Tracing back to CD Projekt Red’s announcement at E3 2016, I’ve been eagerly waiting for Gwent: The Witcher Card Game to manifest itself this fall. In my eyes, the game has had a rough start after delaying its closed beta for a month, and technical issues prevented me from completing a single match during the game’s “Kill the Servers” event. However, I wasn’t about to let these setbacks extinguish my excitement, due to the embarrassing number of hours I put into Gwent during my time with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. When I woke up Thursday morning to an email inviting me to join the closed beta, I shifted my day around to jump in and see what the game has become.
Over the course of three hours, I was able to manage 3 wins and an unbelievable number of losses. This is just a first impressions article, and the game is still in closed beta so many changes will be implemented before the game goes live sometime in 2017.
I’d like to address the following aspects of Gwent: The Witcher Card Game in this article:
- Overall Look and Feel
- The Clunky User Interface
- Nonexistent Instruction for Deck-Building
- The Progression System
Overall Look and Feel
Let’s get something straight, hardcore Gwent fans will likely scoff at the comparison to Hearthstone. But as a fan of both games, there is no denying that the games share similarities. Both are (will be) free to play online card games that offer players the ability to earn in-game currency to buy card packs while also allowing gamers to fork over their hard earned cash for a more direct route at shiny new cards. These cards feature creatures and spells that either directly or indirectly influence the battlefield. Both games are based on a storied franchise (Warcraft vs. The Witcher) and set in a fantasy realm. The list could go on, but it could also be compared with Magic: The Gathering and other collectible card games.
The major difference is the speed of each game, as Gwent is much slower and relies less on RNG. After playing Gwent for a few hours, I jumped back into Hearthstone for the first time in months and couldn’t believe the difference in pace, at least at the amateur level. Gwent is ultimately a game about deception, carefully timing when and where your units will be placed on a battlefield divided into three sections: melee, ranged, and siege. To succeed at Gwent, a player needs to carefully manage card advantage while pulling to win a tug-of-war game of numbers.
CD Projekt Red has done an excellent job transferring the feel of the Gwent minigame from The Witcher 3 while upgrading the aesthetics to a fully-fledged game. I will discuss later how parts of the interface seem very compact, but overall the game is clean and pleasing to the eye. I do miss the classic two tracks that you would hear on repeat as you bugged every citizen in Velen for a round of Gwent.
One highlight that stood out to me was how card kegs are opened. After breaking open the keg, you have a chance to reveal your initial 4 cards:
What’s unique is that you have a choice in your fifth card:
This choice meant I was able to grab a single Monster card (I love Monster decks in Gwent) from the keg. I also loved that the game clearly marks how many of each card in this 5th card choice you already have, saving those of us with fuzzy memories from unnecessarily picking a duplicate over a new card for our collection.
The Clunky User Interface
The largest issue I had with my time so far in Gwent, is the clunky user interface that makes certain aspects of the game too small, while enlarging numerous sections – forcing you to awkwardly scroll left-to-right. This issue is present from the very beginning, when you choose the deck you want to enter a match with:
I have more decks than these three that initially appear on the Deck Selection screen. I have a Skellige starter deck and my own personalized Monster deck, and they would fit in the blank area on the left side of this screen. This screen forces players to click and drag right-to-left (or use the mouse wheel with slow results) to see additional decks.
Once a match begins, players are given the option to mulligan three cards from their starting hand, which is a difficult process when they cannot see all 10 of the cards in that hand:
This is where scrolling from the left-to-right becomes incredibly cumbersome as it is harder to plan your initial strategy when you have to constantly move the screen to see the cards you will be stuck with.
During the match, the battleground screen shows a lot of information, with the ability to right-click units on the field to zoom in and read their abilities. The left side of the screen displays the last card played by your opponent, but cannot be clicked for more information:
So if your opponent played a spell and you wanted to know the exact wording of it, you would need to right-click their graveyard and then right-click the spell card to read it. This matter is further complicated because the game offers no recent history on how cards interacted with one another. Simple animations occur to show these interactions, but are far from complete and can lead to further confusion. During one match, my opponent played a spell that absorbed the power from a random card from either graveyard. I was able to catch the text on the spell as it occurred, but I only saw that the target unit gained 1 power, and not the unit that was removed – I had to dig in both player graveyards to discover which card was destroyed. Cards are much easier to read when you own them and can hover your mouse over them to expand their art and description on the right side of the screen:
There is a common theme the clunky interface that forces scrolling over showing players everything on one screen: the priority of art over function. I know that these cards are beautiful, they really do look great. But when the art is making it harder for players to see all of the cards in their hand when choosing to mulligan or seeing art that dwarfs the actual abilities on a card, a major flaw in design exists.
