For a long time, we have known about Rivia. Geralt of Rivia has been our point of contact with the world that The Witcher is set in, but we have never been to Rivia. It is a land that we hear of from time to time, a land with a powerful warrior queen, but that is about it. Now we get to see Rivia (and many other places) for the first time and go on a journey with Meve that takes her over thousands of miles, a journey that would crush any lesser person, but Meve is made of stern stuff and she has to be if she wants to make it to the end of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.
It was to be a short journey
Our journey starts with a small detachment under Meve’s command, returning from a summit of monarchs. The people of the North fear the massive war machine of the Nilfgaardian Empire, a realm so vast it is almost impossible to compare to the Northern kingdoms. As a queen and commander, you play through fights in this game with Gwent cards to represent your units as you take on all manner of foes. The Continent is a dangerous place, with bandits, rebels and monsters lurking all over. In your time away from home it seems things have started to slip and bandits are attacking tax collectors and this needs to be dealt with. Thus, a journey home is delayed to deal with a blight on the kingdom.
When not in combat, you control Meve on an isometric view of the kingdom, where you can look for treasures, supplies, quests and puzzles. I was rather surprised by this because besides the Gwent battles and the visual novel styled conversations, the game really just needed a few menus to get from point to point. Being able to explore all new kingdoms was a treat, even if towns were sometimes represented by four dwellings instead of the large, expansive areas you see in a Witcher game. The isometric art-style has a gorgeous painted aesthetic to it, which applies to the cards and the characters in the visual novel sections too, and it is a beautiful sight. From idyllic farmlands to monster-infested swamps, there is so much to see and wonder at while looking for supplies to strengthen your army. You will need gold, supplies and recruits to keep your army moving, and you use these currencies to upgrade buildings, craft new cards and deal with quests in the world. While managing those resources, you also have to look after army morale, which is a simple but sometimes all too important stat. Your army can either be in good, neutral or low spirits, and it resets to neutral after every battle. At neutral your cards have normal values, but morale can change every units base power by 1, depending on how they feel. While 1 power less doesn’t sound like a lot, having every card 1 point weaker can turn a tough fight into a near-impossible one, so you will want to keep morale up if you can.
From idyllic farmlands to monster-infested swamps, there is so much to see and wonder at while looking for supplies to strengthen your army.
As you travel all manner of quests can be found in old ruins and from townsfolk, with question marks, puzzles and battles showing up on your map. Some are hidden though, triggering an event when you walk into them. From ambushes to desertion, disasters and ill-tidings, the world is full of danger and tough choices to be made. Will you punish a mob that is killing dwarves and elves, or leave well alone? Do you spend hard-earned coin to outfit new troops, or free them from slavers and leave them to their own devices? Almost every choice you make has a consequence, sometimes much further down the road in an unexpected place, very much like how choices in Witcher games had some surprisingly long-reaching consequences. At first I was not too impressed by the quests and the choices, with reactions to them being easy to predict or happening mere moments later. But as the campaign wore on, as the stakes raised and things went to hell, I found myself dreading and loving the side quests and the main campaign choices more and more as I came to know and enjoy travelling with my merry band. This is a tale of betrayal and Meve will have to look for allies wherever she can if she wants to survive the blackclad threat of Nilfgaard and repel their invasion force and some choices can lead to you losing a special gold card from your deck, or upgrading it to a “+” version with even more powerful abilities.
Of the card battles, I found the puzzles and the shortened fights to be the most fun. Some puzzles give you a custom deck and require almost pinpoint mechanic accuracy and order to get right. From dealing with killer cows on a rampage to getting your army to safety away from a blind Rock Troll named Sniff-Sniff, there are many places to exercise your brain. Shortened and story battles often have extra cards in both decks, or special cards arriving in the middle of the fight as the story unfolds. These fights really move the story and do a good job of making another siege on a garrison into something more memorable, such as fighting impossible odds or a monster that keeps resurrecting and building a deck that can handle a normal game of Gwent as well as killing off threats was a treat, with many cards to be discovered in quests and while exploring. Now if only my draw luck was this good in multiplayer Gwent.
If you play the multiplayer Gwent game, Thronebreaker has a few bonuses that you will enjoy. Golden chests contain portrait borders and some cards from the story for you to take the battle online. There are also many Easter eggs and cute in-jokes as you play, like a puzzle involving a Gwent game in an Inn called Stone Hearth, where you play a special version of Gwent complete with mana stones and cards attacking each other. You can also learn the origins of Shupe the keg seller, adding some levity to a rather heavy story of betrayal, loss and hardship.
This makes the single-player component of some online card games look woefully inadequate.
If you enjoyed Gwent (either the multiplayer version or the single-player activity in Witcher III), or just want more stories set in the Witcher world, full of monsters and dark choices, this is a game you shouldn’t miss out on. This is a game full of puzzles, delights, tough choices and interesting characters. Meve’s tale is one that deserved to be told, and after close to 30 hours, I still want more. This makes the single-player component of some online card games look woefully inadequate. It is a full RPG, but your fights are with cards and the tough choices that sometimes come back to haunt you. This reminded me how much I love the tales of the Continent, and it was good to be back. Now I wonder if there will be more…
Disclaimer: Thronebreaker was reviewed on a review build with a code provided to us by CD Projekt RED.