The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games of this generation. From its complex plot, sprawling open world and diverse characters, the RPG pushed the boundaries of its genre. Inside this masterpiece was a game mode that was played multiple times by consumers: Gwent.

It started off as a side mission. After you receive the main quest from Emperor Emhyr Var Emreis, his Imperial Majesty, you meet a trader in the royal courtyard of Nilfgaard. Once he asks you for a round of Gwent and beat him easily, you get his cards and a notification appears. It’s simple: play other Gwent players throughout the world to improve your deck. This side mission updates and becomes more complex as you traveled through the regions in The Witcher. and met characters in the game who were interested in Gwent as Geralt was. Gradually, it became a sensation and some players had spent more time playing Gwent instead of finishing The Witcher’s main story.

So what exactly is Gwent? Literally, it’s a trading card game where the cards you play  are represented as the characters, monsters, and locations in The Witcher lore. Players have to defeat their opponent within 3 rounds, using the cards available to them. Rounds are won by the total strength of cards in play, but each card has an effect that can buff or debuff other cards. Add that to the fact that you only have a limited amount of cards for three rounds, so you can not play all your cards at once. Unless, you would instantly lose since there would be no cards to give you strength. This turns Gwent into a tense, tactical, guessing game as you try to outsmart your opponent while also making sure you don’t hinder yourself.

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By popular demand, CD Projekt Red, the developer of The Witcher series decided to make Gwent a standalone game and fans were excited by this news. We loved Gwent in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but the AI opponents weren’t challenging enough. So to hear that this new standalone experience would have PvP with a single player campaign, captivated many people. The trading card game has had an alpha, a “kill the servers” stress test and is currently in closed beta. I recently got invited into the beta; here are my thoughts.

Launching the game through CD Projekt’s distribution service, GOG, I am immediately met with a notification to play the tutorial. Even though I am given the opportunity to skip the introduction, the promise of free cards and the fact that this Gwent is slightly different than the Gwent in The Witcher 3 makes me play through it.

The tutorial shows me the basic game mechanics and rules of the game. A game board that simulates a battlefield, broken in three rows: Frontline, Ranged, and Siege. You can only play certain cards within each row and the cards you play add to your strength total. The player with the most strength at the end of their turn wins.

Compared to Gwent in Wild Hunt, the game board is more vibrant. Colors and artistic designs pop out and grab your attention, even certain special cards have an animation within them that bring the game to life. Progressing through the tutorial, I was introduced to the advanced mechanics that were not available in the previous version. Ranged and Siege units can now attack other cards, lowering their strength. This is a useful tactic to utilize when trying to get a slight edge over your opponents. The ability is activated once you play the card and the card that gets attacked is dependent on the player’s choice.

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Overall, Gwent is still very similar to its original version. Veterans of the original card game won’t feel isolated because of a drastic change, while newcomers are welcomed and ushered in with an in-depth tutorial.

I spent a few hours playing multiple matches of Gwent and liked what I saw and heard. In the beginning of every match, you decide what faction to play. Northern Realms, Scoia’tel, Monsters or Skellige. The faction you pick will decide what cards you play. Even if you create your own deck, the deck will still need to be aligned to a certain faction. So for example, if I picked Skellige, I would have access to Crach An Craite and his warrior cards but I won’t be able to use King Foltest and his Blue Stripes cards of the Northern Realms. I can already see players mainly playing a certain faction and even advanced players being proficient in all factions.

Once a faction is picked and the match begins, the leader card shouts a battle cry. Foltest might shout in a kingly manner “Close ranks!” or Crach would chiefly bellow “For Skellige’s glory!” It doesn’t end there. Every card you play has a line or sound that is activated. Soldiers might shout an order, Sorceresses might speak an enchantment, while monsters would growl or screech. Not only are you treated to excellent voice acting but also to excellent soundtracks that appeared in the Wild Hunt. Throughout the match, you will hear different instruments in varied rhythms that correspond and mix well with the cards and their abilities. It almost felt like I was playing The Witcher 3 again and Geralt was facing multiple monsters and slashing them down with his silver sword. The sound bites and soundtracks elevate this version of Gwent high above its predecessor and adds to the already exciting experience.

Once a match is over you might earn cards, Ore (The in-game currency) or even Kegs. These can be used to strengthen your deck and improve your ability on the battlefield.

With Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, CD Projekt Red might have another Game of The Year on their hands. It’s still in the early stages but so far it plays well and it is easy to grasp. I hope the developer will eventually give all the cards animations and keep the overall game balanced throughout its lifetime. I am also looking forward to the single player component that promises a campaign with quests. Gwent is currently in closed beta and it can be accessed only through an invite. No official release date has been announced yet, but it will be coming to PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One as a free to play title.

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