There’s no arguing against the fact that CD’s Wild Hunt is one of the most iconic games of the current gen. The game went on to be so popular that it earned more awards than I can be bothered to count; not to mention two spin-off titles that borrow from its popularity – GWENT and Thronebreaker. Set within the world of The Witcher, Thronebreaker serves itself as a single player role-playing game that combines narrative-driven exploration, with both puzzles and card battle mechanics. The question is, is whether this is worth your time?
The game sees you following Meve, a war-veteran queen of Lyria and Rivia, two Northern Realms. In the premise, Meve is heading back to her kingdom after some time away, and as she nears her domain, she finds herself the recipient of some grave news. It turns out that a Nilfgaardian army is marching upon her land to claim it as their own, and, of course, to kill any who oppose them. I don’t want to spoil much of the plot, because due to the way in which the game is constructed, even a snippet of a spoiler can amass to hours of play time.
What I will say is that the story is chock-full of twists and turns, laid out in such a way that oftentimes, you’ll be chasing threads simply through awe and excitement alone. Meve’s long and dark journey takes her in, through, and out of battle, consistently and with excellent pace. This is further upheld by the game’s vastly interesting cast of excellently written characters. It helps, indeed, that the game itself is equally as well structured. Now, as alluded to above, the game encompasses unique puzzles and card battle mechanics to add in that extra layer of edge; ultimately making for a compelling experience from the get-go.
Thronebreaker does a good job at feeding you into the basics of play via a short yet informative tutorial. Here, you’ll learn the basics; controls, exploration, material scavenging, upgrading, and so forth. Once you’re done here, the game soon takes a sharp dive as the Nilfgaardians invade your lands, instantly forcing you to get hands-on as this nefarious foe starts to lay waste to every town that they pass through. I’ll credit the game for its introduction, it does well at setting the mood in stone and capturing player attention.
Whilst exploring the game, you’re able to see a map of the area in which you’re free to chart. The first thing that struck me was the map size, it’s gigantic. Though, what shocked me the most is that the first map you come across is just the first act. I’ll put something into perspective for you, the first map took me roughly six-to-seven hours to complete. There’s quite a lot to do per-map, so be sure to exhaust every nook and cranny on your way through as you seek out hidden areas and gather as many materials as you can possibly locate.
Whilst exploring, you’ll come across wood, gold, and troops. These will aid you on your way through, being that you’ll be free to setup a camp whenever, and wherever you like. You’re free to upgrade the tents in your camp (four in total) which will collectively gift you with added benefits. For instance; more gold when you win a battle, constructing more cards to add to your deck, and other useful tidbits. In order to unlock these upgrades, you’ll need to gather wood and gold – both of which can be located through perseverance of exploration.
Much like The Witcher, this game has a truly excellent way of telling its stories, and with these stories, comes choices. Choices, as to be expected, come with consequences in one form or another – affecting your run in both good and bad ways. On one hand, the game could give you heaps of wood and gold for a single choice that you make, however, on the flip-side, that choice could cost you a card from your hand. This is but one example, and Thronebreaker certainly doesn’t hold back on this front. You’ll need to be very careful here, especially for the choices that hit home very hard, later on in the game.
The card gameplay is going to be very familiar to those that played GWENT from The Witcher. That being said, there’s been some notable adjustments to the fields of play. Not only is there a much deeper pool of cards and abilities, but instead of three rows on each side, now there’s only two. If you’ve never played GWENT, allow me give you a brief introduction. In GWENT, you’ll have a minimum of twenty-five cards per-deck. In this deck, you’ll have a range of different cards to choose from. That said, each player starts off with only six cards.
Each turn, you may only play one card of your choice at a time, and you will have a selection of random cards to pull from. When one card is destroyed, it goes to the graveyard. As aforementioned, there will be two rows in which to play your cards; attack and ranged. Now, any card can go into these two slots, but only select cards will have abilities that will work when they’re situated in the correct row. The idea of the game is to collectively have more points on the board than your opponent, with each card offering different values for you to add to your point pool. Depth is added via special card effects and buffs, but it’s all fairly simple to digest nonetheless.
The main rule? You can only place a total of twenty cards, forcing you to carefully select what you’re going to put down (and in which row) to maximize your points, and thus, your chances of winning. There’s a very gratifying foundation running deep within, one that doesn’t alienate newcomers, but manages to satisfy veterans of the concept. That being said, GWENT is for those of a particular taste. If that’s you, winner winner. If not, well, Thronebreaker may not be as appealing. Moving on. When you’re playing normal matches, you will typically need to win two rounds to win the match and that’s that, onto the next.
Though, there’s also puzzles and special matches to contend with as you venture through. The same rules of play apply here, but with some alterations and limitations thrown in to spice things up, such as limited cards that need to be played in the correct order to win. Special matches are where you only need to win one round, but you will have extra cards added to your deck. There’s a nice variation on show here, which if anything, helps to keep repetition at bay. The major selling point, or at least from where I’m standing, is with its accessibility, and it’s ability to relay such an interesting, character-rich story structure.
Not to point out the obvious, but there’s no playing as Geralt here. Don’t be disheartened by that, because even without everyone’s favorite monster hunter, the game goes above and beyond in almost every way. The world of Thronebreaker is full of character and activity. Whether you’re clearing hordes of village-hitting monsters, seeking out hidden treasures, or improving your camp to unlock new skills and traits, there’s always something for you to do. Scrap that, there’s always several things for you to do here.
I’ll extend the same commendation to the game’s visual and audio design. Thronebreaker looks gorgeous, almost relaying an aesthetic that resembles a blend of Telltale’s work and Borderlands. The level of detail through the use of this lens is outstanding, constantly treating the player to beautifully refined, if desperate, locales. It helps that the artwork is kept fresh through the diversity on display. Never once did I find the game to falter here, enticing me to chart as much of it as possible to soak up the surroundings and take in more of the world that CD have remarkably created.
Rounding this off is the addition of a stellar soundtrack, going hand in glove with the game’s solid audio cues and great voice acting to strike the game’s dark, yet serious mood. Quality runs deep in this game, that much has to be said. Whether you’re a The Witcher follower or not, this is one game that you simply need to pick up and play. My only gripe is that of some minor framerate issues. This is easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things, but something I hope is patched, soon. When all is said and done, this is everything that fans have been patiently waiting for, and, shocking nobody, CD has delivered.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales slots into the world in which it’s set magnificently well. The game’s writing and its pacing is top notch, collectively pushing forward a story that’s deep, unique, and thoroughly engaging. Minor and infrequent framerate issues to the side, Thronebreaker offers an exceptional adventure, a compelling RPG, and above all else, a rich and entertaining card battling experience.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.