Those of you that have played The Witcher 3 – Wild Hunt will be familiar with the word “Gwent” and the feelings that it stirs up. Joy, excitement, wonder, maybe even a touch of frustrated rage. Geralt was never short a lusty tavern wench eager for a game or two, and it was a very fun and fulfilling distraction from the main story.
Enter Gwent the standalone game.
Currently fresh from a closed beta on PC, it has now been given a new coat of paint and is readily available in open beta for all current gen platforms. So is it worth a play? Bloody oath it is!
If for some reason you’ve never played The Witcher 3: stop reading this, question your life choices and whether or not you are a decent human being, then go immediately to your online/real life games store and buy it. It really does live up to the constant praise and hype it has received. CD Projekt Red pour themselves into their games and it shows, so too it does in Gwent.
A Hearthstone-like online card battle game, Gwent doesn’t go far off the beaten track in terms of game play. The basic rules from the Witcher version still apply, although players start with a base deck of each faction – Northern Realms, Scoia’tael, Monsters, Nilfgaard and Skellige. There is a fun and easy tutorial when you start out, fully voiced by Geralt and Ciri. Their lighthearted competitiveness brings back fond memories of countless hours spent in the Witcher’s world, as does the haunting and inspiring soundtrack.
You will immediately notice the beautifully drawn cards and recognise the simple board layout. Descriptions of certain effects and term meanings are unobtrusively displayed when a card is selected and I found myself checking these more than once during games, especially as there are new effects and many of the cards powers have been changed to support a human versus human model.
New cards are obtained through a few different ways. They come in “Card Kegs” which contain five random cards, one of which is always a rare card. A very friendly (and not too bright) troll will provide you with your card keg and smash it open for you. I am yet to find myself not tingling with anticipation as he grunts and crushes a barrel so I can feast my eyes on the delicious goodies inside.
To get these highly prized card kegs you can just straight up buy them from the in game store, although at the current price I would recommend against it. In Australian Dollarydoos the prices start at almost five bucks for only two barrels! What are we huh? On game developer money?!
The recommended way to obtain card kegs is by just playing the game. You are rewarded for just about everything you do in this game, be it winning six rounds or even just playing the tutorial.
The in-game currency is Ore, for every 100 you collect you can purchase one card keg. A fun new addition is Meteorite Powder, which is collected in the same manner as ore (winning rounds, completing challenges etc.) and allows you to “transmute” a card from it’s normal static version to a super dooper mega cool moving animation version! I can’t wait to have my whole deck visibly eager to wipe the floor with my opponent!
Playing PvP online is Gwent’s mission objective, and that’s where the fun is to be had. Finding a match is incredibly fast, and drop outs rarely occur. After selecting my deck I was playing against someone in less than twenty seconds most of the time. Having played the closed beta, so far it seems that any online kinks have been smoothed out.
The game of Gwent is much more difficult when playing against another living human being. Prepare to swagger in, deck in hand, totally sound game plan in mind, only to have your world shattered. Over and over again. You will lose a lot. You’ve been warned.
With this difficulty, however, comes an element missing from the original. The positive, heart warming and joyous experience of interacting with another human being. Unfortunately the current level of interaction is restricted to a small collection of preset audio taunts, although there is a certain fuzzy feeling you get when your opponent uses Geralt’s voice to commend you on your mad skills.
Each round is a game of cat and mouse, both players trying to build their sides power whilst destroying their opponent’s. The game gives you a decent amount of time to make your move or redraw cards, so beginners should not have too much trouble keeping up with the flow.
Each card is played with a satisfying weight behind it. Cards that are boosted feel like they are more powerful, and cards that are damaged feel like they are hurting. It can be soul destroying to watch your cards being picked off in just dramatic fashion as you desperately try to staunch the bleeding. Fun!
Experience is awarded at the end of each game depending on your performance. Levelling up leads to rewards in the form of card kegs, or unlocking certain things such as card crafting and being able to participate in ranked matches. Ranked matches will become available at level 10 and really are a sure fire way to sort the wheat from the chaff. Matchmaking is fair, but don’t expect to stay in the rankings very long if you are not above average skill or better. So get yourself a good deck and a good strategy and get practising!
As a free beta, the only reason I can see not to play this game is if you have a deep hatred for strategy card games or fun things in general. The game play is a step up from the original and has just the right level of addiction to it. I’ve not had any connection issues so far, and the game looks as you would expect from a CDPR game. The only thing I can fault is the nasty price point for micro transactions, but that is totally dependant on the player’s choice. I’ve not spent a cent and at my current low level I’m not having issues with other players having unbeatable decks, so I’d say the random card reward system is working well.
It’s always hard to come up with a score for a free game, let alone a beta, so guess what? I won’t! But when the finished version comes out, if it’s anything like the beta (and isn’t at a full retail price) you can expect it to be very well received indeed.
If you played the Witcher then why not let Gwent take you back? You won’t regret it (although your significant other might).