by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
THE WITCHER TALES
Having played the Gwent beta over the past two years, I must admit I was surprised when the planned campaign of that free-to-play, Thronebreaker, transfigured into its own self styled RPG. Not only that, but the first in a series, The Witcher Tales, of Witcher based RPGs. It’s not an idea that I was displeased with either, as the intended exploration of Queen Meve and the second northern war with Nilfgaard was an exciting prospect, considering it’s a period untouched by the games, ergo, ripe for exploration. But Thronebreaker is a strange creature — in some aspects it functions entirely on it’s own, chiefly in its capacity as an RPG, with decisions and story, but less so in regards to Gwent, the card-game in which all of its many battles are fought.
You adopt the persona of Queen Meve, famous female fighter and ruler of Lyria and Rivia during the beginning of the second war with Nilfgaard. You wander the countryside, making choices, collecting resources and just generally hobnobbing with the peasantry. Of the resources you collect, wood and gold are the two you use to upgrade your camp, allowing for more unit cards to be created, but there is also a soldier resource, used in card creation as well, but also used when making decisions in the world. These three resources interplay in the various scenarios you encounter, allowing you to trade one for another when in need. There are also rare cards and card fragments that can be collected. All in all, the story is rather typical of a CDProjekt Red game, which is to say, excellent. The story of Meve and her band of guerilla fighters is one with great potential — anyone who’s read the books knows that she basically does her own thing for most of the war, before re-appearing at the very end just in time for the victory parades.
Thronebreaker has also taken many leaves from the pages of The Banner Saga, one of the strongest RPGs in recent memory — such as the camp mechanic with training and follower conversations, the great rolling vistas you look out upon, the soldier resource mechanic. The only problem is, Thronebreaker doesn’t let you lose battles the way Banner Saga does. If you lose a battle in Banner Saga, you suffer the consequences and subsequent losses, but the fact that this isn’t the case in Thronebreaker, takes away a great deal of risk and consequence from the player’s decisions and also makes it feel less like wartime. The card-game battles also lack a good deal of the variety of Gwent, simply because you only have one faction under your control with a fairly limited number of cards. There are also no limitations to the number of gold/hero cards you can have, allowing you to make your deck absurdly powerful. However, the one thing that is consistently impressive, is the puzzle battles — where a player is given a number of cards that they have to play in a certain combo to win the round. These puzzles are extremely satisfying. Thronebreaker should also be commended for the way it represents story battles using cards — having to capture treasure wagons by progressively moving them to your side of the board, or stopping a rider escaping by damaging him.
In Thronebreaker the story and the RPG elements are on point, but just as the story grew beyond the boundaries of Gwent, I think so to must Thronebreaker move beyond the restrictions of that card game. Having only one faction with so few units and a plethora of incredibly powerful trinkets makes for dull fare in the long term, especially considering this is the first tale in a saga. Also the lack of punishment for battle losses severely diminishes the game, as well as the consequences of players taking on difficult battles. Thronebreaker is a pretty decent RPG and an interesting exploration into previously unseen parts of the Witcherverse, but to avoid dullness in the long term it needs to introduce more cards and a greater degree of consequence for player choices, especially those who go in head first, trying to bite off more than they can chew. I think The Witcher Tales will have to resolve the disparities caused by being both Witcher Tales the RPG and Witcher Tales the card-game, to truly achieve greatness in future installments.
Consistently great puzzle battles, gripping story and good dialogue
No consequences for battle loss, little deck building for a card-game, overly powerful units