Five years ago, the world was gifted one of the most perfect games ever to grace consoles or PC. I’m talking of course about Gwent. The game within The Witcher 3 quickly became an obsession for many people, myself included, so much so that they released a full Gwent game shortly after and then began work on a new chapter for The Witcher series. I consider Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales to be the next natural progression of the series, it is to Gwent what Wild Hunt is to the Witcher series. Following the Wild Hunt unto the Switch, Thronebreaker makes its handheld debut allowing players to immerse themselves deeper into the grime of the Continent.
Thronebreaker sets you loose in the Witcher universe as Meve, Queen of Rivia and seasoned veteran of the battlefield who has tasked herself to stop the Nilfgaardian army from taking any more land. Don’t let the comparison to Gwent fool you though, while the combat is card-based, the structure of the game is a full-fledged RPG. Between card battles, you spend your time gathering supplies, recruiting troops, adding buffs through prayer alters and making some tough choices that are par for the course for a game set in this bleak world.
One of the best carryovers from the main games is the many moral grey areas you are forced to weigh in on. One of the very first decisions you make is what to do with a group of poor villagers who gave shelter to bandits ransacking the countryside. The first option you have is to hang them, a choice one of your companions loudly champions for. While this first example may seem so easy it is just a dipped toe into a vast ocean of possibilities and outcomes, constantly choosing between two evils and where that all gets you. It would have been easy to put a bare-bones story in place but much credit goes to CD Projekt Red for not taking the easy route and the game shines because of the writing here. Much of my time with the game was spent lamenting choices and wondering if I should’ve started a new game to reverse some choices I later came to regret.
Maps are broken up into smaller sections but still offer enough exploration and rewards for such that you never feel cheated by it being somewhat smaller and more linear. Finding various treasure maps adds to exploration as you are just given the vaguest picture of wear items may be hidden, leading you to scan the area totally. Everything is beautifully voice acted, down to the cards themselves with the brunt of the work going to the narrator telling the tale. The art direction for the game is a beautifully detailed hand-drawn style that does well enough to make it stand out from previous games with cinematics and dialogue scenes narrated over mostly static images, much like the “recap” portions of Wild Hunts loading screens.
The card combat has gone through the most changes since evolving from Gwent. Battles still take place over the course of a few rounds with the side with the highest number of attack power or points winning. It is still very much sacrificing the battle to win the war type of play. I always find myself playing the weakest cards when I go first just to bait the AI opponent. The old 3 lane map is gone, now down to two with players able to place melee and ranged into either row. Leader abilities are no longer one-time use, rather they work on a cooldown.
Most cards have unique abilities to use when entering play or for later in the battle. Complementing the new layers of strategy players can now use, Thronebreakers goes an extra step by adding puzzle battles to show off the systems. In puzzles you are given unique scenarios and win conditions you must overcome, like overcoming a rockslide for example.
CD Projekt Red does not simply rest on the success of its previous projects by pushing out a quick cash grab. It seems every part of this game was crafted with a care and respect to not only the source material but to the player. I think that is what makes it shine over other deck building type games. If you missed out on the initial release back in 2018 now is the perfect time to have a go at it. The pickup, put down style of battles is perfect for a console like the Nintendo Switch although you may end up playing for hours at a time just to see where the dark story takes you. This game is for you if you need more stories set on the Continent, if you loved Gwent, or even if you just like RPGs. No previous Witcher knowledge needed.