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Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is a story about family, betrayal, friendship, loyalty, and courage. At first glance, you might dismiss it as just another adventure game or a spin-off of the popular Gwent collectable card game, but it is so much more. It’s a multi-layered adventure laced with political intrigue and strategy, and it often calls on you to make the most difficult decisions.
Playing through the 35-hour long campaign the saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” often came to mind, and it’s this aspect that sets Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales apart as one of the best games I have ever played. The adventure, the story, the card game; it all comes together as a beautifully crafted masterpiece.
The central figure in this adventure is Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia. After a shocking betrayal, she is forced to flee her kingdom and sets out on the warpath with a handful of followers and a diminished army. Not only must Meve reclaim her throne and kingdom, but she also has to face an invading army; the Nilfgaardian Empire that is the single biggest threat to the Northern Realms.
Witchers are not a central theme in Thronebreaker, but it does include a fantastic development in the Geralt of Rivia saga. The game is set in the same world as the Witcher series and you’ll discover a lot about its characters and history.
Your adventure takes you through five distinct lands, each with its unique setting, characters, challenges and story. Lyria and the beautiful Rivia with its castles, rivers, and forests (seen in above picture). Aedirn, that has mostly been destroyed by the Nilfgaardians and which forces Meve and her army to travel through villages that have been set alight and a countryside that is mostly on fire. Mahakam is in stark contrast to this with its snow-capped mountains, enormous bridges, and waterfalls. It is also home to dwarfs and dragons. Angren resembles a massive swamp infested with hideous monsters and creatures.
The level of detail CD Projekt Red poured into each of these lands makes for an exquisitely crafted canvas, and the choices you make as Meve turns it into a living world.
The War Camp is where Meve makes changes to her deck and implement upgrades The look changes depending on the country you’re currently visiting. As you can see in the above screenshot, I was in Mahakam where I had to see a dwarf about an army. The War Camp also shows important information like the current morale of your army which depends on your choices in the game; these can change between Red, Yellow, and Green. Red (unhappy), means your soldiers’ card stats get a minus one strength penalty. Yellow (neutral) means you’ll play Gwent Homecoming with the same stats as stated in your deck. Green means happy and you get an extra strength point for each unit. After each battle, the morale resets to neutral.
You upgrade your army, train new units, and unlock new skills by gathering enough resources. These are divided into three categories, Gold, Wood, and Soldiers. Wood and Gold are easily collected on your travels, and most towns offer soldiers up for hire. You can also pay scouts to canvas the landscape which in turn unlocks landmarks and points of interest. These include things like treasures (collectables for Gwent multiplayer), wood and gold, or fragments that could unlock a new card for your deck. The War Camp consists of five parts, and you can upgrade each to unlock new perks. The Command Tent is where you change your deck and make new cards. The Training Grounds where you can get some Gwent practice, the Workshop where you can recruit support units and increase Meve’s movement speed. The Royal Tent stores important information like reports, and the Mess Tent where you can chat with one of the current main characters in your army.
I am new to Gwent as I didn’t play it much in Witcher 3, but Thronebreaker turned me into a believer. It includes Homecoming which differs in some aspects from Gwent and vastly from the Witcher.
The deck consists of two rows, and battles vary from the standard three-round, highest score wins, to puzzle battles that require you to accomplish a specific thing. Most battles in Thronebreaker consists of only a single round. You can select to play it on one of three difficulty settings; “Adventurer” that allows you to skip a battle (and by default win it), while “Battle-Hardened” and “Bonebreaker” don’t afford you that luxury. I can fault only one thing in Thronebreaker, and that’s the difficulty settings. “Adventurer” is ridiculously easy, except for a few puzzle battles, while the difference between the other two isn’t clear enough. But this is just nit-picking to try and point out some fault in a game that is for lack of a better word, perfect.
Just about every battle in Gwent: Homecoming offers an immensely satisfying experience. Puzzle battles change Gwent rules to fit the situation or story. There are layers of strategies, combos, and tricks to fill every round with challenges and fun moments. If you have the time I highly recommend you play as many of the side quests as possible as it offers you the opportunity to test different strategies (if the puzzle allows you to). The deck consists of different layers, each with its pros and cons. Depending on the battle, you’ll want to change your cards as different units complement each other, and in some cases using abilities can damage your chances of success.
Meve’s special abilities depending on the choices you make in Thronebreaker. For example, I unlocked the “Flayed” ability because of some horrible choice I made. Talking about decisions, you’ll face very tough choices and there is no clear “good” vs. “evil.” It’s always between one evil over the other, and this emphasizes the seriousness and brutality of the war Meve is facing. The decisions you make also have a significant impact on the game; so much so that I started my second playthrough the day after I finished the campaign.
Besides Meve’s special ability, you also get a single slot for a permanent resilience card that spawns with every battle. These include a specific perk on a cooldown and remains on the deck for every round.
Then you get the four-slot Trinket cards that can either heal an ally/allies, damage an opponent/opponents, or deploy some trick like returning an ally from the deck to your hand. Your soldiers are divided into groups from the different countries you visited, each with unique pros and cons. These also work in synergy with a key figure from said country. For example, every time Meve uses her ability she boosts all Lyrian soldiers on the deck with the Loyal perk. This means she either triggers their ability or increases their value points. One of my favourite story characters is the bandit Gascon (if you recruit him). When in hand or the deck he gets a massive point boost whenever you use a Stray’s soldier. The same goes for any of the main characters you recruit. Keep in mind that you can also lose the main character if you make a choice that offends them – which means their card is dropped from your deck.
Every confrontation in Thronebreaker plays out in a round of Gwent: Homecoming. It’s a brilliant gameplay mechanic and totally addictive. The battle and leader animations are displayed with an exceptional level of art. There are enough puzzle mechanics and story battles to make every round a memorable affair.
If you thought to skip Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales because you don’t like card games, then I urge you to reconsider. It is an exceptional game in so many ways. The story carries through every battle and every decision, and once it grips you, you want to push through to see the end of each of the characters and the fate of the Northern Realms. It is easy to respect Meve and immersive yourself into the character.
The deck building mechanic might seem daunting at first, but the tutorial quickly takes you through the basics. The finer nuances take a bit more time to grasp, but there’s ample opportunity to master every card and combo. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales isn’t a game that you’ll want to rush through, yet it is a game that lends itself well to playing for short periods of time. Something also has to be said about the narrator and music, both are of the highest quality and further compliments every aspect of the experience.
I highly recommend Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales for those who enjoy adventure games, a good story, and a lot of Gwent.
This review is based off a review code sent to us by CD Projekt Red.
Available On: PC | Coming to PS4 & Xbox One on 04 Dec 2018 | Release Date: 23 October 2018 | Price: $29.99