Gwent: The Witcher Card Game hands-on  – Nilfgaard marches on, reveals the rough plot of Gwent’s first story campaign

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game Preview

Game PreviewFeb 3, 2017 at 4:54a PSTby Draug

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game hands-on – Nilfgaard marches on, reveals the rough plot of Gwent’s first story campaign

February 6 will see Gwent expanded with the addition of the fifth playable faction – Empire of Nilfgaard. We’ve seen the black ones in action and we’re impressed with their original tactics. There’s also some new info on the story campaigns.

GWENT: THE WITCHER CARD GAME IN A NUTSHELL:
  1. A standalone expansion of a CCG minigame featured in The Witcher 3;
  2. Focuses on battles among various factions, where units and heroes clash on a battlefield composed of three rows;
  3. Features extensive single player campaigns alongside multiplayer gameplay;
  4. Closed beta-tests available to PC and Xone users.

Gwent’s closed beta-tests have been up for several months now, and in that time the emotions surrounding The Witcher Card Game have somewhat subsided. CD Projekt Red, however, intends to reawaken some of the gamers’ passion with the upcoming update, scheduled for February 6, which will introduce the new, fifth faction – Empire of Nilfgaard, We’ve witnessed a prelude to this event in the form of a demonstration for the press, which took place last week. Obviously, we were there in Warsaw and took the Imperial Army for a spin before the official release. Our early impressions are as follows: the devs have yet to balance this and that, but overall, the new faction is highly playable even as it is now.

The default Nilfgaard deck, built solely for the purpose of this demonstration – not very effective in actual matches, but it does a good job of presenting the faction.

Praise the Great Sun!

To give you the gist of it, Nilfgaard is different from anything we’ve encountered in the game so far. While the preferred tactics of currently available decks seem to focus on recycling of fallen units or keeping the cards in our hand “rolling” (which, according to the devs, should and will not stand), the black ones offer vastly different battle strategies. Yes, they do also have the Vicovaro Medic, which enables you to resurrect an enemy unit on your side, but that’s just a detail among the available options.

First and foremost, the Nilfgaard faction emphasizes the importance of disloyal units – commonly known as spies. Their role is different than allowing us to draw additional cards, though. Instead they bolster enemy lines, at the same time offering us significant power-ups for our own units (which are rather powerful by default – no matter the row, their average strength is 6-7 points). The mechanics of the new faction also incorporate two novelties – controlling the card on top of our own deck and revealing the cards in opponent’s hand. Another noteworthy aspect is the faction’s special ability – it enables us to replace a single card at the beginning of second and third turn.

All of the above gives us a rather unique play style. We set up cards both for ourselves and for our opponent, but each such action may be a chance to power up our own units – not very numerous but packing some serious punch. At the same time, we have the advantage of being able to plan our next move, thanks to some knowledge of enemy hand and the card on top of our own deck (which can come in handy at the end of a round). Admittedly, it’s just a matter of time before other factions will be allowed to use similar tricks, but I’m pretty sure none of them will be as well-versed in their application as Nilfgaard.

Without the addition of cards such as First Light (or other means to counter weather effects) the Nilfgaard deck may be easily beaten by Wild Hunt.

„Ride, sons of Nilfgaard!”

Some cards available in the Nilfgaard deck:

  1. Assire var Anahid (silver, 9 strength) – choose up to 2 cards from your opponent's graveyard and randomly place them in your opponent's deck, for the price of Assire losing strength;
  2. Cahir (gold, 6 strength) – after 2 turns, the skills of both leaders will again be available for use;
  3. Egan (silver, 5 strength) – block the skill of a chosen enemy card;
  4. Letho of Gulet (gold, 1 strength) – banish 3 non-gold units on the row and add their strength to this unit's base strength;
  5. Menno Coehoorn (gold, 9 strength) – set the strength of all opposing non-gold spying units to 1;
  6. Stefan Skellen (gold, 8 strength) – choose any card in your deck, then shuffle your deck and place the chosen card on top;
  7. Vattier de Rideaux (gold, 7 strength) – reveal up to 2 cards in your hand and the same number of random cards in your opponent's hand.

My personal favorite among Nilfgaard’s three leader cards is Jan Calveit. The reason for that is simple: his special ability – it allows you to move 3 spies to your side of the battlefield – seems much more powerful than what the other two leader cards can offer. Even Emhyr var Emreis (there’s no Empire without him after all) with his ability to reveal 2 cards in the opposing hand seemed like a poor choice compared to Calveit. Which means that CD Projekt Red may yet have much work left to do when it comes to balancing Nilfgaard.

Speaking of balance – I suppose you’re all wondering just how good does the Empire fare against the other factions? Well, having the limited experience of as few as three matches against the AI, I’m not really in a position to say anything profound on the subject. Twice was I miserably defeated by Monsters, having succumbed to their weather manipulation skills (although a better tactician armed with First Light or some other good countermeasure may have been able to withstand it and win). The battle against Northern Kingdoms, however, was thrilling and well-matched. An hour later, the devs have announced that they’re planning to introduce significant changes to the Northern Kingdoms deck… Which means that the final game balance will be forged during the beta-tests.

The third Nilfgaard leader is Morvan Voorhis – in my opinion, his special skill is as bland as that of Emhyr’s (at least compared to the one offered by Jan Calveit).

A glance into the (single-player) future

Obviously, once we’d get a chance to talk to the guys at CDPR, we wouldn’t limit ourselves to asking questions only about Nilfgaard. The key topic were the single player story campaigns – focusing mostly on the matter of when exactly they’ll happen. Well, we can expect the first batch to appear once the open beta-tests begin. Which means when? That the devs were unable to specify. We got to learn some specifics concerning its contents though – the first campaign will focus on Geralt and it will be based on… the original book series! We’ve confirmed, for example, that it will feature an important battle for a certain bridge. Those of you who have read Baptism of Fire surely know what this means…

What’s more, the devs have dispelled my fears concerning the proportion of gameplay elements in single player. They have assured me that the campaign will provide significantly more that a series of card battles interrupted by short moments of moving our character on the map and listening to one-liner dialogues. According to their careful estimations, duels and narrative (including exploration) are to share the game’s contents more or less equally between themselves. It’s hard to establish something more, because the team is still tampering with various solutions. They have considered, for example, junctioning single- and multiplayer modes through a shared award system. At the moment, we don’t even know whether we’ll be given a difficulty level setting in the campaigns.

How about some other news relating to multi? Well, I’ve mentioned the devs’ plans to make some changes to Northern Realms – I can only add that their objective is to find a new “identity” for the deck (its previous focus on being able to “gold” and “degold” cards at wish apparently disappointed the devs). Other than that, it’s hard to get anything solid, as the devs are still debating and adjusting various concepts. Special events? Sure, it may happen. A “free mode”, which would allow us to set our own battle conditions? Yes, the devs are certainly not against the idea. Still, as long as Gwent remains caged in closed beta, there’s really not much more left for us to say.

Watchful fans will notice some things that are different in the current version of Gwent – here, for example, we can see new card markings (eye, magnifier) and a new version of Poor F*cking Infantry.

Holy gwent, it might just work!

To sum things up, for now Nilfgaard presents itself as a very interesting Gwent faction. I had fun playing as the Empire, sending spies to the enemy’s side from behind the lines of my mighty infantry so I could profit from them in many ways. The faction becomes all the more interesting if we treat it as a harbinger of changes that will, in time, affect all the other decks as well – which can be understood as allowing them to regain a unique character, as in the case of the aforementioned Northern Kingdoms.

And what can I say about the perspectives of The Witcher Card Game in the long run? I’d say that before the game is released – or at least enters open beta-tests – it’s hard to say anything for certain, because everything could change the minute somebody comes up with an interesting new idea. What is rather undeniable is the fact that Gwent is no match for Hearthstone. It may, however, be able to secure a decent market segment for itself, standing apart from competition with its interesting setting, original gameplay and, most importantly, single player campaigns. Did CD Projekt Red bet on the right horse in this competition? I sure hope so, because my heart is with them on this one. Just as long as they don’t drop their ambitious RPG in favour of free-to-plays…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Up to now, my direct contact with Gwent was rather scarce. That said, I’m rather familiar with the game thanks to a close friend of mine who had spent hundreds of hours playing it. I couldn’t have found a better person to teach me all there is to know about the secrets to playing Northern Kingdoms, Monsters, Scoia’tael, and Skellige than her (you have my thanks, Ankalime Arael!). While I’m not really a fan of the genre, The Witcher Card Game got me interested with its setting… and of course the story campaigns, my expectations of which only keep rising.

DISCLAIMER

All costs related to our participation in the demonstration of Gwent’s new faction were covered by ourselves.