Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

After a year-and-a-half in open beta, and two be­fore that of sim­ply be­ing a minigame in sprawl­ing RPG The Witcher 3, Gwent has fi­nally hit 1.0. And, for once, that de­fin­i­tive ver­sion num­ber is more than sim­ply sym­bolic. The game has been trans­formed for re­lease, both ex­panded and re­fined into some­thing more vis­ually ar­rest­ing and me­chan­i­cally fas­ci­nat­ing than be­fore.

This is CD Pro­jekt’s bid for a slice of the freeto-play on­line card game mar­ket, but it bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to its peers. A match is played over the best of three rounds, with the bat­tle­field cleared at the end of each. Two play­ers take turns to place cards, which bear num­bers – you win by hav­ing the high­est to­tal at the end of the round. Though the cards rep­re­sent war­riors sum­moned for com­bat, they don’t crash against each other as in Hearth­stone. In­stead of a skir­mish, Gwent is a war, a sort of com­pet­i­tive mus­ter­ing of forces, with each card’s unique abil­i­ties aid­ing your ef­forts or dis­rupt­ing your op­po­nents’ as you jos­tle for math­e­mat­i­cal supremacy.

And, cru­cially, you’re not al­ways try­ing to win. Each player can af­ford to lose one round if it helps their goal of win­ning the other two, and here things get de­li­ciously psy­cho­log­i­cal. Is your foe ac­tu­ally com­mit­ting their best, or are they hold­ing some­thing back for later, bait­ing you into wast­ing pow­er­ful cards on a bat­tle they’ve al­ready de­cided to con­cede? A dance of feints and bluffs en­sues that com­bines the best mo­ments of a tense evening of poker with the tac­ti­cal depth of a strat­egy game.

A di­verse spread of card abil­i­ties add much room for ma­noeu­vring. Some sol­diers, for ex­am­ple, be­come stronger over time – pow­er­ful plays if you know the op­po­nent needs to com­mit to a long round, but damp squibs if they de­cide to con­cede early. Oth­ers only bear fruit later in the game, in­clud­ing a Phoenix whose util­ity comes in its abil­ity to be re­born in sub­se­quent rounds.

The price of this in­tri­cacy is that Gwent is any­thing but ac­ces­si­ble. It’s both com­plex, and not great at ex­plain­ing and vis­ually rep­re­sent­ing its com­plex­ity. It’s not as ar­cane as, say, Dota 2, but it cer­tainly de­mands your full at­ten­tion and, un­usu­ally for the genre, in­cludes very lit­tle ran­dom­ness to even the play­ing field. Do your home­work, how­ever, and your re­ward is some of the year’s most sat­is­fy­ing and ex­cit­ing mul­ti­player. CD Pro­jekt is fond of dub­bing its games ‘ma­ture’, though usu­ally that’s a ques­tion of themes, rather than com­plex­ity. But it re­ally is the per­fect word for Gwent – com­pared to its genre peers, it feels both re­mark­ably grown-up, and finely aged by its years of open devel­op­ment.

The card art­work is truly beau­ti­ful, es­pe­cially the ‘premium’ an­i­mated ver­sions – though an abun­dance of lithe, naked women feels like a throw­back to the bad old days of The Witcher’s sexy pin-up cards

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