Not a huge fan of The Witcher card game Gwent but you want to explore more of CD Projekt RED’s adaptation of the bestselling novels? You are in luck! After a year and a half of the standalone Gwent game being in beta, the story campaign has been split off into its own adventure in Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales. Thronebreaker is a triple threat: visual novel, adventure RPG, and card game all bundled into a beautiful package.
Queen Meve of Lyria and Rivia is traveling home through the Lyrian countryside. With her trusted advisers and a small retinue at her back, the regent feels she must exterminate Nilfgaardian detachments threatening her kingdom. As Meve marches on, you’ll explore Lyria as well as other territories. In each of these areas there are several resources to be collected, typically denoted by some sort of green fabric marker. Your army will need recruits which can be gathered at flag markers or at other crucial junctures in the game. While running about the main area, Meve and her scouts will also find villagers in need of assistance.
How you solve the problems presented to the queen may trigger events further into the story and almost always has an impact on troop morale, so pay attention to your choices. One way to keep your army happy is to make offerings at shrines if morale is low or neutral. When morale is low, your troops cards will display their numbers in red and green if morale is high. Morale will reset after a battle, so don’t worry too much about it.
Each map contains Gold Chests. Sometimes they are visible on the map and you just need to figure out the correct path to reach them. Other times you will need to locate treasure maps to direct you to the hidden loot. These Gold Chests contain goodies for the regular Gwent game, should you choose to download that free-to-play card strategy game separately. Some of the items are new cards for your deck, but the majority of what I have dug up are avatar borders. Neat, but seeing as I don’t think I’ll be playing Gwent again any time soon (you’ll discover why shortly), these are pretty much useless to me.
Upgrades to Meve’s army can be made by opening up her camp with the touch pad. Here you can talk to new comrades in the Mess Tent, tweak your Gwent deck, practice your Gwent skills in the Training Grounds, or use the workshop to expand and unlock various upgrades for the camp. If you hit up the Royal Tent you can read the various letters and scraps of papers found along the road. I’ve invested in making Meve move a little faster on the map as well as earning extra gold after winning a battle. Mo’ money, mo’ upgrades!
You Up (For a Game of Cards)?
Instead of encountering random enemies running about the world maps to hack and slash to death, all battles, including puzzle markers, will activate a game of Gwent. There are two types: your standard best two of three Gwent game, and Special Rules/Decks for certain story events and puzzles. This is where it’s important to note that the difficulty levels for this game will impact Gwent more than anything else. For the purposes of my review, and the fact that I didn’t want to be stuck playing the same battle over and over for an hour, I went with Easy. Why Easy mode? Because that is the only mode in Thronebreaker that allows you skip Gwent battles after the first attempt, should you so choose. (Best. Decision. Ever.)
Now, I give every battle a good try. If I think I’ve figured out a better way to approach a puzzle after failing once or twice, I’ll give the battle a third shot. But there are times when I simply don’t have the patience to make another go at that particular fight. Thank goodness for the skip battle option! Using it will progress the story as though you won the fight.
If you’re looking to create new cards and make alterations to your Gwent deck, you can use combinations of your gold, resources, and recruits to craft new and additional units. There are companion cards that can be swapped in and out of your deck, each with unique actions to trigger. You’ll also unlock new cards to craft by making upgrades in your camp, including trap cards. The minute I got access to traps I was sacrificing my recruits to the gods. Better murder implements? Gimme, gimme, gimme!
Most of Thronebreaker is a treat to play. I love the RPG elements; exploring the location maps in search of every chest and collectible resource is a delight. Experiencing the story as an interactive novel speaks to my inner book addict. There is just one problem with this game: the [expletive deleted] crashes that seem to happen during important Gwent battles! I’d read about players running into the issue with the first battle in the tutorial but that was pre-1.01 patch. By the time I received the game code from CD Projekt RED and installed it to my PS4 the patch was active.
By far the most annoying of these crashes happened when I had just won a crucial battle and the game would have saved a split second later. Thankfully, auto-skip for cutscenes and speeding through text is a thing. I’m guessing I’ve had to run an extra hour or so of gameplay at this point thanks to Thronebreaker blue-screening during Gwent. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but not particularly something you want to deal with semi-regularly throughout the game.
At first I thought that maybe this was happening due to installing Thronebreaker onto an external drive. This thought crossed my mind because after 45 minutes or so of playing the PS4 system, it would suddenly become extremely noisy, and then subsequently crash. So I switched the install to the system hard drive. While the PS4 didn’t get as loud as when the game was on the external, that didn’t seem to stop the game from crashing yet again at the end of a Gwent battle. This time it was during a save screen. No matter what I do, Thronebreaker will crash every 45-60 minutes during whatever Gwent battle is closest to that time frame.
The Witcher games have been well-received and well-loved by the video game community, much to the chagrin of the novelist responsible for the hit series. While the story of Meve’s journey to reclaim her kingdom is one I’m enjoying, the experience is ruined by these continuous Gwent crashes. If only I could outright skip them from the very beginning of the match instead of once I’d already been defeated! If only we got to hack and slash through those big fights Diablo-style instead of Gwent.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the next patch fixes this particularly nasty bug. Don’t you worry. I reported pretty much every single one of these. My pain will hopefully be your gain.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.