Nonexistent Instruction for Deck-Building
When a player first loads Gwent, a few helpful tutorials guide them through the basics of gameplay. There’s even a tutorial on spending your in-game currency on a new card keg and how to open it up. However, the deck-building tutorial is nearly worthless as it only walks you through adding a card and removing a card, the tutorial then auto-fills the deck for you.
I honestly don’t have very many issues with the deck-building screen itself, as numerous filters exist to sort available cards and the deck you are constructing is laid out in a clean manner separating your siege, ranged, and melee units from “spells”. The annoying slider is back in full form to scroll through available cards to add, making quick comparisons between cards a chore.
Ultimately, Gwent leaves players completely in the dark on the types of units to be used in a deck, balance between units and spells, and how many copies of each card to include. Hearthstone forces every player to have exactly 30 cards in their deck, while Gwent allows for a variable range of 25 to 40 cards. 40 cards can work with specifically constructed decks, but players unaware of collectible card game strategies might not know that lower card counts mean higher consistency from game to game.
I believe the major issue is this: gamers with Gwent experience from The Witcher 3 have a strong foundation for constructing decks, as the minigame was fairly low stress when competing against NPC’s. Gwent: The Witcher Card game throws new players to the wolves in its current form, forcing them to either look up strategies online or potentially lose interest due to frustration from losing to players with better cards.
The Progression System
As it currently stands, jumping into the closed beta for Gwent is incredibly difficult for a variety of reasons. New players only get the beginning set of cards and 2 card kegs (booster packs of 5 cards) after tutorials are completed. It also seems like matchmaking pits brand new players such as myself against other closed beta players who have had the time and experience to gain stronger cards. Coupled with little to no rewards for losing, Gwent has a steep learning curve in the closed beta. With that in mind, a deeper analysis of their progression system is needed.
Rather than using daily quests (Hearthstone) for ore (gold), players begin working up a tier system that resets daily. After your first 3 wins in a day, you are rewarded with 100 gold, which is exactly the amount to buy a card keg with in-game currency. This amount seems generous (if you can manage 3 wins in a day that is.)
Additionally, as you work your way up a tier during a day, each victory grants you a smaller reward, as noted by the question marks in the following image:
These smaller rewards can be 15 ore to be used in buying more card kegs, 15 scraps to be used in crafting a specific card for your deck, or a random card. As the image from CD Projekt Red implies, valuable and strong gold cards are in the mix for these rewards.
An aspect that I truly appreciated in my numerous losses is called a “GG Reward,” and anyone who plays esports will easily understand it. Following a match, both players are given the option to acknowledge a “Good Game” to their opponent, often used as the digital form of the team line-up for high fives. This acknowledgment in Gwent serves another purpose, it awards your opponent either 5 ore or 5 scraps.
CD Projekt Red introduced this to highlight and likely enhance the positive side of their ideal community. It currently also serves as the only reward for the loser in a match. The developers have also mentioned that they are working on adjusting the system to allow losses to be less demoralizing when it comes to materials earned.
I think the progression system is a unique and balanced way to manage earning ore in the game, but with very few ways to earn better cards in the closed beta, it currently provides a massive hurdle for new players to clear.
After the first few hours, I’m walking away with a mixed reaction to Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. On one hand, it feels great to play more Gwent, but on the other, I wish the interface made the game easier navigate. While the game just started its closed beta and the single player portion likely won’t be released until the game goes live, the steep learning and difficulty curve due to sparse cards and rough matchmaking in the closed beta hold the game back.
For players who love Gwent and don’t have the time to troubleshoot and make suggestions to CD Projekt Red, wait for the full game to be released. For those who check your inbox everyday anticipating your closed beta code, keep on checking. The game has room for improvement and thankfully, CD Projekt Red is listening.