You spin me right round baby…?
Gwent was a fantastic addition to The Witcher 3. Unsurprisingly, given the popularity of virtual CCGs like Hearthstone, Gwent was spun off into its own game. Eventually, it spawned a single-player experience, which has now been spun off into a whole game by itself. But is Thronebreaker worth experiencing or is it a cynical cash-grab given the popularity of Gwent?
You simply wouldn’t believe the origins of this game if you didn’t already know them. Thronebreaker isn’t just a well-intentioned, decently written game. It’s not just a decent RPG, or a nice addition to the Witcher lore. It’s a genuine contender for one of the best written games of all time. To me, the best part of the game is the fantastic set of side-characters that join (or fight against) protagonist Meve, warrior Queen of Lyria and Rivia. In herself, she’s a great choice for the lead anyway.
Even on the game’s first map, the game shows how difficult rulership is, and how sometimes there are no good choices in life. When things turn for the worse for our Queen though, things get much more interesting… However, it’s the NPCs that steal the show. Normally even the best-written side characters struggle to be memorable in games (or are so for all the wrong reasons!), but here, Meve’s companions and antagonists have all the same attention lavished upon them. They’re multi-faceted, full of intrigue, with interesting personalities to the point where I actively sought out every possible line of dialogue as I played along the 30 or so hours.
Even better is how those in your camp will react to your choices – and you’ll want to keep as many followers as happy as possible, because there can be real-world consequences to someone leaving, because most of these characters either have their own special card, effect or bring troops into your retinue. It makes the storyline feel hugely consequential, and I love it.
Thronebreaker splits your time between navigating the large overworld maps, and then battles and puzzles which all play out using the card mechanics, which are heavily based on Gwent (even if the game rarely mentions the fact). Exploring is pretty breezy, with Meve controlling well (although a little slowly), collecting the resources of wood, gold, and troops. You’ll have little mini-conversations along the way, and you can also enter your camp to converse with comrades, build upgrades, and fiddle with your deck of cards. Exploring the map and completing side-quests pays dividends, because it will grant you access to new cards, or at least additional resources, which can then be used to buy upgrades for your cards, or abilities for Meve. Hunting out treasure will also give you rewards, including some exclusive cards for the main Gwent game.
The battles are obviously very different from the exploration, but there’s also some key differences from the main Gwent card game. Most obvious is that combat takes place in two rows. And unlike the core game, there’s less (or more?) strategy involved in unit placement. Generally, which row a unit is in makes little difference to whether a unit can attack or not. But, truth be told, there are few ‘standard’ battles anyway. Even the traditional 3-round games are few and far between. Almost every match will have some kind of special rule, special deck, or puzzle conundrum to work out. This sounds like a faff, but is one of the game’s greatest strengths, in keeping you thinking (and on your toes). It also makes you change up your deck from time to time (although the story will also do this for you), which is nice – although the ability to save multiple decks would have been genuinely useful for those that really like to tinker. I did find the difficulty a little bit inconsistent, and for most people I’d actually suggest toning the game down to easy.
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