Author Topic: Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales [2018 -- CD Projekt Red]  (Read 224 times)

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Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales [2018 -- CD Projekt Red]
« on: June 14, 2019, 07:46:24 AM »
This one will require a bit of history background. First in the line, there was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt which among a lot of other things featured a mini game called Gwent. Gwent is basically a card game that emulates a clash between two armies. It lasts up to three rounds and to win a round one needs to have the highest score determined by adding the individual score of each card for each side of the "battlefield". Rules are definitely more complex than your basic Witcher and Witcher 2 dice game but no so much as to push the player to abandon the whole idea just after having tried it once. And that made Gwent the most popular mini-game featured in a game.

It was so popular in fact that CD Projekt decided to go standalone with a fully featured game version of the mini-game called -- not so surprisingly -- Gwent. The base principle of the game remains the same as in the mini-game but most other rules and what the cards do (compared to a same card in the mini-game) differ, the cards are also more refined in their design. A major difference between the Witcher 3 Gwent and the standalone Gwent being that most units have the ability to deal damage to enemy units (therefore decreasing their points eventually down to their destruction).

Originally Gwent was planned to have both a single player and a multiplayer modes. However, as the development progressed, the multiplayer took more and more precedence and the single player envisaged was downgraded to a mere "training" mode against the computer.

It made more sense for CD Projekt Red from that point on to develop instead a full single player Gwent-based game and the result is Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.

The story of Thronebreaker evolves around Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia (a character originally from the Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski) that Geralt encountered once, about five years before the start of the first Witcher game, during the second war with Nilfgaard. The circumstances of this meeting are even related in the game briefly. Meve has a particular place in Geralt story as she is the queen that knighted him. Geralt generally don't mention it, but he is a genuine Knight, although he deserted Queen Meve shortly after he received his knighthood, because back then he had things more important to do than playing knight. Thronebreaker seems to hint to the fact that Meve in the end doesn't hold a grudge toward Geralt -- as a matter of fact, she never stripped him of his title as confirmed by The Witcher 3 DLC/Expansion Blood And Wine (in which the player is also reminded that Geralt was also knighted by another Queen but it was for the purpose of his work and the name was not his). Originally Geralt picked "of Rivia" as a jest when he was a young witcher but since Meve he can fully bear the name in all technical "legality".

Thronebreaker however is certainly not centered around Geralt even though it fully belongs to The Witcher universe.

The events occur during the second war against Nilfgaard which ended with the Battle of Brenna. At the beginning of the game Meve, her military advisor Reynard Odo and her escort of brave Lyrians in tow come back from talks with the kings of the North regarding the approaching military campaign. During her absence, her son, Willem and the man she left in charge of advising him, Count Caldwell, were left to fend off the day to day routine of the realm. Unfortunately they kind of screwed up and ended with a problem that they couldn't surmount, the "Duke of Dogs". Chief of a large band of thieves called the "Strays of Spalla", he roams the countryside, robbing and pillaging. Evidently, Meve decides to take charge of the problem with her trusty men. After some adventures that take the place of a tutorial of sorts (that does a good job at showing you the basic ropes but a poor one at actually telling when some cards should be used -- in fact it shows you exactly the opposite of a good use in some cases), Meve finally capture the bandit which seems to be unapologetic and play the funny guy but despite his amusing demeanor Meve has him escorted to the dungeon to wait for her to decide his fate.

This same night, Meve and his closest allies end up in the dungeon too after being betrayed by both her son and Count Caldwell whom was bought by the Niflgaardians to open Rivia Castle doors and let them enter without a fight. After a while though she's freed by the one she captured, Gascon, the "Duke of Dogs", whom was on his own way to escape the castle himself but couldn't bear to let a lady "rot" in there.

After liberating the men still loyal to her, and having enrolled the help of Gascon and his band of merry men, there she flee with just the core of an armed force, barely enough to get away. From that point begins a long journey building forces, recruiting allies and constructing a powerful army with the final purpose to boot the Nilfgaardians out of the realm and to punish the betrayers. 

No need to say that this journey is filled with fights, all in the form of Gwent card battles with several variants (because you know, just playing Gwent all the time is kinda boring no matter how much you love it).

So there are three kinds of Gwent battles in Thronebreaker. Standard, shortened and puzzles.

Standard battle is just common Gwent. Best of three rounds, you choose the cards going in your deck and you develop your strategy over the three rounds (which allows you to loose one if you think it's in your interest).

Shortened battle is like common Gwent except there's only one round. You have to overpower your opponent knowing that you only have one go at it.

Then there are puzzles (which are clearly indicated with their own icon). A puzzle is a shortened battle with special rules and a customized deck (which means that the deck is chosen for you, you don't get to pick your cards).  It would be more appropriate to speak of "challenges" rather than "battles" when it comes to puzzles. Sure a lot of them are battles but a significant portion have more "exotic" objectives, like prevent the Queen from being crushed by boulders, escape from a dungeon or just drink the most beers before your opponent finishes his own kettle. The common point of all though is that you have to complete the challenge within the parameters set and with cards you've been given. Note that what you are provided with will allow to complete the challenge, it's for you to know how.

Puzzles can certainly be fun, it's my opinion though that CDPR used them too much especially in the early stages of the game. There are far more puzzles with restrictive rules than normal or even shortened battles. All in all that makes for a tedious beginning for anyone just wanting Gwent. Through the game things get a bit more balanced regarding the number of each type of battles per chapter but I can't say I was especially fond of the beginning.

Between combat there is exploration to be done and maintaining your army. Exploration is nothing like The Witcher games. No fancy 3D good looking vista. It's strictly 2.5D isometric stuff in non "zoomable", non "orientable" format (yep, I invent new words, occasionally). There's no "army" on the screen, only Meve and you're supposed to imagine that her whole army is stuffed somewhere in her... pocket (what did you think I was going to say? Although it's difficult to find a pocket on an armor so let's say her saddle, yep, her very very big saddle). Nevertheless this exploration mode is important, first because it allows you to find and gather needed resources (gold, wood and recruits), second because it's a good way to find some special cards that you will need later and third because it's obviously the only way to go through point A to point B and fourth, it's a good occasion to influence your army, in a good or a bad way.

See, Meve's soldiers are people too. They have an opinion and they watch her closely any time that she renders a judgement or makes a decision -- and that's a lot, in that regard, Thronebreaker is a traditional Witcher product, with a lot of moral choices to be made with consequences both immediate and/or delayed in ways that some times may surprise you although thinking about it you're more likely to say "well I should have seen that one coming". The most common impact of decisions is on Meve's troops morale. They can be neutral, happy or sulking. That in turn will have a direct impact on the following Gwent battle (except puzzles). If the troops are neutral, each unit has its normal amount of points. If the troops are happy, the amount of points is increased by 1 for each unit. If the troops are sulking, the amount of of points is decreased by 1 for each unit. One can easily understand the importance of morale in a game that is mainly based on the accumulation of points. Happy troops may means during a standard Gwent battle up to 40 points more and essentially free. Demoralized troops will have you start at a disadvantage. Troops morale is reset to neutral after each Gwent battle (standard or shortened; once again puzzles are unique and don't rely on the morale system).

Meve's decisions may also affect allies. Allies are special characters Meve can recruit either temporarily or permanently in her army. Those allies come generally with powerful abilities (as cards) of their own and may surprise in good or bad ways. Allies can be lost following decisions they can't agree with or because you fire them (the option is proposed in some cases). When an ally is lost, their card disappears from your deck.

There's a fair bit of strategy planning the encounters as well. A deck good for standard battle may not work all that well for a short battle. Some units just need more than one round to have a real effect while others are really good at delivering a quick but devastating blow. The deck can be adjusted between battles at camp.... or one can decide to develop a multipurpose deck that will work reasonably well but without excelling whatever the situation.

As a final point I'd like to point out is that Thronebreaker is a looong game, for its genre. We're looking at a 30+ hours game and that's assuming that everything goes mostly according to plan, that you won't loose too many battles on the first try that you complete most puzzles on the first try... etc. There's a good story and characters so I never had the feeling to waste my time but still, 30+ hours for a card game is a bit taxing, so taxing in fact that I couldn't finish it in one go and had to play other games here and there. True fans of card games might not have a problem with that though.
« Last Edit: August 06, 2019, 07:22:13 PM by Starfox »

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein