Despite being an epic tale of adventure, romance, duty and monster-slaying, one of the most memorable and popular features in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the in-game card game Gwent. This relatively simple card game has capture the hearts of many fans, who have been emailing, tweeting and facebooking CD Projekt RED, asking for a standalone Gwent title. Well, this E3, the studio has finally relented and decided to show the world, and more specifically GamersPack, the first look at Gwent:: The Witcher Card Game.
The standalone version is similar to the card game you find in The Witcher 3, but has been upgraded to suit the competitive nature of these sort of titles, and to accommodate the new online competitive multiplayer mode. First of all, the overall design of the board and cards has changed to be much more colorful and interesting to look. Premium cards appear as animated “living pictures” – we were shown the Fiend card that depicts the huge fiend rocking back and forth, ready to lunge on his next victim; weather cards new create a cool visual effect on the line they affect; and the cards themselves all got a new, updated look.
New UI prompts let you see what your opponent is doing in real-time (without revealing their cards, of course). You can see whether they are frantically checking their hand, or even when they read the description of one of the cards you recently played. Clever players will be able to track their opponents moves and learn a lot about their playing style by simply observing. The new UI also makes following the game much easier. For example, now when you win a round, you get half a crown. Get two halves and you win. It might seem a bit redundant, but it’s all part of making Gwent much more approachable and fun to play and watch.
When I finally got some hands-on time with the game, after a short presentation, I could really see what makes Gwent stand out from the multitude of other CCGs currently on the market. It’s just simpler, in a very positive way. You don’t have mana, runes or any power ups; all you have are the cards in your hand and your wits. In a sense, Gwent is more like poker than it is Hearthstone – victory doesn’t just come from having better cards and knowing how and when you use them, but mostly from outsmarting your opponent by bluffing, losing a round of purpose, or even sabotaging their hand.
Right now, Gwent has only 4 decks to choose from, one fewer than in The Witcher 3. These are the Skellige, Northern Realms, Scoia’tal and Monsters decks, with each deck having its own strength and weaknesses. For example, the Northen Realms deck has some very powerful Siege cards, while the Scoia’tal deck has more cards that can mess with your opponents hand. CD Projekt RED has already promised us there will be more decks in the near future, including the Nilfgaardian Empire deck for the game.
But the biggest surprise reveal, apart from the actual game existing, is most definitely the single-player mode. Gwent: The Witcher Card game will have several story campaigns of “untold stories” from the Witcher universe. These stories will last for around 10 hours each, and will feature well-known characters from the games and books, but also completely new characters. And no, you won’t be playing as Geralt in all of them; perhaps not even in most of them. The story parts are told through an animated slideshow, with fully-voiced narration and dialogue by the same voice actors as The Witcher 3, but there are other aspects to the single-player campaign, such as exploration and combat.
The story I got to see did star the Butcher of Blaviken, and was centered around a perilous journey through the woods. Geralt was serving as a guide for a young baroness and her entourage, when the company encountered an abandoned mansion in the middle of the forest. After the baroness runs into the mansion and discovers the rotting body of a traveler, we got control over Geralt and were free to explore. That’s right, the campaign isn’t confined to just Gwent battles. There are actually different open areas through the single-player experience, and exploring them might net you additional cards for your deck, or get you in trouble. When Geralt and his company chose to explore old Elven ruins, they discovered a cache of ancient Elven bombs called Scorch, and gained the Scorch Gwent card to add to the deck. The developers insisted that in the full campaign, the choices will have a much bigger impact, and will even decide who lives and who dies by the end of each adventure.
Just as the party was about to leave the accursed woods, it was revealed that a demon has possessed the baroness during her short time within the mansion, and has decided to attack Geralt. Combat in Gwent is represented by, what else, a game of Gwent. Each enemy and friendly unit is a card, as well as every piece of equipment you have picked along the way. In this instant, Geralt was the hero of one side, while the demon was the hero of the other. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the hero’s abilities, so I’m not sure whether the demon has a different special ability than the regular leader of the Monster deck.
The inclusion of a single-player campaign shows the Gwent isn’t just for fans of the collectible card genre, but also for The Witcher fans who might not be part of the scene. Its apparent simplicity also works in its favor, as it appeals to new-comers to the genre who are intimidated by the likes of Hearthstone, The Elder Scrolls: Legends and Magic: The Gathering. As someone who doesn’t play CCGs, Gwent feels to me like the perfect entry title to, and finally helps me understand why the genre became so popular.
Gwent: The Witcher Card Game will start a closed beta on Xbox One and PC this September, with one of PlayStation 4 following soon after. When it come out in 2017, Gwent will be complete free to play.