As I sat in the room where we’d see a glimpse of Gwent ’s solo campaign and get a chance to participate in a multiplayer match against an opponent, my group was told that if we couldn’t figure out how to play the game in 15 minutes, we needed to tell a member of CD Projekt RED, because there was something they needed to fix. In addition to being a very forthright statement, it was one that showed the sort of perspective and dedication the developer is bringing to this card game. Gwent may have begun as a Witcher series mini-game, but the team is dedicated to making it something strong and comprehensive that can stand on its own.
It certainly seems as though they did. In my demo session, there were four kinds of decks to choose from: Monster, Northern, Scoia’tael, and Skellige, with a fifth Nilfgaard Empire one to eventually come. Each has its own specific trait tied to it. Since it’s been a while since I last played Gwent and I was concerned about possibly facing a human opponent that was better than I was, I went with the Northern deck. Its trait was an ability that would allow me to draw a card when I’d lose a round. Those who played The Witcher 3 may remember you used to draw a card when you won a round with this deck.
Gameplay is as simple as CD Projekt says. Each side has three rows ahead of them for close combat, ranged, and siege cards. When a hand begins, you can re-draw three cards, up one from the original version of Gwent . Players take turns placing cards on the field. Each has a numerical value on it, representing its power, and a figure on the side keeps track of each player’s current strength. The goal is to be the person with the most points at the end of a round to win, with a round ending when everyone’s out of cards. To win, you must win two out of three rounds. Various intricacies come into play as you use Hero, Special & Weather, and other cards. Also noteworthy is that you can have a max of four hero cards in your deck and, at most, six character cards.
While the most basic gameplay is unchanged, aside from some re-balancing tweaks, the biggest change in this early build of Gwent was its appearance. This is a gorgeous card game. Before, it was serviceable. Cards looked nice. The board was clear. Everything was well defined. Now, there’s emphasis on the wow factor, most notably in the form of premium cards. These are cards that have 3D art, as well as occasional effects and animations. They really popped in the demo.
The full version of Gwent is also going to have a campaign, which we were only able to see and not play at E3 2016. CD Projekt Red is planning single player campaigns following various characters from The Witcher universe, with each one offering about 10 hours of gameplay. In the video we were shown, Geralt was accompanying some mercenaries named Falibor and Milaen as they escorted a noble little girl, Torina, through a dangerous forest. After an incident in a mansion that left the child in shock, the group headed for the nearest town. It was there that we were able to see an actual world map, complete with optional locations to explore and decisions to make. As an example, Geralt and his new allies went into some ruins and chose to investigate them. They received a Scorch card for their efforts.
We were also able to see a campaign battle. As the group reaches the town of Malleore, they learn Torina had been possessed by a demon named Zaphire in the mansion. We then watched Falibor enter into a Gwent battle to face the demon. It was interesting to see Zaphire’s ability in this fight, which allowed it to summon a 15-power copy of itself to the field. Falibor’s ability let him bring two 6-power archers to the field. The gameplay flowed quite well in the video portion of the meeting.
Gwent is a game The Witcher fans have fallen in love with in the time since The Witcher 3 was released. The stand-alone version only exists because people kept asking CD Projekt for it. At E3, the multiplayer demo I played andthe footage I saw was enough to convince me that yes, this is shaping up to be exactly what we wanted.