I was given a free game key from GOG and the CD Projekt Red Gwent team so that I could participate in the Closed Beta for the new standalone Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, which is a spinoff from the popular mini game from the Witcher game series.
Before I give my first impressions and thoughts, I have to say that I have never played a single Witcher game before and I am not familiar with the original Gwent mini game from The Witcher series, but I did watch some videos about it on YouTube after playing the standalone game for a few days just so that I could compare the two versions.
I wanted to play Gwent first without reading other reviews or watching videos so that they wouldn’t affect my opinion on the game so that I could judge it purely on the contents within the new game itself. Furthermore, I have also never played any rival card games either, such as Hearthstone.
Based on what I’ve seen from the YouTube videos, for the most part, the original Gwent and the new Standalone game are very similar in terms of art style, the cards, the power ups and abilities, as well as the overall game rules. But there are some adjustments to the cards, and the game’s UI is a bit more flashy in the new standalone version. The game works really well in terms of having glitches and bugs, and the few minor ones I did find aren’t really worth mentioning here.
Gwent has a bit of voiceover dialogue throughout most of the game with some small chatter from the characters. However, the series of tutorials to teach you how to play is all done in text form. I really like the sound effects, the voices and the music, and the graphics are really nice to help immerse you into the game, setting the tone for the world. The cards even move just a little bit within their picture, just to give the game more depth and to catch your eye so that everything isn’t so stagnant and just sitting there.
You can turn the graphics settings up to add more special effects and increase the overall quality of how the game looks, or turn it down to remove some of the effects so that the game will run better. From what I have played, Gwent also has fast matchmaking; I never had to wait long to find a game. If you don’t want to play with other people, there is also a detailed tutorial to teach you how to play, as well as a practice mode so that you can hone your skills to just play for fun.
How The Game Works
You can create some really clever strategies in Gwent and really turn the match around if you take the time to build your own custom deck. Just to give a quick run down, you get Melee cards, Range cards, and I believe they call them Siege cards. Think of it as distance — close, medium, far. You also get special power up and weather cards that will either buff your cards up to make them stronger, weaken the enemy’s cards, or some combination of both. There are hundreds of cards to choose from, and as named above you can buy more cards in the shop to build your own custom decks to create unique strategies (I’ll get to that more later).
The rules how to play is REALLY easy, and I caught on fast for how the game works. You place down cards and the player with the highest total number of cards will win that round. You will do the best two out of three, and if you win two rounds, you win the game.
Attack cards and most buff cards will have number rankings on them for how strong they are, when you play one of these cards it will raise your total number. You use the special cards — which normally have no ratings so they are like 0 cards, to add weather effects or damage the enemy in some way to lower enemy card’s ranking number. There are also trap cards that you can place face down, which will either spawn a new monster or weaken the enemy in some way.
The cards are then divided into bronze, silver and gold rank cards, with gold cards being the strongest and hardest to defeat. Most special cards will have a description saying “This card will weaken all non-gold cards on this row”, meaning it’ll only affect bronze and silver tier cards.
This makes Gwent really fun because you have to use a lot of strategy to either convert gold cards to silver tier or lower, or work on chipping away at the weaker bronze cards so that your total number of cards is higher than your opponent. Of course, you can also play cards of your own and buff them so that you can become more powerful.
Gwent also has rare high value cards as well, such as Geralt, Ciri, and other powerful high level character cards that you can collect to help you turn the tide of battle. Most of the time these high level cards will also be gold tier cards, making them very difficult to wipe off the field.
Another notable feature are the special “Leader cards”, that have abilities to give you an advantage while in battle, such as leaving cards on the field when the round ends so that they carry over into the next round, buffing your cards, creating a double copy of your card, or allowing you to pick up new cards.
Both players will take turns playing cards until one of you runs out of cards or you pass to forfeit the rest of your turns for that round so that you can move on to the next round with a fresh start. At the start of a new round, all previous cards will be wiped from the field (unless you played a card to do otherwise).
Unlike most card games where you pick a new card every turn, Gwent is set up where you only pick new cards at the start of the new round, so whatever you have in your hand when you start is what you are stuck with until the round ends. If you use up all your cards on round one, you may not have enough cards left over for rounds two and three.
Does It Have Pay To Win?
Here is where the flaws come in. There are three ways to gain more cards:
- The first way is to pay real life money to buy a “Keg of cards” (a deck) from the shop. The cheapest Keg was about $3 USD or so for 2 kegs, and then the price scales from there to give you more Kegs. The highest being $70 for 60 Card Kegs.
- The second way is to collect scraps, then use those scrap pieces to build a specific card of your choice. The lowest scrap card cost was around 30 scraps or so, and you would earn around 5-15 scraps (give or take) from completing a battle against another player.
