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Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales Is Perfect If You Love Card Games, RPG Decision-Making or The Abject Horrors Of War

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales released in 2018, only a few short years after CD Projekt Red’s seminal work: The Witcher 3, and supposedly underwhelmed massively in sales. And why was this? Perhaps it was the somewhat awkward title! Perhaps it was poor marketing! Perhaps it was the game’s fundamental premise being somewhat alienating, turning most players off from the start.

But one thing I can certainly say it was not — was the quality. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is an excellent game. An elegantly written masterclass in the choice-and-consequence gameplay you can expect of only the best Western RPGS, paired with the satisfying, expressive deckbuilding of this generation’s best single-player card games, think Slay The Spire, or more accurately (and more obscurely) some of Hearthstone’s better single-player offerings.

The card game you’ll be playing throughout Thronebreaker’s campaign is of course — Gwent, the beloved but oft-shirked minigame from Witcher 3 that was so lauded for its fun and depth that it eventually just became its own online collectible card game full stop. This is not a roguelike a la the aforementioned Slay The Spire, nor a competitive online game like Hearthstone — this is a rich, complex and fully-voiced RPG where the game of Gwent is frequently used to frame large battles and conflicts that take place in the narrative.

Perhaps the thought of a story-driven card game RPG makes you skeptical? You needn’t be. Stop questioning things and let yourself have fun! Do some weird shit every now and then. Say “you too” when the delivery guy tells you to enjoy your food, play the card game RPG. Thronebreaker does an exemplary job of explaining Gwent and making it make sense to you even if (like me) you never actually indulged in it in The Witcher 3, but more crucially — it makes you care about these games of Gwent with compelling storytelling from start to finish.

In Thronebreaker you take on the role of Meve, Queen of Lyria & Rivia who is thrust into the midst of a raging war for her country due to a devastating betrayal — a betrayal that, sadly, is only the first of many to come as you, the player will soon experience. (Seriously, there’s a heel turn a little over half-way into this game that genuinely had my jaw drop a little bit in the cutscene it occurred, I was that blindsided by it. Brilliant storytelling.) I’m gonna say it, Meve is a much cooler main character than Geralt. She has a far greater range of emotions, more compelling motivations — and I think goes through a lot more in this game than Geralt does (in Witcher 3 at the very least)! Also she’s not American!

Perhaps I’m as attached to Meve as I am because of how well and truly in her shoes this game put me. Thronebreaker is built upon the tough narrative decisions it forces upon you as much as it is its core Gwent battles. Frequently in the overworld outside of the card games, you’re encountering NPCs and having to make tough decisions relating to them, decisions that will come back around later on in the story, often hours later. They always do. A good few of those NPCs will become powerful allies who join your army — and as members of your army that means they become cards in your deck, often very powerful ones! However, as is the push/pull nature of Thronebreaker, this also means they can leave your army and you can lose that card from your deck forever should you make decisions that raise their ire, or in one case — end up deciding to forcibly exile them yourself.

Do you order your soldiers to keep marching in spite of their exhaustion for a tactical advantage on the enemy army you’re pursuing? How do you handle the dispute between a small, rustic village and the elf they’re accusing of a crime on fairly flimsy evidence? What do you do about the dragon? These are the questions Thronebreaker poses to you, and there is rarely ever a right or a wrong answer, just the one you choose. (I won’t spoil it but there’s a decision relating to a dragon in this game that is hard man. I can’t remember ever taking that long to make a decision in a game. I just sat there looking at the text box for like 5 minutes.)

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales deserves a lot better. That better is you. As a good person, it is your duty to play this game so that the incredibly skilled artists and devs can have their work appreciated.

I would recommend Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales to you if:

  • You loved The Witcher 3 and want more from that universe without having to play one of its clunky predecessors or read a book.
  • You didn’t play The Witcher 3 and just wanna play a fun card game with a kick-ass story and characters that totally stands on its own. (Because you don’t need to have any knowledge of The Witcher games or books to understand and enjoy this.)
  • You hate the French and love the English. Or you hate them both and just wanna see armies vaguely analogous to both countries beat the piss out of each other. In which case, fair enough.

I would not recommend Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales to you if:

  • You never know what to order at a restaurant. This game will make you explode.

Thronebreaker is available on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, & Mobile.