With tear-jerking moral choices and beautiful backdrops, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is one of the most magical role-playing games of this year.

Winter is my favorite time for sitting down next to my computer or console and playing a good story. Thronebreaker: The Witcher tales is the newest story to be told from the award-winning studio CD Projekt RED, the developers of The Witcher series, and as you might have expected, it’s a well-told one.

A Colorful Story About Moral Greys

Thronebreaker tells us the story of Queen Meve, the queen of twin kingdoms Lyria and Rivia. After the brutal Nilfgaardian forces invade her land, she is forced into traveling the different realms asking for aid from different rulers.

As Meve travels across the world of The Witcher, she encounters interesting and colorful characters with different personalities, opinions, and agendas.

The story is conveyed through events and dialogues. The game is fully narrated and voiced, which gives it a tabletop role-playing game feel. Every event, encounter or dialogue is unique and detailed, and it’s very easy to let yourself be immersed within the incredible and epic story.

While some of the earlier events are relatively straightforward, such as quests to “kill that monster” or “chase off that band of bandits,” as you advance the story you encounter some tougher choices with unpredictable consequences. Will you lie for your army’s benefit? Will you choose to show mercy or enforce the law? Will you excuse your men from mortal punishment in another king’s land? The story continually challenges you with these questions and others, with decisions getting more and more difficult to make.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

Most of the earlier choices will only cost you resources or army morale, but in later parts of the story, some of the decisions you make can and will cost you members of your party (and tears).

During one of the later chapters in the story, I ended up losing two party members that I liked for making choices they disagreed with, a third party member was executed because of earlier decisions, and a fourth member never got the chance to meet me because of the way I handled the encounter.

It pained me to see characters abandon my journey, but it’s these emotions that made me realize how touching the story of Thronebreaker can be.

I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to revert to an earlier save without restarting the chapter. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales forces to live with the choices you’ve made.

Playing Your Cards Right

Thronebreaker’s gameplay divides into three major aspects – exploration, base-building, and combat.

The combat in Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales plays as the games of Gwent you’ve seen in The Witcher 3, although not quite. They are more similar to the way Gwent plays in Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, CD Projekt RED’s standalone title.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

While the choices in Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales are hard to make, the battles are quite easy. The story will often place you in unfair combat situations, give you extra losing conditions, and send out powerful boss characters to fight you. However, they never accumulate into a serious threat. My cards and the combinations I was able to create between them are something the AI was never able to compete with, allowing me to win most battles in my first try, and without putting a lot of thought in deck building.

It is the puzzle battles that were a bit more challenging. These range from having to rid a field from a deranged cow to competing in a drinking game with a dwarf, and sneaking through a guarded archive to procure a valuable scroll. These puzzles were always surprising and fun and made up my favorite parts of Thronebreaker’s gameplay.

If Gwent is not your cup of tea, you can choose to play at the easiest difficulty which allows you to skip battles altogether. The game’s story is interesting enough to make for a great RPG, even if you don’t choose to play the Gwent part of the game.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

Of course, you won’t always be battling people. You’ll also be expanding your army and camp, which very much resembles Heroes of Might and Magic.

Camp development splits into different trees, which will unlock as you advance through chapters. Building and developing facilities in your camp will allow you to purchase new units, upgrade existing ones, and add a variety of other bonuses to your army. It’s always satisfying to construct new upgrades and see your ever-growing camp expand.

As you build your camp, you will be able to train new units for your army, but since combat isn’t much of a challenge, you might never feel the urge to do so, even when playing on medium difficulty.

Exploring a Vast but Linear World

The final piece to Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales’ gameplay is exploration. Each chapter in the game will allow you to explore a new map, in which you’ll find chests, resources, and side-quests.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

The maps are relatively linear, and usually lead you through the different story waypoints, with occasional stops in villages for side-quests. Nevertheless, the maps are inviting to explore since the game does well in rewarding you with valuable resources and cards for investigating its every corner.

During your ventures, you will come across maps for secret chests, keys to open locked chests, and card pieces to collect and complete. These serve as fun environmental puzzles and make the exploration ever more satisfying.

A Beautiful Backdrop to a Beautiful Story

It’s Thronebreaker’s unique visual style that makes it so fun to explore. The maps were all drawn by hand, are colorful and animated, and even though they are two dimensional, they capture the same aesthetic as the three dimensional Witcher series.

In some areas, the camera would zoom away from Meve, giving you an impressive view that’s incredible to watch. The fires, which you will see a lot of since these are times of war, burn bright, and the snow glitters with a magical aura.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

The overworld is not the only place that looks amazing. Dialogues present our characters in pretty cell-shaded 3D graphics, chapters begin and end with a comic book-like cutscene that jumps in between panels, and even the events are accompanied by artwork to help you picture what is happening. It’s all explicitly detailed, and the result is one of the best looking games I have played this year.

The characters are brought to life thanks to excellent voice-acting and narration. Queen Meve’s emotions stand out, making her much more relatable than your average video game character.

The game also excels in its sound effects. Swords clash and horse hooves thumb on the ground as they accompany the narration and dialogues. It makes everything much more immersive and magical.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales tells a magnificent story with tough choices that will test your moral and emotional integrity. It teaches you the hefty price of truth and that nothing is ever entirely fair or just.

Even though the combat is incredibly easy at times, the game is still an inviting and beautiful experience that you wouldn’t want to miss.

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