First impressions – Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

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I spent an inordinate amount of time playing Gwent in The Witcher 3, tracking down and challenging everyone the world had to offer in my pursuit to catch ‘em all and complete my decks. So when CD Projekt Red announced the stand-alone Gwent: The Witcher Card Game was in the works with both online play and an extensive single player campaign I signed up for beta access ASAP.

The closed beta for the card battler kicked off last week and I got my grubby little hands on an invite, very keen to dive back in and show the world just how much I’d learned from bashing an AI into the ground. Spoiler alert: I learned that the ground can be very hard indeed.

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So it begins

The beta pushes you straight into a series of brief tutorials on game play, deck building and… online shopping. It’s recommended to play through them as you’ll earn some Kegs of Cards (more on those later) upon completion.

The initial game play tutorial does a good job of explaining the basics of Gwent to new players by walking them through a simulated match and is where returning Gwent players will first notice just how much work has gone into improving and expanding the game since it appeared as a mini-game in The Witcher 3.

The interface has received a major overhaul and looks very clean and simple, with all your current cards’ individual and combined attack strengths easily visible. The cards themselves have received stunning new artwork and unique sound effects when played, with some having minor animations that really help make the game board feel alive while they’re in play.

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A major addition to the game is also immediately apparent – in addition to a large number of new unit and special cards to choose from, many unit cards now have special abilities such as buffing or de-buffing friendly or opposing units, or summoning additional units. An issue I have here is that the ability descriptions can be difficult to read if you’re not sitting fairly close to the screen or don’t have the eyes of a hawk.

A fairly threadbare deck building tutorial was next. Hopefully this gets fleshed out more in the future or else players who’re not familiar with the intricacies of this are going to have to learn by trial-and-error.

The third tutorial was one that surprised me because it was all about their in-game store. In hindsight I shouldn’t have been surprised because they’re a staple feature of many online collectable card games but, given their oft-stated views on DLC, I hadn’t considered the game would not only include one, but that it would also be open for business during the closed beta.

You earn new cards to upgrade your decks by purchasing “Kegs of Cards” from the store’s Troll merchant (is that intentional irony?) for cold, hard cash or with “Ore” that you earn playing the game. Each keg contains five cards, of which one is guaranteed Rare, Epic, or Legendary. When opening a keg you get to flip over and reveal four randomly chosen cards, and for your fifth card you get to pick one of three randomly chosen and revealed cards.

Where do you go from there?

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Well with my new cards I went straight to the deck builder to customise my decks. You’re given basic Northern Realms (for life!), Monsters, Scoia’tael and Skellige starter decks to begin with – surprisingly the Nilfgaardian deck was not available.

You can also browse your card collection, which shows off the exquisite card art of those in your collection and taunts you with all the cards you don’t have. You’ll also unlock the ability to “mill” cards once you hit level 3, which is essentially a way of getting rid of unwanted cards in exchange for crafting resources called… “Craft” (and represented by a green flag for some reason) that you can use to craft duplicates of cards that you already own. Obviously the rarer the card, the more resources required to craft one.

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For the closed beta casual and friends matches are available, and since I have none of the latter I jumped straight into a casual match. Matchmaking was quick and painless and in a few seconds I was playing my first game against a real opponent. At no point during my time playing did I ever have to wait longer than a minute to find an opponent either.

The game plays exactly as shown in the tutorial as you and your opponent take turns to play your cards over the potential three rounds. The rounds flow quite quickly with each player having a minute per turn, and after an initial thirty seconds a countdown timer pops up as a nice visual reminder for people to make up their minds. People generally played quite quickly though, and I never felt as if someone was deliberately dragging out their turns.

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The timer never expired during any of my matches nor did I do it deliberately to see what would happen, but I would presume that failing to meet the deadline counts as a forfeit and grants victory to your opponent. That was the case during one of my matches when my opponent disconnected shortly after beginning the match.

Win or lose you’re treated to a brief match summary and then progress to your “Spoils of War”, which is essentially your level progression screen. Simply put, losing grants you nothing. Winning is everything in Gwent, and each win advances your level progression bar a set amount. Along the bar are unlockable points that reveal their contents once you’ve won enough matches to reach them – it was usually Ore.

The number of wins required to move up in level got progressively higher as I played – from level 1 to 2 it was 3 wins, a further 5 to level 3, and then 9 to level 4 – still working on that last one. At any point during the two screens you can wish your opponent a good game, which can award an additional 5 Ore, and notifies you if your opponent reciprocates. Progressing from one level to the next will net you enough Ore to purchase a new Keg of Cards.

And that’s basically the game as it stands right now – play cards, buy cards, play more cards. Thankfully, that loop is a lot of fun.

In the end

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The game seems well balanced, with no starter deck having an obvious advantage over the others, and remaining very simple to pick up and play even with the added complexity that the original version eschewed. The new unit card abilities and additional special ability cards have increased the strategic depth significantly and many games I played came down to the very last card. Individual games flow quickly and it’s very easy to get caught up in “just one more game” mode as you’re quickly matched up against online opponents.

A glaring omission (currently) was the lack of a statistics screen for your wins, losses and assorted other information. Some type of a replay function for a match could be a nice addition too.

My only real concern is that players who don’t shell out could be at a real disadvantage when it comes to progression compared to players who’ve plunked down cash of a bunch of kegs, something I experienced on a couple of occasions when my mildly customised starter deck was hopelessly outclassed.

Overall I came away from my time in the Gwent: TWCG closed beta quite pleased. It looks great, it’s fun to play, and feels very polished already. I’m looking forward to finding out more about the single player campaign in the future.

Last Updated: November 2, 2016

Trevor Davies

I like pie, I think.

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