Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales Review: Yes Queen
Kalvin Martinez / Jan 14th, 2019 No Comments
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the finest games of the current console cycle. While the game did an amazing job of orienting new players into the startling depth of Geralt’s story, there were still many questions about the history of the world and what came before Geralt’s epic narrative.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is an engrossing single-player Gwent experience that builds on the world of The Witcher 3.
It details the story of Queen Meve, ruler of Rivia and Lyria. It helps elucidate on some of the history in the Witcher series.
Retaliation, Revenge and Get Back
In 1267, sovereigns of the Northern Realm met to discuss how to deal with the threat of the Nilfgaard Empire. After pledging the requisite pleasantries of alliances, the sovereigns left, including Queen Meve, a ruler of considerable reputation.
In her absence, she left her son, Prince Villem to watch over her twin kingdoms of Rivia and Lyria. Unlike his mother, Villem is weak and he lets bandits run off with scores of the kingdoms’ gold. Queen Meve’s first duty upon returning to her kingdoms is to clean up her son’s mess.
This turns out to be just the beginning of a chain of events that sets Meve on a long path of betrayal and revenge. While Meve deals with the bandits, nefarious forces conspire against her to give the Nilfgaardians an opening.
Betrayed by those closest to her, Meve has to learn to trust questionable allies. In order to retake what is hers by rights, she’ll have to travel far and wide to find suitable reinforcements.
Thronebreaker delivers a great portrait of Rivia and its complex ruler, Queen Meve. She is a protagonist as complicated and engaging as Geralt. Her regal and steadfast demeanor anchor the story. Due to her strong resolve and strict code of honor, the emotions she experiences on her journey are even more pronounced. This is especially true after the first major story reveal. The way Meve handles this blow really gets to you.
While it doesn’t have the same depth of the proper Witcher entries, Thronebreaker is a compelling tale in its own right. The beauty of the Witcher universe is there is a rich history that is mostly alluded to, but hasn’t been fully explored. Stories like this help deepen the lore and flesh out the universe.
A major fixture of the Witcher series is the card game, Gwent. It was a massive sub-story in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and has become its own standalone game. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales leverages the game of Gwent to create an engrossing single-player experience. While the gameplay utilizes Gwent, it is quite different from the experience in Wild Hunt.
There are some major changes to the nature of the card game in Thronebreaker. Queen Meve’s Gwent is very similar to the Homecoming update in Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. Unlike Wild Hunt, Thronebreaker only makes use of the melee and ranged rows for cards and leaders are no longer cards, but rechargeable abilities.
While the new changes don’t dramatically alter how Gwent is played, they open up new strategies. Weather effects have been removed and reworked into new row-damaging effects like burn and fog. If you were big on utilizing weather to gain the upper hand, you’ll have to find a new strategy. Luckily, the addition of artifacts and the changes to leaders should help you find new ways to best your opponents.
Despite losing the siege row, the game of Gwent is essentially the same. A match of Gwent consists of three rounds between you and your opponent. To win a round, you need to finish with more points than your opponent. In order to clinch a victory, you need to win two out of three rounds.
Achieving this is easier said than done. You can potentially use brute force to win a round by dropping all of your high powered cards at once, but this will leave you woefully underpowered for the following rounds. There is a lot of give and take in Gwent.
An important strategy to learn is throwing a round. Since you only need to win two rounds, you can afford to lose one. Knowing how and when to bait your opponent into wasting their high-powered cards early can only benefit you.
Throwing a round is especially helpful to clear weaker cards from your hand, thus opening space for additional cards in your draw next round. There is a potential for this to backfire, but once you can recognize opportunities to throw rounds and get your opponent to burn their cards, you’ll be on your way to mastering Gwent.
Winning at Gwent isn’t solely about luck as strategy plays a heavy role in victory. However, sometimes the draw of the cards will determine your ability to get the upper hand. Fortunately, in standard battles, you have the opportunity to redraw up to six cards to start. This allows you a better chance to create a winning hand.
Since Thronebreaker is a single-player experience, it gives players the opportunity to do more than play standard Gwent battles. To help create more of a narrative experience, players encounter story-specific battles, special condition fights and puzzle encounters. These all use the Gwent mechanics but often constrain the player in some way.
Most commonly, these will be shortened battles, which act as a sort of sudden death match. Depending on the situation, you may draw like a standard Gwent bout or, in the case of special condition or puzzle encounters, you will have a pre-set deck. To win these encounters, you need to have a deeper understanding of the nature of the cards both in your hand and your opponents.
Much of the challenge in Thronebreaker comes in the form of these encounters, specifically puzzles. While special condition fights often have you at a disadvantage, puzzle matches require you to outthink your opponent with a predetermined deck with highly specific conditions, either for victory or failure. Figuring out how to solve these puzzles takes some trial and error, but the reward for beating them is well worth it.
The Hard Choice
Despite not having long, winding side quests, Thronebreaker does a good job of showing you that the decisions you make are meaningful. This is largely accomplished by ensuring there are consequences to your actions. Sometimes, the consequence can be small, like sparing the life of an elf who poisons a small portion of your water supply. Other decisions could have major ramifications — such as choosing to forgive a soldier for slaughtering defenseless prisoners.
Decisions typically affect the morale of your soldiers, generally for the worst. Soldiers with high morale get a boost in combat, while low morale soldiers are weaker than normal.
However, the most significant outcome of the decisions you’ll make is potentially losing cards. Thronebreaker forces you to make hard decisions because the wrong one could cost you a significant card that makes your deck.
The aforementioned scenario involving a prisoner-killing soldier will cost you one of two cards, depending on the decision you make. It forces you to make a hard decision between a moral choice and a selfish choice that will help you in terms of strategy and combat.
In a card-collecting game, losing good cards is tough. But is keeping an important card worth betraying the roleplaying aspects of the game? These difficult dilemmas create a fantastic synergy between story and gameplay.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is a cool spin-off that adds even more depth to the Witcher universe. It leverages Gwent to create a satisfying single-player card-battling campaign with a lot of variety and strong narrative flair.
The story of Queen Meve is enthralling and the choices you make have consequences. This may not have been the experience most Witcher fans would expect, but it makes an excellent addition to the series and lore.
However, if you don’t enjoy Gwent, you may find your mileage varying. While it does a great job of explaining and recontextualizing the mechanics, the difficulty and gameplay may be frustrating for less-seasoned Gwent players.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer.
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