[Review] Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales – Nintendo Switch

Written by Derek Wright
  • Developer: CD PROJEKT RED
  • Publisher: CD PROJEKT RED
  • Release Date: 28/01/2020
  • Price: $19.99 / £16.99
  • Review code provided by CD PROJEKT RED

Every Dandelion Has Its Thorns

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard about the Witcher series in some form. Whether you are a fan of the games, the Netflix series or the OG books, Geralt of Rivia has become a multimedia hit. It was only a matter of time before spin-off games and stories would hit the mainstream and here it is, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales has arrived on the Nintendo Switch.

Thronebreaker takes place in the world of the Witcher but doesn’t revolve around Geralt of Rivia. It focuses on the Queen Meve of Lyria and Rivia and her struggle against the Nilfgaardian Empire. When her tale begins, Nilfgaard has just taken Cintra and has its eyes on the rest of the northern realms. Over five chapters, you will guide Meve in a twisting tale of hope, anguish and revenge against General Ardal aep Dahy. Along the way you will gain allies, lose loved ones and maybe meet a Witcher or two. Also, it should be noted that unlike the Witcher series, this isn’t a western action rpg, it is a card battling rpg based off the popular Gwent card game found in the Witcher games.

Every Queen Has Her Sad, Sad Song

The gameplay in Thronebreaker is split into two sections, the adventuring and battle sections. The adventure sections take place in an isometric viewpoint that shows Queen Meve scurrying about searching for points of interest and resources. This style is very reminiscent of many western dungeon crawlers like Diablo, but unlike those titles, no fighting is performed in this state. Meve will talk to NPCs, find chests, banners, wood piles and corpses.

For the non-NPC interactables, these are harvest points that will give gold and wood, which are used to upgrade your abilities. The skill trees available are deceptively large, and if you scour the map completely and complete every side mission, it is possible to fully flesh out all skills and abilities. Some abilities allow Meve faster movement on the world map or give her more slots to equip relics. Others will allow her to create new ally cards or relic cards. It can be very open ended and allow for some interesting customization for your deck and character.

Points of interest on the map will appear as a hand for resources, a question mark for side quests, a puzzle piece for puzzle battles and exclamation point for story quests. Often when approaching the story quests, the narrator will take over and give exposition into what is happening in the world or a dialogue will begin between Meve and her compatriots or antagonists. Side quests usually involve fighting a creature or bandits for some townsfolk. Other quests can be as simple as talking to individuals on the map and choosing to give them resources or not.

Depending on whether you give these individuals what they ask for, it can affect your soldier’s morale. Morale starts off green for positive, yellow for neutral and red for negative. Morale affects your cards overall abilities, but we will come back to that. Sometimes when helping these poor unfortunate souls they will give you a piece of a card, which are scattered across the map.

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher

The real meat of Thronebreaker comes with the battle system. For those that are familiar with Gwent, this is nothing new. You and your enemy will face off in a card battle that usually takes place over 3 rounds, unless noted otherwise. The purpose of the game is to have the most points by the time there are no more cards in your hand or by the time you or your opponent pass. This sounds simple enough, but it quickly gets complex as more advanced cards come into play that can boost or hinder other cards. It took me around 5 battles to become fully aware of what everything in my deck could do. By this point I was gaining new cards and the learning and experimenting process became cyclical.

Later battles in the story can feel a bit lopsided. Standard fights in the final chapter felt like a push over with my now experienced deck. Yet, boss battles would often force me to rethink my strategies. The last battle in particular proved very challenging as their deck proved to be capable of taking everything I threw at them, no matter how strong or cunning it was. While this didn’t soil my time with the game, it certainly left a sour taste in my mouth.

As mentioned before, if your troops morale is up, they will receive a boost to their card value. Yet, if their morale is down, they will be weaker than normal. This encourages you to make choices that will positively affect your soldier’s morale in game. Sometimes you can’t tell what choices will bring them up or down, or you know it is the right choice to make, but they will disagree. For instances like this, there are shrines on the map. Praying at the shrine will move your morale up 1, so use them wisely. Once it has been activated, it can’t be used again.

Oh Valley of Plenty

When first beginning the game, the player is treated to a beautiful scene displaying many of the characters Meve will encounter on her 20-30-hour journey. The cutscenes are done in motion comic format. Little movement is done between stills, such as characters mouths moving or swaying slightly to give off the illusion of not being a still. They are drawn beautifully and offer much detail. The same can be said for the cards for battle. Each card has great detail which helps in seeing them as soldiers in the battlefield, not just pawns in a game.

The world map is gorgeous and made me yearn for an isometric action rpg each time I finished a card battle or cutscene. I may just be biased in my love of those games, but I felt it was a waste of detailed environments and characters to just roam around in and not take up swords. Some of these models are reused during the card battles as there is normally a command unit on the left side of the play area. They will react and call for attacks based on what is transpiring in the battle.

While battling over countless hours, the clank of swords on shields never seemed dull thanks to the sharp sound design present in this title. The voice acting is also quite impeccable. Even smaller characters with only a few lines seemed very convincing. I enjoyed listening to Meve discuss tactics with her many companions as well as her curses to the enemies of Lyria. The soundtrack was quite enjoyable as well. The vocal work on the tracks stood out, and the pounding drums of the war marches helped to make the battles more intense.

Gods Have Mercy!

While I preferred playing this title in docked mode to take full advantage of the extraordinary artwork, it played equally as well in handheld mode. The battles and animation seemed identical, which was impressive as there can be many moving pieces during some of the more complex card battles. Whether you prefer to battle on the go or cozy up on the couch with a cup of coffee, you shouldn’t experience any hiccups or setbacks with Thronebreaker.

Final Thoughts

Thronebreaker is a solid card battling rpg that contains a lengthy tale of betrayal, bloodlust and redemption. Fans of card battles will find much to love about the game with its hardest difficulty being quite a challenge, whereas fans of the Witcher stories can stick to the story as the game allows the player to skip tough battles on the lowest setting. No matter how you prefer your experience, Thronebreaker truly does have something for all fans of the Witcher series.

Pros

  • Challenging Card Battles
  • Engaging Story
  • Great Voice Acting

Cons

  • Lopsided Difficulty in the End
  • Underused World Map

Verdict

CD PROJEKT brings a different take to the already established world of the Witcher. Whether you are an experienced Gwent master or a complete novice, there is plenty to enjoy in this tale of revenge and retribution.

4.5/5

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