The Witcher 3: Definitive Edition goes into public beta under the name ‘Gwent’
Ladies and Gwentlemen
In 2015, an independent development studio based in Warsaw, Poland by the name of CD Projekt Red released a game called The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Critics went wild for it. The game is currently sitting at a score of 92 on Metacritic. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is about a traveling card player named Geralt of Rivia who occasionally gets sidetracked by killing gigantic monsters and involving himself in large scale political unrest on his quest to become the number one card player in the fictional kingdom of Temeria. One of my main issues with the game is that it kept asking me to carry out lengthy, involved quests in which no cards were played at all. The card game at the centre of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is called Gwent. It remains a mystery to me why the developers chose to make a collectible card game which features so little of the game itself, focusing instead on heavy role-playing mechanics, nuanced charaterisation and a complex story line. This new game from the same developer aims to fix all that and, as such, plays like a definitive edition of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The improvements begin with the new title. The new game is called Gwent. This makes more sense to me as it adequately describes the fundamental content of the game much more clearly than the misleading title of the original. This new game also doesn’t task players with riding a horse for minutes on end through a hostile environment in order to reach the next match. While I appreciated the immersion this lent the original game (I really felt how perilous the life of a competitive Gwent player could be) it is certainly a more user friendly approach to the game. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this revised version of CD Projekt Red’s magnum opus has multiplayer functionality. Rather than only playing rounds of the titular CCG against AI opponents as in the original, you can now play hands against other players. In retrospect, this seems an obvious feature to include and it is somewhat peculiar it wasn’t included in the first iteration of the idea. It’s quite surprising the game was as popular as it was when it lacked such basic functionality for a card game.
It is clear CD Projekt Red was aiming to break the mold with their first attempt at a CCG. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was certainly unique among CCGs in many ways. Firstly, in a rather bold move, the studio included a number 3 in the title. Specifically, a number 3 that denoted the game was the third in the developer’s Witcher series — a series of role playing games that started with 2007’s The Witcher which was later followed by The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in 2011. Following up two acclaimed RPGs, each with a strong focus on story and combat, with a collectible card game was certainly an interesting move. Perhaps this is the reason for the inclusion of so much story and combat as side activities in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (or, as I prefer to think of it, Gwent: Prototype) — so as not to provide too jarring a transition for players returning to the series. The result was a card game that far exceeded its competition in terms of scope. It was, frankly, unbelievable. Traditional wisdom for CCG design focused purely on playing hand after hand, unlocking new cards as you go to improve your decks. The Witcher 3 eschewed this philosophy to a quite baffling degree. Here you had a CCG in which you could spend hours without ever seeing a Gwent card, let alone playing a hand. There were lands to traverse, quests to complete, fist fights, horse races, dialogue trees, magic, politics, combat against gruesome monsters — the lot. It was certainly original, but many rightly felt that the these elements would perhaps be better served in a large open-world game like The Elder Scrolls. “Rein it in,” we said, “focus on the important part. Focus on the Gwent.” The Witcher 3 (and this revised edition, Gwent) is somewhat unique among CCGs in one other way — it isn’t a watered down Magic: The Gathering.
Most of the big games in this genre like The Elder Scrolls: Legends, Shadowverse and, of course, the behemoth that is Hearthstone all take their gameplay cues from the massively successful, real-world trading card game Magic: The Gathering. This means players can play as many cards as they like each turn, provided they have the resources, and the core gameplay involves summoning creatures with which to attack your opponent, diminishing their HP until they die and lose and you live and win. It’s a pretty good approach to card games. Gwent is a different game entirely. Here, you can play only one card per turn. There is no player health and creatures do not battle each other. Rather, each card has a power rating. Players take turns to lay cards and the player with the higher accumulative power rating at the end of the round wins. A game is a best-of-three-rounds affair. There are, of course, other mechanics introduced such as the ability to reduce an opposing unit’s power rating, boost one of your own units’ rating and many others that come together to create a strategic card battler that’s well worth a look. With the latest iteration of Gwent, which is in open beta now, CD Projekt Red have included many new cards and mechanics while removing all of the third person, combat, RPG stuff. It really is a distillation of what made The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt so successful.
The open beta for Gwent is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now. No official release date has been announced, with the studio saying that the game will come out of beta “when the game is feature-rich, polished and sufficiently tested” at which point they “will introduce single player story campaigns”. Here is a pretty cool cinematic trailer to announce the game’s transition to open beta in which the developers make a funny self aware joke about how matches in the original Witcher 3 seemed always to get interrupted by the need to do some fighting: