It was fairly late during the second day of E3, and my energy was flagging. I’m not sure if you’ve ever covered a media event dear reader, but the majority of it is isn’t very glamorous. It’s a lot of rushing between appointments, and never breaking for food. It was hot, and I was exhausted.
I had a CD Projekt Red meeting next on my schedule, and I was – rather unfairly – hating the idea of attending your usual E3-styled meeting: “here’s this game, here’s why you should like it, here’s when it’s coming out – now take this over-sized tote bag full of plastic garbage.”
Thankfully, CD Projekt Red broke the norm in several ways. Firstly – they had a playable build of their upcoming digital card game Gwent. Secondly – they had cold beer.
If you’ve played the minigame in The Witcher 3, then the core of Gwent will be familiar to you: play cards in three different rows (melee, ranged, or siege) and combine their scores. If your army’s score is higher than your enemy’s, then you win the round. Certain cards can change the weather of particular zones, augmenting the final score of all cards in that row.
What’s changed is that Gwent has undergone several balance tweaks to make it palatable for competitive play. Some cards have been added, removed, or changed, and certain factions/leaders have had their abilities tweaked, or completely altered.
For example, the Northern Realms doesn’t have an ability to clear the board of weather effects anymore. Now whenever you play a certain type of card, you’ll automatically play a second one. I noticed that the majority of changes meant more cards were on the board at any one time, capturing the game’s army-building metaphor more accurately than in its previous incarnation.
One nice twist is that I didn’t know I was playing a human opponent until I finished my demo. Most E3 demos are single player affairs, simply because having test builds running network code is another hurdle that most developers don’t want to (rightly) deal with. I thought I was fairly OK at Gwent – at least until I was thoroughly trounced by the journalist sitting across from me.
The game is more like its source material than you’d think though – at least, in the broad strokes. Choice-and-consequence will play a large part in the story mode, and will dictate how your deck is built, and the types of foes you’ll encounter.
In the hands-off mission I was shown, Geralt was exploring a simplified overworld with some companions. While you can follow the quest tracker to your main objective, you can also break off from it and explore. Geralt came across some ancient elven ruins, and through a series of voiced dialogue choices, he acquired some Elven Fire – a particularly volatile explosive. This added the corresponding card to our previewer’s deck. In fact, all interactions in the story mode will dictate what cards will enter (and leave) your deck.
Moreover, branches in the story will determine what foes you face, or how you face them. In one particular quest, Geralt was tasked with optionally bringing an injured peasant to a nearby town. On the outskirts however, she transformed into a strange tree-looking beast, and attacked. This lead to a standard Gwent-styled fight, but with some conditional modifiers – namely, the monster was a unique faction hero that could summon a special card.
I’m looking forward to the finished Gwent product. While it took some mental work to re-learn some of the changed mechanics from the base game, everything from its slick appearance to its new story mode had me falling in love with the fantasy card game all over again.