CD PROJEKT RED have released a 37 minute gameplay video of their upcoming Gwent spinoff Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales. Gwent was originally a card game players could enjoy whilst exploring the story of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and was so popular that it became a separate multiplayer game in its own right. Thronebreaker is a singleplayer game that draws heavily from the mechanics of Gwent, with various other RPG and kingdom management elements included.
The player takes control of Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia, during the second Nilfgaardian invasion, set before the first Witcher game takes place. This presents opportunity to show off some of the lore and history of the wider Witcher world for those who may not have read the novels. The video starts with a cutscene of Meve receiving news of Nilfgaard’s attack and then returning to her city of Dravograd to repel the invading forces. The cutscenes are nicely animated and the voice actors for the characters and the narrator do a great job of setting the scene. The video quickly moves into the first battle. The battles in the game are fought using cards, in a very similar manner to Gwent. The player is given a starting hand from their deck, and is allowed to redraw some of these initial cards. The first noticeable change from Gwent is that the battles in Thronebreaker are only fought on two rows (melee and ranged), as opposed to the three in Gwent. Unlike the plain looking game board of Gwent, the play areas for the cards in Thronebreaker are beautifully made to represent their environments, with the first area being a battlefield which is surrounded with burning pyres, banners and other details. Meve also stands on her side of the board, drawing her sword whenever her turn begins, and sheathing it when it ends, which is a nice touch. The battle proceeds in much the same way as a game of Gwent, with the game being split into rounds and turns, and each player being able to play one card per turn. The guide for the video explains that a game can be won by overpowering the opponent’s forces by having more points, or by meeting other special requirements. Some battles may require a different style of play to finish victorious, rather than simply having more points by the end of the round, like in traditional Gwent. The battle also shows a few other minor changes to the Gwent system. In this version, players do not have leader cards based on their factions, but rather the AI opponent willy have a commander card on the battlefield that has additional affects and changes the style of the battle (more on this later). Commanders can also use a special ability (not dissimilar to Hearthstone‘s Hero Powers) to influence the board every few turns. In this case, Meve uses her broadsword to damage some enemy units. The video guide explains that as the game progresses, different weapon options become available to the player. The player wins the battle and the game switches back to cutscenes to continue the story.
During the cutscene, the player is offered a choice to give some of their gold resources to the townspeople as the grain supplies have been burned, after Meve is warned by one of her advisors what may happen if the people become unruly due to famine. A big feature of the Witcher titles were the choices you had to make, and how they would affect the story, so hopefully the choices the player has to make in Thronebreaker will be just as impactful. The game then switches to the map view, where the player can move around freely, and take on side quests if they desire. In this case, the video guide is informed by an NPC of strange ships sailing by, and moves into an encounter with Skelligan raiders (a viking-like warrior people), prompting another battle. This time, the enemy commander, Lippy Gudmund, starts with a massive health pool, which can be reduced using the special attacks of certain cards, and he will destroy the strongest card the player has on the board each turn, taking damage equal to its strength. As this battle only lasts a single round, the player would have to act quickly to reduce his strength before the round ends. As a counter to this, Lippy will also occasionally attack his own side’s cards. The differing abilities of enemy commanders can demonstrate how battles can be played out, and the tactics and deck building strategies the player must adopt to win. The battlefield design also looks slightly different from the previous encounter, with littered farm tools and horseshoes of the nearby setting. The player manages to win this battle, prompting another cutscene. Having won, the player is given an option to punish the raiders, or try to convince them to fight against Nilfgaard. In this case, the video guide chooses to convince them to attack Nilfgaard. It would be interesting to see the effects of this choice later in the game, or what would have happened if the player had lost this battle. We don’t get to see the effects of these choices in the video, but here’s hoping that the many decisions you get to make will feel meaningful.
The next map encounter has the player meet the rather eccentric knight Eyck, who is on a mission to slay a manticore, prompting another player choice. The player decides to help Eyck kill the manticore, in exchange he will consider joining Meve in fighting against Nilfgaard. The player finds the lair, and Eyck is added as a card that the player can use in the battle. This battle makes a creative use of the card system. The manticore is made up of 6 cards to represent its head, wings, claws and tail. It cannot play any extra cards, but has powerful attacks. The win conditions are also slightly different, and the player has to take out the card representing the manticore’s head to kill the beast. The player succeeds with the help of Eyck, and in the following cutscene, he joins the party, with his card becoming available for use.
The player then switches to the camp, where they can make changes to the deck and talk to their companions. They use some of the resources they acquired to construct a training ground, which allows them to construct new unit cards. They can also make changes to their deck, where they can now switch out their current trophy (a passive buff card) for the manticore trophy they collected in the fight. The video does not show the possible camp upgrades you can make in detail, but you can see in the workshop that each of the buildings in the camp has an upgrade tree. You can also talk to your companions in the mess tent, in this case, getting some backstory from the newly acquired Eyck (who sounds a lot like King Radovid from the Witcher games), with a few nods to some more well known Witcher characters. It’s interesting to see how completing various side missions can change your deck composition, and the game finds some interesting ways to mix up the different fights depending on what kind of enemy you may be fighting.
Overall, the game nicely shows off its features, and seems to have done a good job of implementing Gwent’s card mechanics into a singleplayer experience. The fights you get to see show off some creative ways of mixing up the combat, such as the manticore fight, and the environments have great detail. Fans of the Witcher’s soundtrack will also not be disappointed, as the score here is equally impressive. It’s a shame that you don’t get to see fully the consequences or outcomes of certain player choices, or their affects on story arcs, but it seems at the very least that there are many choices you get to make outside of combat. From what we have seen so far, and with CD PROJEKT RED’s excellent track record, Thronebreaker is shaping up to be an excellent title.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales will be released on PC on October 23rd, and on PS4 and Xbox One on December 4th.