At the end of 2019 the paid TV subscription “giants” gave the “geek world’ plenty to be excited about. If it wasn’t abuzz about Disney Plus’s The Mandalorian then it most certainly was abuzz about the Netflix series The Witcher. The Witcher fascination not only extended into the comics and books but also into the gaming world, more specifically CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher role-playing games. In the wake of renewed Witcher “interest”, thanks to Netflix, what better time than now for CD Projekt Red to release 2018’s Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on the Nintendo Switch?
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (Thronebreaker) has been around since November of 2019 on Steam PC. Since then it’s seen release on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and now the Nintendo Switch consoles.
In its purest sense Thronebreaker is a story-based, adventure, strategy card game based on the world of The Witcher.
To be completely transparent I’ve started the Witcher 3 game but haven’t finished it or any other Witcher based game. So, this impressions piece is from a guy who’s not a “Witcher” expert.
A level of difficulty from new player to hardcore
One thing I liked up front is that Thronebreaker allows you to pick a difficulty level at the start. You can choose a more story focused pursuit or even go “hardcore card battler”. I went with the “medium” setting, “Battle Hardened”.
There’s A Deep Story to Be Told Here
When you start the game you’re immediately dropped into a nice, spoken dialogue cut scene that sets the stage for the adventure you’re about to embark on.
Basically you, as the player, are forging the story of Queen Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia. The story is being built based on your actions and responses throughout the game.
Though sometimes menial, choices matter
Wrapped around this design concept is a “Storyteller” who has gotten into a bit of trouble and is conveying Meve’s tale to his “captors”. This is an enthralling game design that is full of well-acted, spoken dialogue. Of course, a tale this big also has its share of story text to be read. Although, there is story related text to be read I didn’t mind because each panel had beautiful comic book type artwork with it.
Story segments happen as you meet civilians in the “open world”, you take part in “card battles”, encounter “puzzle” card battles, etc. Spoken text scrolls by as the actors speak the words. Optionally, you can select the “A” button to reveal all the text at once. A nice touch here is the actors finish speaking the script even though it’s all displayed.
Got to get through the English
A lot of the story is played out in beautiful, semi-motion comic book scenes. Dialog is spoken, choices can be made with consequences. But sometimes the Ole’ English dialect might be hard to follow. Nice touches include having the characters mouths move as they speak during these still scenes.
Your story takes shape as you guide your player character, Meve around the open world map. There is one main quest objective and what side quests, etc. you take part in, leading up to that objective, is up to you. The developers accomplish this open world feel nicely via the game’s world map. You’re able to open the world map and see icons representing resources, story elements, puzzles, chests, fast travel points, etc.
You’d do well to seek side quests as they can yield resources and new cards for your deck
Coming upon a puzzle icon or question mark can trigger a battle, i.e. card battle. Other encounters include your character coming upon a “decision quest”. These usually cost you some valuable resources but in return might yield favor or other items. It’s just another nicely done design decision that makes you feel you’re in control.
A typical decision quest, is it worth the coin?
While the feel of an “open world” was nice, in some respects it got a bit annoying. I enjoyed the game from a card battle and storytelling aspect. Unfortunately, I felt like I spent a lot of time moving and maneuvering my character around the open world screens. In some cases, I saw things like a treasure chest and couldn’t figure out how to maneuver the different levels of terrain to get close enough to open it. Sadly, I felt a bit of occasional frustration in this regard.
To the Victor Go the Spoils, Interesting Battles!
At its core Thronebreaker is a battle card game where it’s your deck of twenty-five against a computer opponent, and in this endeavor, it shines!
The developers noted that the card battle portion of Thronebreaker is a card game that is Gwent-like, e.g. Gwent 2.0. Gwent is the straight up card collection game by the same developer taken out of the Witcher games/lore.
Like other strategy card games (e.g. Blizzard’s Hearthstone, etc.) you’ll maintain a deck where you can place twenty-five special action cards in it.
The deck you’re dealt
Like most card games you’ll need to decide which cards to keep in your deck given a limited number of allowed physical cards and a maximum card point total, e.g. 125.
Some card battles play out as a best of three rounds wins. The fun is added when you encounter the “special” card battles. These are fun “mini-games” if you will. They usually outline a list of objectives you must meet to win. These battles are great strategic fun. The nice part of any card battle in Thronebreaker is, if you lose, you can restart the battle over and over with no apparent consequences.
Guess I drew the “mad cow” disease card battle?
Yes, There Be Upgrades
Another nice feature that adds to the role-playing experience is access to a “Camp”. It’s here where you can spend your collected resources to buy upgrades, expand your card army, etc. You can even create a “Training Camp” where you can practice with your deck against a computer opponent.
Command Tent, Workshop here’s where we spend all our monies
From this screen’s “Command Tent” you can also modify your deck. You can do things like change Meve’s equipped weapon card, which also changes her ability during a card battle. Touches like this are standard card game fare but they were appreciated.
Going into Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales I was expecting a Witcher adventure game. What I found, from the time spent playing, is it’s an enjoyable, strategic card game. Thronebreaker mixes up the objectives on card battles such that the battles themselves never become tedious.
The only complaint was the amount of running around you need to do on the map screen. At times it felt like card battles were few and far between. If you can see past that minor flaw and you don’t mind a lot of storytelling wrapped around a card game, then definitely check out Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on the Nintendo Switch! Highly recommended!
Also if you buy the game now, for a modest $19.99 on the Nintendo Switch, you get some cool digital goodies including:
- Official Thronebreaker Soundtrack
- Concept arts pack, including the map of Lyria
- The Witcher graphic novel "Fox Children" by Dark Horse for those hungry for more Witcher tales
- 216 pages Artbook: GWENT: Art of The Witcher Card Game from Dark Horse.