"Much to our surprise, Gwent also offers a substantial, story-driven single player mode that will expand on the Witcher universe and lore. Many stories will involve Geralt, but not all."
CD Projekt RED's announcement of a standalone Gwent game evoked reactions ranging from confusion, to excitement, to knowing jeers of chasing "that Hearthstone money." As much as I wanted to hear about their next venture, Cyberpunk, I was pleasantly surprised by the updates and new features to this digital collectable card game, particularly the robust story mode. Gwent was a pleasant diversion in the Witcher 3, but true to form, CD Projekt RED has turned it into an exciting title all its own.
For those unfamiliar with Gwent, it is a playable card game in the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt where players battle with cards based on in-game factions. The core gameplay is relatively simple. Players take turns placing cards in one of the three columns, amassing attack points in order to win two out of three rounds. The new standalone game proceeds just as veterans remember; players draw ten cards at the beginning and have an option to switch out three before starting. Leader cards return, but the faction bonuses have been rejiggered for balance. There will be five factions: Nilfgaard, Skellige, Monsters, Northern Realms, and Scoia'tael. The cards have also been completely rebalanced from the ground up. The bonuses and effects for the cards are now more varied, allowing for more interesting tactics and trick plays. Furthermore, players can break down unwanted cards and craft new ones to continue updating their decks.
The UI has also been completely redone for ease of use, and the cards themselves look beautiful. So called "premium" cards have improved, almost holographic images, but do not appear to offer any advantages in play. Playing against our own Robert Steinman for bragging rights felt nerve-wracking — especially because, as a Gwent newbie, he had a CDPR employee helping him — but the tension was satisfying.
Much to our surprise, Gwent also offers a substantial, story-driven single player mode that will expand on the Witcher universe and lore. Many stories will involve Geralt, but not all. Each of the several campaigns will contain over 10 hours of gameplay and allow players to once again free-roam the world, albeit with a top-down isometric view. Gwent's concept is that the card battles represent the clash of opposing forces in real life, so by stumbling upon items and characters in-game, players will build their army and their decks.
Given CDPR's track record, it probably should not have been surprising that a standalone Gwent game would be deep, well-designed, and interesting, but we were surprised all the same. Not only is Gwent a spinoff of one of our favorite RPGs, but it turns out to be a worthwhile RPG in its own right too.