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Early Thoughts on Gwent

Early Thoughts on Gwent

Gwent [Cover]Any fan of The Witcher 3 (game of the year at 2015’s Game Awards) is sure to be familiar with the fictional card game known as “Gwent.” A fun little diversion from the main game, Gwent has, over time, risen to enjoy a high level of popularity among fans of the series.

In The Witcher 3, Gwent works like this: Two players face off, their hands filled with character cards (much like Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone) alongside magic abilities or weather cards. The characters are placed onto the board turn by turn, as each player works to build a higher overall combat number than the other. Weather cards will negate an entire row, and strategically eliminating the weather or reallocating your forces according to the rows is how you deal with that.

Gwent [Original]

Of course, the in-game version of Gwent isn’t perfect; there’s plenty of room for making a ridiculously OP deck to wipe out all of your NPC opponents, and vice-versa. That said, Gwent was really fun and I actually spent a large portion of my playtime in The Witcher 3 looking for new opponents to build my deck.

Imagine my excitement when CD PROJEKT, the developers of The Witcher series, announced Gwent: The Witcher Card Game back in June of 2016!

The closed beta for Gwent was launched in October of 2016, and now the open beta is finally here, free to play for all. I’ve been messing around with it and I’m here to offer my initial thoughts.


Right off the bat, the menu is really good looking, but not very well-developed. Everything seems to be in easy-to-reach spots, but navigating the damn thing is extremely difficult. Playing on a PC, it seems that the developers had a controller in mind, since some items are unreachable or cumbersome with the mouse for some reason. But, using a controller isn’t exactly seamless either, since the D-pad and analog stick seem to do different things sometimes. This is reflected by the interface on the PlayStation 4 as well, so it’s hard to say exactly what console or system this game was designed for, which is a little frustrating.

There is a tutorial section where all new players should start, even if you were familiar with Gwent from The Witcher 3. After the tutorial section, there are plenty of neat little challenges you can do to earn in-game points and unlock special cards. Much like in Hearthstone and several Magic: The Gathering installments, these act as training missions for you to test your wings out before setting off for the online battles at your leisure.

Gwent [Card Abilities]

Since the release of The Witcher 3, some things have been changed to the way Gwent plays. My guess is that these changes have been done in the name of balancing and allowing for a more complex play style. Characters can now do all sorts of things compared to the cards in The Witcher 3; they can buff friendly characters, they can damage enemy characters, and much, much more, resulting in a heated gambit each round to race your opponent to either achieve the highest combat score or settle for a lower score while forcing your opponent to use more cards.

Gwent [Cards]

There is a pretty amazing variety of cards present in Gwent compared to its counterpart from The Witcher series, with five deck archetypes that feature built-in cards and strategies alongside hero cards that can utilize special powers. These cards are all placed on one among three different rows on each side, and their relative placement often has a lot to do with how the game plays out. This adds a very cool physicality to the turn-by-turn moments of Gwent, helping it to distinguish itself from other card games of its type.

Unlike Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, Gwent eschews the tradition of mana, which is used in the former titles in order to keep a good pace to the gameplay; better cards cost more mana, meaning that they can only be played in the late game. Instead, Gwent allows you to play whatever card you want, when you want to play it. This makes it a bit harder to predict your opponent’s moves, since the next card they play can literally be any card present in their deck. Because of this, strategic card plays are much more reliant on what is already on the board, which forces you to constantly analyze what both players have in order to anticipate what comes next, much more so than in Hearthstone, where plays were more predictable according to how much mana a player had.

Gwent [Gameplay]

As a round-based game, Gwent operates on a 2-out-of-3 system, meaning that failure can often be incorporated into your strategy. This results in a very exciting dynamic between both players, since you can often forfeit a round if you are able to bluff the opponent enough to get them to sacrifice some worthy cards in the process. Bluffing successfully will force your player to waste cards and combat power while reserving strong cards in your own hand for more successful plays during the next two rounds. This is a very interesting concept and leads to some rather tough decision making.

Of course, this also means that some of the battles start falling into recognizable structures, as certain matches almost map themselves out for you as you play them. The majority of matches for me seemed to hinge on the final round, as both myself and my opponent relied on luck more than anything to carry us that extra few feet. This is pretty similar to how the original Gwent worked in The Witcher 3, but I would have liked a little more variety here, since strategy and good play is more interesting than luck.

In a method extremely similar to Hearthstone, Gwent seems to be riding that free-to-play format, encouraging players to spend optional cash on loot boxes that give them more cards to play with. Of course, these card packs can be earned in-game, with a slight twist on the familiar structure where you get a little bit of a say on what shows up in your box. This familiar gimmick will likely allow Gwent to soak in a lot of frequent players right from the start, but, like with Hearthstone, I can’t help but wonder how long this game will be able to hold onto all of them.

Gwent [OP Cards]

Case in point: Within my first couple of days of playing Gwent, I have already been matched up with a couple of players whose deck builds alone far outweighed mine, meaning that they were essentially allowed to win without much effort, solely because they had better stuff. It’s easy to get left behind in card games like Gwent, and a good matchmaking service is essential for countering that. If Gwent doesn’t end up charging people for the full game, I suspect it may only enjoy a lifespan of a couple of years before it peters out.

But, aside from that small handful of unenjoyable matches, I have had a lot of fun with this game so far, and have really appreciated the fresh gameplay style that Gwent offers compared to Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone. I hope to relish many more enjoyable moments with this game, as it offers an excellent alternative to those of us who are suffering from the malaise of the frequently shifting Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering.


I’m really happy that a game like Gwent has finally come along. It’s a lot of fun so far, and the open beta is completely free! Hop on it while you can!

 

Written by Nips

 
 

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2 Comments

  1. I’m a huge M:tG fan, though I’ll admit I’ve fallen off lately. After playing Hearthstone and realizing it’s kind of a rehash of Magic, I was disappointed, despite how good the game itself was. I’ll definitely have to check into Gwent (and the Witcher series for that matter) to get a fresh take on card games of the ilk. Great article as per the usual Nips!

     
    • I enjoyed Hearthstone for a long time, mostly due to how much more accessible it was, but it’s just way to easy to get left behind in games like that. To Gwent’s credit, it offers quite a few neat twists on the traditional structure that make it very appealing.

       

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