Thronebreaker review - great story, but only good game

Author: Adam Zechenter
Date: 2018-10-18 17:00:00
The review was based on the PC version. Also applies to PS4, XONE versions

I love such erpegous bastards in which we walk around the map, collect various resources and fight our opponents in some original way - this was Puzzle Quest and its numerous clones. Easily, even too easily, I also get involved in card games - recently, the phenomenal Slay the Spire . So I should fall in love with Blood War: The Witcher Tales to Be killed. However, seeing the rating above the review, you can already guess that I would rather describe my relationship with this work as "it's complicated".

The first hours spent with the game are brilliant. If the Blood War had kept this level, I would consider a "nine". The music of Marcin Przybyłowicz and the "painted" graphics flawlessly introduce the witcher atmosphere, and the story, heavy and serious, rivets the screen . I wanted to know what would be the fate of Queen Meve and her team. I was curious about the consequences of various, often difficult and controversial decisions that I made during the game.

However, the more hours I had behind me, the more my enthusiasm decreased. The plot seemed good, but all the problems plagued by The Witcher Tales were starting to bother more and more. I have the impression that the creators have exceeded their ambitions - they lacked the knowledge and resources to make a nice card game that will be fun for 30 hours. Poor artificial intelligence, various minor or major stumbles and a low level of difficulty do not bother at first, but over time they start to spoil the fun. This does not mean, however, that the Blood War is bad - or good Witcher fans waved his hand at the history of any deficiencies and will be satisfied. Because it was the plot that made The Witcher Tales finally hooked me - despite all the shortcomings, mistakes and bad solutions that have found some way in this game.

A story like at Mr. Andrzej

Do you remember the third volume of Sapkowski's witcher saga? The baptism of fire has always been my favorite part of the five-book - team formation, atrocities of war, difficult moral issues to resolve. After so many years, this book continues to impress me. So it is a big compliment that I quickly felt in the Blood War as if I was interacting with this terrifying episode of the conflict with Nilfgaard . But let's start from the beginning, and this one - although it is not idyllic - does not promise to be that serious.

Queen Meve, ruler of Lyria and Rivia, returns home from a diplomatic meeting of the monarchs. On the spot, it turns out that Count Caldwell, who governs the country, did not do well - lawlessness prevailed, and his main perpetrator is a mysterious bandit nicknamed the Prince of Dogs (this is also what his companies are called - "dogs"). It's no secret that things are changing fast and the Queen is facing a much greater threat.

Nilfgaard's invasion of the kingdoms of the North, because it is what we are talking about, always reminded me of World War II. The names of individual armies (Army Group East), unprecedented cruelty and ethnic cleansing, and finally the militarization of Nilfgardian society - there is no doubt that the Führe ... Emperor Emhyr is a piece of bastard and in the War on Blood it is all too clearly visible . This is where the game shines. History has not avoided a few clichés, but writing, although of course not always up to Sapkowski's level, reflects his style quite well.

Let's play open cards

If I were to judge Thronebreaker only as a story, the final note would be much higher. However, The Witcher Tales is a game - and as such it must have gameplay mechanisms. In this case, of course, we are dealing with a card game whose rules are a modified version of gwent. So we create a deck, and then during a standard match we have to defeat the opponent in two out of three rounds , playing one card alternately.

I mentioned the "standard match", because in the Blood War the creators put a lot of effort into being able to offer a lot of different gwent variants. Rightly so, because a 30-hour game, where most of your time is spent laying cards in only one mode, would either have to have thrilling mechanics or (more likely) be just plain boring. CD Projekt RED has prepared many types of matches - from those in which we only play one round, to those in which the rules have been changed beyond recognition. The rules may, for example, resemble those from ... Hearthstone (this is one of the coolest easter eggs, and there are a lot of these in the game - some of them can be found in the "Did you know ..." boxes).

The most interesting variations on the gwent theme are puzzles - clashes with special rules marked on the map with a puzzle sign, which sometimes (not always) require intensive thinking. Once we have to deal with the mad cow before it kills the healthy cattle. Another time, in our opinion, is to sneak (read all the cards to the other side of the board) across the bridge guarded by a troll . The problem with the puzzles is that while there are many, only a few have been fine-tuned. There are many nice, but so banal that I advised them on the way. There are also puzzles vaguely described and frustratingly difficult. Not to mention that I passed a few, although I clearly did not meet the conditions. Well, there are quite a few mistakes in the War on Blood .

Painted boys

To say that Thronebreaker has been artistically pampered is to say nothing. The game is cute! Above all, however, we are dealing with a great-quality audiobook - all texts are read by the actors, and the actors are well-chosen, which makes it much easier to feel the story. Add to this beautiful, "painted" graphics and great drawings on the cards, and you will easily understand why I consider this item to be one of the nicer productions this year. It is a pity that there is no technological refinement behind it. Even on my quite powerful computer (i7-8700K, GTX 1070, 16 GB RAM) there were some clipping and frame drops. Not much, but it is a signal that problems of this type may be more troublesome on weaker machines. Apparently, in a card game, performance is not the most important thing, but it should be mentioned. Unfortunately, there are more shortcomings in this game.

Speaking of the artistic setting, it's hard not to mention the great music that plays somewhere in the background. Witcher and Slavic notes, a hallmark of Marcin Przybyłowicz, can be heard here all the time and create a great atmosphere, harmonizing with the graphics or voices of the actors. The motif that appears during fights with monsters is especially catchy. I am sure that the soundtrack will soon be on the playlists of many editors of GRYOnline.pl.

Too big ambitions?

For now, mainly praised the Blood War - it's time to look at what the game does not work well. And there is some. Artificial intelligence turns out to be the most disappointing - if this is Skynet of the future, we really have nothing to fear. The computer notoriously places its units on the lines set on fire by my units (as a result, the enemies lose health points unnecessarily when there is a field with no fire nearby), it does not use the synergy of its own cards, and it also happens to strengthen my cards with potions at the end of the match. The latter did not matter anyway, because the clashes were simpler than the construction of the Lyrian flail. And for the sake of clarity, I was playing on the normal difficulty level - there is one lower, story, and one higher.

The voice of reason

The main mechanics of The Witcher Tales are poorly developed and badly balanced. But other elements of this production were not used - during the game we collect three resources (gold, wood and recruits), which we use to create new cards (which does not make much sense, because the game is too easy) and to expand the camp. By erecting new buildings in it, e.g. we accelerate the movement of characters on the map (and this one is, by the way, definitely too slow) or we strengthen the cards. The problem is that on the fourth of five maps I built everything that was to be built, and after creating all possible cards, at the end I had 30,000 gold pieces anyway. For some time, it spoiled all the decisions that made it possible to do something decent (e.g. bury the victims of a massacre) at a certain cost. Because what kind of sacrifice is it to spend 2,000 coins when 25,000 of them are buzzing?

The degree of difficulty also has a negative impact on the morale mechanics that are interesting in theory. It has three levels and comes down to positive or negative modifiers to our cards during battles (respectively: -1, 0, +1). This is a nice solution, especially since many decisions involve a loss of morale in various ways (e.g. we can help someone, but the soldiers won't like it, so we'll lose one morale point). It is a pity that it does not affect the gameplay (I have already mentioned that it is too simple?), And thus loses the weight it could have if the game was challenging us (2 points difference in the strength of a given card is something, but not then when you win everything with 100 spare points).