Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales takes a little under thirty hours to beat. At least according to my research. Why am I telling you this in the first few sentences to the review? Well, turns out the PS4 port has ridiculous amounts of technical problems. So bad in fact I could only play just about ten hours worth of the title. Had I played anymore two things might have happened. A 500 Million Limited Edition DualShock 4 controller might have ended up in my nice 4K TV or my 500 Million Limited Edition PS4 might have bricked itself. Yes, you read that correctly. There’s a decent chance continuing on with a review copy to a game might have destroyed my PlayStation 4. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales was supposed to be another grand adventure in the amazing mini-game known as Gwent. Instead I saw more blue than a Smurf adult theater.
Thronebreaker takes place a handful of years before the three Witcher video games. More precisely during one of the Northern Wars that saw the Northern Realms and Nilfgaardian Empire tirelessly and fruitlessly try to conquer one another. You play as Queen Meve who rules over Lyria and Rivia and to fully understand her character and past, you’ll have to read a few of the Witcher books. Regardless, she’s taking to the front lines in an effort to defeat Nilfgaard amongst political, social, and economical backdrops. Along the way allies will become enemies and enemies become allies. From a gameplay perspective this is to ensure a healthy mix-up of cards and strategies. Also, familiar faces from the Witcher series make an appearance and their presences aren’t squandered.
Naturally, this isn’t some medieval RPG epic and the brunt of actual gameplay is on the card game, Gwent. The rest sees Queen Meve’s avatar travel on a large map from an isometric perspective. From here you can traverse around speaking with townsfolk, finding treasure, discovering points of interest, and gathering resources to upgrade our heroines crusade (think of PuzzleQuest, but expanded greatly). Scattered across the world will be wood, coin, and soldiers to find which will be pooled for the player to solve minor inconveniences in the world or put towards an army. Things like quality of soldiers/cards, travel speed, amount of card values you can equip, and other deck related advantages to name a few. You’ll also make minor decisions out in the world ranging from battles chosen to the fates of NPCs. Depending on your selection you could gain a rare card or boost/demoralize your ranks. Which in turns increases or decreases your Gwent cards point values in a fight.
The meat and potatoes of gameplay though belongs to everyone’s favorite turn-based, Witcher 3 mini-game that simulates combat. The base structure remains intact, but there are a few critical changes. There’s still the objective of having a higher point total throughout three rounds, most of the time, than your opponent with cards in play and strategies to exploit regarding card effects. Don’t worry as some will damage enemy cards, allow extra fighters to join the fray, and spy on the enemy’s side for bonus effects. All of that is here and more albeit with slight changes and new cards. However, there are drastic differences in Thronebreaker when it comes to Gwent. They don’t change the existence of the game, but enough to the point where I had to grow accustomed to them.
There are only two rows in which to place cards now and the majority of them can be placed on either. So not overcrowding the board also becomes a potential strategy piece. There’s also a recruitment cap level to go with the min/max amount of cards you can have in a deck. Even if you’re meeting the card limit cap, expect to tinker with deck additions frequently. Deck leaders are also ability based instead of a card themselves. Restrictions are also placed on how many spell cards you can have (unless you upgrade like I mentioned before) and on a new addition in trophy cards. These more often than not stay on the game board with minor, beneficial effects for the player. Fans of the recent Homecoming update in Gwent: The Witcher Card Game will be more at home here. These changes are more in line with the current version of game.
The most important change however, is a lot of battles don’t subscribe to a typical round of Gwent. Many encounters, especially early on to my annoyance, will have special rules or custom decks. These won’t just be about winning three rounds with a higher point total. I found this out by making the mistake of passing on a turn before realizing that this match already gave one round victory to each side at the start. Some will require you to keep a certain card alive in order to achieve victory, destroy the head of a few cards that make up the body of a beast, or my least favorite…puzzle confrontations. Rarely will you be able to overcome these, scattered throughout the game world, your way. They will oftentimes have a strict path to victory and you have to figure it out. When combined with many other battles not being a full, and proper, game of Gwent, frustration set in. However, after overcoming this learning curve of sorts I did start to enjoy myself in a world full of Gwent.
That is until the blue screens crashing back to the dashboard became more and more persistent. Slowly walking around the in-game, map world…crash. Just finishing a hard or tricky battle before it autosaves…crash. Mid-duel when Thronebreaker’s horrible framerate issue, that borders of freezing entirely, acts up…crash. At first I grew tired of repeating duels and skipping cutscenes again. Then after the twentieth crash in a single day my concern turned to my PS4 and decided this needed to stop. For the first time since becoming a reviewer for Pure PlayStation, I had to admit to myself I could not finish a review copy.
Most of the dialogue in Thronebreaker is spoken, but relegated to text boxes. If you are a fast reader like me you’ll be happy to know they can be fast-forwarded or skipped. Cutscenes aren’t around as prevalently and are loosely animated movements depending on which character talks. For the most part though the art design here (and in the title in general) is beautiful and the voice actors did an amazing job. It would have brought this card game to life had it not been for the plentiful amounts of blue screens I witnessed.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales PS4 Review
Thronebreaker isn’t completely the Gwent I knew and loved, but after learning the new rules and ways I found myself having fun. For all about ten to thirty minutes before I was crashed back to the PS4 dashboard with a blue screen. Not in all my life had I experienced a title die like this before and actually make me worry about the health of my gaming console. Art design, voice acting, and the basic traversal around the world did a great job bringing a simple card game to life. It’s just that all of them were smothered by the color blue.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using a PS4 Pro.