We go hands-on with CD Projekt Red’s standalone Gwent game.

The power of a good old card game is insurmountable, really. Whether it’s a game of poker or something a little more family friendly like Uno, there’s nothing quite like sitting down and playing cards with a group of people. There are a lot of things at play at any given time, too — bluffing, disappointment, enjoyment… it’s all there. It’s not surprising, then, that over the last few years card games have made their way into fully-fledged video games, with a handful of them adopting the age-old model of ‘easy to play, hard to master’. What is arguably a little surprising, however, is the mass popularity surrounding The Witcher 3’s Gwent card game. It’s been so popular, in fact, that CD Projekt Red has finally decided to make a standalone game of it. And after some hands-on time, I can safely say it’s as addictive as ever, and then some.

“A lot of people, after we released The Witcher 3, emailed us, tweeted us, facebooked us… asking about this game,” CD Projekt Red’s Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz said. “I think there were like 30 versions of the game made by fans!” It’s fairly obvious that there was a desire for a standalone gwent game, and the excitement generated by fans compelled the Poland-based developers to embark on a bit of a “passion project”, beginning work on a standalone gwent game last year.

GW2

While Gwent employs the same rules and ideas that sucked players in during their many adventures in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s quite a different experience. And by different, I mean it’s much bigger — it has more scope, more depth, better design, and a really fascinating way of tackling a single-player campaign. You’ll be able to take control of the five races that were present in the original Witcher 3 Gwent game: Monsters, Northern Realms, Skellige, the Scoia’tael, and the Nilfgaard Empire — each having their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s also free to play, but will have in-game currency to purchase cards and other tidbits — they told me they still haven’t officially decided on all of those things yet, though.

During the behind closed doors presentation CD Projekt Red held, there were a handful of moments and ideas that really stuck out to me. One of those, as I mentioned above, was the scope and feeling of depth that emanates from Gwent. Unlike other digital card games, Gwent immediately feels like it has a huge sense of depth and a lot of scope to it. Not only is this due to the fantastic universe Gwent has surrounding it, it also comes down to the way the cards have been designed and worked into the game. CDPR’s artists have completely redesigned the cards, allowing them to bring out every little minute detail contained within them. Premium cards can be compared to the lithographic cards you may have held in your hand at some point, with them displaying an almost 3D background as you move them left and right. They feel like they’re living, breathing worlds contained in cards you’re using in-game, and it certainly adds another element to what makes Gwent feel so special.

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As well as this, the cutscenes and various art designs seen in Gwent have been designed by Division 48, who, if you’ve played The Witcher 3 at all, worked on the game’s loading screens.

That wonderful art design continues on throughout the entirety of the Gwent experience. The gwent table Witcher 3 players would be so very familiar with has been remade, as has almost every design element on the board. All that truly remains here is the game of Gwent, its rules, the board layout, and the cards — everything else has been redesigned to represent a fully-fledged gaming experience, and while I initially walked into my Gwent appointment with apprehension regarding its longevity, I can confidently say I’m already aching to play more. The visual aesthetics and gameplay at hand here work so well together that it just feels like something you could play for hours on end without a worry, constantly trying to better your opponents online or participating in the game’s campaigns.

GW1

On the topic of campaigns, not a lot wasn’t divulged during the game’s presentation, although CDPR made an effort to mention that each campaign will have 10+ hours of content and will follow a Banner Saga-like choice system. Each campaign will also be looking into different stories within the universe of The Witcher, although Geralt’s involvement will vary according to what story’s being told. I found it pleasantly surprising that, in the campaign, you’re able to walk around an area in a sort of top-down 2D-ish stylised world that is reminiscent of the world of The Witcher, too. You’re also able to pick up items in the world and investigate areas, earning new cards for your deck as you go. Mateusz summed up what CDPR want to carve out with Gwent’s campaigns, telling me that the team are looking to create “an engaging story with cool dialogue, with impactful choices and consequences, and a mature story.” Similarly, the way Gwent is moving with its campaign is almost unheard of in card games, adding a very polished CDPR feel to the whole package.

I came away from my appointment with more than just a positive outlook on what CD Projekt Red are creating with Gwent. This isn’t just a basic card game — it’s much more than that. It’s still crafted with the same love and care that CDPR are so well known for, and, combined with a returning composer from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is shaping up to be something really special. It’s for the fans, of course, but even those who didn’t find much to love about Geralt’s adventures may find something to like here. I’m already craving more.

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game is set to have a beta on Xbox One and PC in September this year, with PlayStation 4 to follow sometime thereafter.