Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is an enchanting and somewhat macabre entry into the Witcher video game franchise by CD Projekt Red.
The game’s core battle mechanic revolves around the Gwent strategy card game that was introduced in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. The competitive card game built into the single-player RPG was eventually released in the standalone game GWENT: The Witcher Card Game
Thronebreaker released first on PC in October 2018 and later on PlayStation and Xbox consoles that January. CD Projekt Red launched the game on the Nintendo Switch on January 28, 2020.
In Thronebreaker, you play as Queen Meve, the ruler of Lyria and Rivia. Though the game takes place in the Witcher universe and is entrenched in its politics, you do not assume the role of your favorite beast hunter. Instead, Thronebreaker endeavors to flesh out the world first described in The Witcher book series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, expounded on by CD Projekt Red in the titular three-game mainline series and now made more commercially successful thanks to the deep coffers of Netflix and Henry Cavill’s uncanny ability to channel Geralt of Rivia and his grunts.
As Queen Meve, you are tasked with returning home Lyria and Rivia. You had left the lands in the care of your son Villem, but you have come to find the lands overrun by bandits and those pesky Nilfgaardian troops that seem to be an ever-present threat against others living around them.
As Meve, you will travel over a beautifully crafted and incredibly large geographic area, where exploration leads to hard decision making and the recruitment of troops and copious amounts of resources. The story gives the player the chance to make important decisions that will ultimately affect what cards and units are available to your deck at any given time.
The game offers mild resource management between gold, recruits and wood, all of which can be found in various ways through exploration across the world. These resources are used in crafting army reinforcements, which are additions to your deck, as well as building upgrades to your camp. Your camp includes your Workshop, where you upgrade your camp buildings to receive various perks; The Command tent, where you edit your deck and craft cards/ recruit units; The Royal tent, where you read reports, view maps, keys and collected card fragments; Mess tent, where you speak with important characters that have joined Meve on her journey; and the Training Ground, where you can hone your skills against an AI opponent.
The world offers a large variety of points of interest, tying together regional and political lore introduced by other titles in the series in between mediation of conflict and combat objectives against enemies that fans of The Witcher franchise may recognize.
The narrative in the game is heavy as it is in the mainline game, offering players a chance to delve into correspondence, missives, and journals of Meve’s subjects, suffering under her son’s lack of tenacity and Nilfgaard’s annoying insistence in trying to rule over her homeland. Most combat includes well-written and voice acted cut-scenes with a good variety of standard best-of-three card games and special game types/puzzles/challenges to keep the game from feeling repetitive as you travel across the lands of Lyria and Rivia.
Gwent is an easy-to-pick-up game and your decks merely act as an easy way to catalog your units and manage them in battle.
The game also introduces non-standard battles featuring challenges and puzzles that ask for unusual win conditions, providing some unpredictability for players who are not fans of a linear play-through experience.
The game offers players the chance to skip battles following a combat loss, so there is no risk in feeling locked in by not understanding how to overcome one of the puzzles.
I really enjoyed the narrative with its strong writing and boisterous cast of voice actors that pulled me into the drama of Lyria and Rivia with ease. Those strengths, coupled with the beautiful (and large) overworld to explore made for an immersive jaunt into the world of The Witcher.
The resource management in the game is very tame, but I enjoyed the incentive it gave to really exploring the map and paying to send scouts when I have the chance.
At the end of story arcs in Thronebreaker, the game shows you a list of collectibles and milestones to be completed/collected and allows completionist players the chance to 100% the area before moving on in the story. I appreciated this small act of compassion for the same reasons I appreciate that developers included a "skip battle" option, to allow players to savor the gameplay in whatever manner they most enjoy.
If you are a fan of high-fantasy and political intrigue, I recommend taking a crack as Queen Meve in Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales even if strategy card games are not your usual speed.