E3 2016 – Gwent: The Witcher Card Game Hands-On Preview – Game of Gwent (PS4)

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If you’ve read my reviews of The Witcher 3, Hearts of Stone, or Blood and Wine, you know that I’m a bit gwent obsessed. In fact, if The Witcher comes up in conversation, it can be assumed gwent isn’t far behind, and I’m not alone in this sentiment. Everyone gets distracted by gwent in The Witcher and having a physical and/or standalone release has been the hope of many. In typical CD Projekt RED fashion, they delivered. And they delivered far more than anyone could have imagined they would. 

I was already giddy at the chance to get my hands on Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. They could have sat me in a blank room with the game in front of me and I would still be gushing, but I have to take a moment to set up the scene as I waited for my appointment to play. A custom gwent table sat in the middle of the room, covered in physical gwent cards — a half played game ready for the next move. And around that table stood some recognizable faces. The steely eyed witcher Geralt. The lovely sorceress Triss Marigold. The stunning medic Shani. The imposing Eredin of the Wild Hunt. My E3 could have ended right there and it would have been complete. To those out of the loop, this my seem like a lot of pomp and circumstance for what could appear to be a simple card game, but the love for gwent alone warrants this level of immersion and dedication, not to mention the depth of the actual game itself. 

It’s in the Cards

I would have been fine if they would have ripped gwent directly from The Witcher 3, gave it a dedicated executable, and called it a day. But of course this is CD Projekt RED we’re talking about and they don’t do anything halfway. In fact, they don’t even do it 100%. They go so far beyond requirement and expectation as to put many other developers to shame. The dedication to the craft shows in how complete they made Gwent: The Witcher Card Game.

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Let’s talk basics. Of course, this is the gwent that you know and love, but it’s been redesigned visually and re-balanced across the board. The play field is much more bright and bold, with modifications to help the ease of playability. Everything is much easier to navigate and see in Gwent, creating a much more fluid playing environment than the somewhat clunky iteration seen in The Witcher 3. While that version works for Geralt’s questing, it was not conducive to multiple repeated plays as a dedicated game. Though to be fair, I didn’t even think that The Witcher 3’s gwent layout was all that clunky until I saw how smooth and streamlined they managed to make everything in Gwent.

The one thing I worried about slightly was balancing. In The Witcher 3 I ended up with a godly and undefeatable deck. Literally, since I have crafted this deck I have never lost a game of gwent in The Witcher 3. My fears were quickly thrown to the side as I saw the new cards and abilities that have been added or changed for Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. Leader abilities favor the underdog rather than giving boosts to the round winners, like the Northern Realms faction ability that now lets you draw a card when you lose a round as opposed to when you win it.This little changes and balancing adjustments make for a much more nail biting experience, though let me assure you that I still won all three games that I played during my preview. 

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Shuffle the Deck

If you know how to play gwent, then you’ll feel right at home here, however there’s a depth and complexity that wasn’t present in The Witcher 3. New abilities shift the play of power on the board and create unique situations that require some thought and strategy to get through. Much like the original, deception and tricking your opponent is still a core part of Gwent, and I found myself with match wins by allowing myself to fool my opponent and throw the first round to tip the scales of the latter half in my favor. It’s the depth of strategy required that makes me want to keep playing and trying out new decks, factions, and cards.

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game is going to be free to play, which is why it’s all the more surprising that CD Projekt RED went even further than just polishing up and balancing the game of gwent. They will have campaigns that will run 10+ hours and will tell more stories in The Witcher universe. If you thought Blood and Wine was going to be the last you heard of Geralt, you’ll be happy to know that Gwent’s campaigns will see him returning. These campaigns have an overworld that can be used to get additional cards for both the single player campaign matches and the online play. Oh yes, did I mention that Gwent has online competitive play?

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There was a huge part of me hoping that my appointment with CD Projekt RED was going to be for Cyberpunk 2077 (fine, I’ll wait until next year to get my eyes on that one), but getting the opportunity to see what they have in store with Gwent: The Witcher Card Game did not disappoint at all. I haven’t registered for the beta yet (not an Xbox One or PC player), but the moment it becomes available for PS4, I fear that I will lose much of my time to the cards, and let’s be honest, that’s not such a bad thing.