- The third way is to buy cards by playing battles and earning Ore, which you can use to buy Card Kegs. Ore is like the in game currency to buy cards and is collected from leveling up or playing battles.
Additionally, you can earn a few Cards from leveling up, but so far I haven’t found any that way. I almost rage quit from the way the above mentioned system was set up because the easiest way to gain more cards was to just pay for them and buy them.
At first I thought I just sucked at the game, so I stuck with it to create new strategies to try and win some matches, and they worked! But the problem is that the highest number of cards wins the game, but if you draw a hand full of “special” buff/weaken cards, they essentially all count as a bunch of zeroes.
If your opponent has a hand full of melee or range cards or at least even just two high level cards, you are screwed and will lose the round. No matter how much you debuff your opponent, unless you can bring their total down to 0 there is really nothing you can do to win if you have a bad hand. You could balance your deck to remove some of those special cards, but depending on your strategy you might really need them.
This is where the game starts to become frustrating. Using skill only works to a certain degree, but it mostly boils down to random luck and hoping you get good cards with your random draw.
The more cards you buy, the higher chance you have of winning and getting a good hand because you can stack your deck with what you need, then discard what you don’t.
Since it is a bit difficult to get the cards you need without paying money, it makes it difficult to win matches against paying players that have a set of custom cards in their hand because almost every card they pick will be a useful card since they have a specific strategy for their deck. To give you an example, take a look at the below screenshot and the guy at the top’s total card number, and look how many cards he has on the field.
Just to explain what happened, he was using a monster deck and had it set up where the monsters would spawn a second monster of the same type, then he would place a special card to breed them to duplicate all those monsters, and every time a special card was played some of those monsters would get a buff to increase their rating, then rinse and repeat.
He then played a card to turn all monsters of the same type to gold cards so there was no way for me to weaken his range row. He literally had a perfect hand of cards so it gave him a huge advantage in our battle. If you take a look at my deck at the bottom, you can see I had a similar strategy using soldiers, and I too was about to wipe his middle row then convert my own top row of soldiers to gold. But you can see a clear difference in the amount of cards I had from my free deck, to the amount of cards he had. The worst part is, he still had enough cards left to play the same strategy again to win the final round!
I tried to record my own gameplay but the darn footage kept messing up, so to put it into context, YouTuber Zueljin Gaming shows his free custom deck that he put together that uses a similar monster breeding strategy.
Perhaps my opponent just grinded his way to build that deck, but such a grind would be a bit difficult to build a hand like that from the random free cards, so there is a high chance he paid money to buy Kegs so that he could build a better deck. I’ve also noticed that out of all the decks, the monster deck seemed to be the most overpowered deck due to its breeding mechanic and ability to keep cards on the field for the next round.
So you might say “But Nick, isn’t it the same with real life card games? Don’t you still have to pay hundreds of dollars on cards to win matches to build a decent deck?”
Yes, it is exactly the same. Except for one major difference — Digital cards have no real world value. If you find several packs of rare cards and keep them in good condition for the next 20 years, there is a high chance that someone somewhere is looking for those rare collectable cards and will pay a pretty penny for them in the future.
Digital cards on the other hand, they die with the game and you lose your entire collection. As a result, I don’t see the point in spending $100 on a digital card game just to win matches, especially for the fact that this is Closed Beta and all my data might be wiped on full release.
It seems that a few of my opponents apparently spent quite a few dollars to build a really awesome deck that was nearly perfect. The more I played Gwent, the more I realized it was impossible to beat the players that were buying card Kegs with custom built decks, and this made the game really frustrating to play because my puny strategies weren’t powerful enough to beat them.
My overall thoughts
I’m not impressed with Gwent’s standalone game. Don’t get me wrong, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game has solid rules and plays great, but there are a few obvious flaws that makes it frustrating.
The problem is that as it stands now, it really boils down to a whole lot of luck, or dishing out money to build the perfect deck. I will keep playing and building new decks and strategies using the free decks to see if I can counter the more advanced strategies, then let you know if my opinion changes about Gwent upon full release.
Since Gwent is still in Closed Beta, there is a chance that a lot of what is named in this article could change as they make adjustments to the game and balance out the cards, and the developers also mention that they will add a single player story mode as well as a Skirmish mode against the AI so that you can play alone. At the moment, both of these modes are currently not present in the Closed Beta version, so all you can do right now is either practice or battle other players.You also have no way of talking with players or making a friends list in game, so it is rather lonely.
Most of my complaints about the ‘Pay To Win” problems could easily be fixed if the story and skirmish modes rewards players with card Kegs, so I will wait to see how the game develops in the future. I will write a second proper review when the game launches to see how much the official game changes from the Closed Beta, and if they correct some of the flaws that are currently present in the game.
For more information about Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, you can visit their official website for more details or to sign up for the Beta.
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