Let’s Talk About Gwent, Baby

Like many Witcher 3 players, Gwent hooked me. It became a serious, dangerous addiction. My time as Geralt of Rivia more closely resembled a Magic player hitting the pro-circuit than the monster hunter I was supposed to be. However, after awhile I had the strategies mastered, the strongest cards were my trophies, and I had slaughtered the best players (literally in some cases). I needed a new challenge, the AI wasn’t cutting it anymore. To get my ultimate high from Gwent I would need a human opponent.

So I did the only thing available at the time. I bought The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone Special Edition expansion pack, which came with two physical Gwent decks. The only fallacy of my plan was getting somebody that had never heard of The Witcher to play this game with me. Jump ahead to E3 2016 when CD Projekt Red announces Gwent as a standalone game and my hopes for a challenging game of Gwent rebounded.

Well this week, I’m checking out of rehab and double dosing with the Gwent beta on Xbox One.

To explain a little about Gwent if you are unfamiliar, the premise is simple; play a higher amount of strength than your opponent, with a finite amount of cards, in a best of three game. The appeal of this game comes from the idea that you don’t have to simply overpower your opponent every round. There are a myriad of tricks at your disposal to bluff, hide, and outplay your way to victory. As with every game, Gwent is easy to learn, hard to master.

The differences between playing Gwent in Witcher 3 and playing Gwent®: The Witcher Card Game, as it’s officially titled, are enough that the detailed tutorials at start of the game are welcome, but veteran players should be able to jump into a game and get the gist of it. A majority of the changes that I noticed come from card abilities. In the premier entry of Gwent, cards only had a handful of abilities, whereas in this installment card abilities come in a variety of flavors. While perusing all of the new cards I could feel the gears turning in my head thinking of the deck possibilities and card combos that could be put together.

When I actually made my way to matchmaking, the whole experience seemed very cohesive. Sound design is particularly exceptional with the inclusion of prominent Witcher-esque sound effects and a delightful soundtrack. I haven’t been to any Celtic/Scandinavian taverns, but I imagine the local music to resemble something to what I heard while playing.

Art displayed on cards is also quite good, however, I did enjoy the taller tarot card aesthetic of the Gwent cards in Witcher 3. On the downside of card art, the initial Geralt card has an amazing motion to it that not very many other cards share. Understandably, I bet they are saving these card animations for the rarer cards to have in common.

Gameplay is smooth and quick with a timer that keeps the pace going and matches kept to rather brief engagements. The surprisingly standout aspect of my Gwent experience was how balanced games were. I never had a significant losing streak while playing and matches nearly always went to a third round, often nail bitingly close, sometimes even coming down to a one point difference in score.

Rewards from winning matches include in-game currencies of ore and scrap. Ore is used to buy booster packs, which they keep cards in kegs for some reason, and scrap is used to craft new cards. My witcher senses are telling me that microtransactions will make an appearance in this game, although I am still on the fence as to if this will be a free-to-play game or a retail release.

Either way this game releases, I only came up with four things I would like to see changed:

  1. Add a vibration sensitivity setting (this is nitpicky but also strangely distracting). The current vibration setting is either so strong it could topple buildings or completely off. Vibration is nice because it gives you a nice jolt to let you know it’s your turn, but it doesn’t need give me a heart attack while I’m plotting my next move.
  2. Look at adding different methods for leveling up. Currently, you have to win a set amount of matches before you are granted your next level. I would certainly like to see different amounts of experience awarded for close matches, winning with certain decks or cards, or even bonuses for winning streaks.
  3. Stat tracking. Hopefully in the final release we will see lists, on lists, on lists of statistical data. Win/Loss ratio, decks used, win percent against factions. All good and interesting to have.
  4. I want some emotes up in here. Right now the only communication you have against your opponent is telling them “Good Game” after a match (which, by the way, gives you a bonus of ore or scrap if you get a GG). I would really like to express if my rival made a good move or be sly if I have something else stuck up my sleeve.

Besides these small grievances, I have had a lot of fun with Gwent and expect to use my beta access to its full potential. I am also very interested to see if it can get and maintain a solid amount of players. Right now with cross platform play between Xbox and PC I never had to wait more than 45 seconds to find a match. Also, with many large developers releasing their own brand of collectible card game, Gwent should have substantial competition between Magic, Hearthstone, and fellow newcomer, Elder Scrolls: Legends. Luckily, the free-to-play nature of these games allow them to be non-exclusive and players should feel free to dabble in any of the available options.

Final Word: The Gwent beta showed off a well put together, balanced, addictive experience that’ll appeal to fans of The Witcher series and collectible card games.

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