Updated: June 20, 2016