Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 24.02.2020

Review for Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on Nintendo Switch

With the success of Netflix's The Witcher, the beloved fantasy epic has transcended the media of video games and books, firmly rooting itself in popular culture. The time is ripe to provide audiences with as much Witcher content as they can get their hands on, hence why CD Projekt Red has seen fit to port 2018's Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales to the Nintendo Switch. While it doesn't hold a candle to the technical masterclass that is the Switch version of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Thronebreaker nevertheless captivates and awes, proving to be another golden star on the chart of CD Projekt Red's success.

Thronebreaker follows Meve, Queen of Rivia and Lyria, as she leads her army across the Continent in a bid to force back the encroaching Nilfgaardian army. Her retinue is comprised of a gritty and memorable cast - the fantastic scriptwriting and voice acting, which at times surpasses even The Witcher 3's, really brings each and every character to life, friend and foe alike. The narrative twists and turns in unforeseeable ways as Meve wades through each encounter along her journey. Thronebreaker promises the possibility of "20 world end-states" thanks to its branching narrative, adding replayability to the already impressive 30-hour campaign.

Screenshot for Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on Nintendo Switch

In typical Witcher fashion, most of these choices are morally ambiguous, ultimately boiling down to choosing the lesser of two evils. As ever, Sapkowski's penchant for philosophical wormholes is present in this harsh, magical world. In terms of moment-to-moment gameplay, Thronebreaker is an interesting one - it may best be described as a deck-building, turn-based, exploration-driven RPG, though this description still doesn't quite nail the vibe. Exploration and combat are the twin pillars: exploration occurs isometrically as you move Meve around the game world, searching for secrets and stumbling into combat encounters and captivating side stories along the way. Combat centres around the turn-based phenomenon of Gwent, the card game pioneered in The Witcher 3.

Note, however, that this is a very different Gwent. While the core rules have remained intact, quality-of-life tweaks have been made in an effort to streamline gameplay and offer a base for more variety in combat scenarios. For example, instead of using the standard three lanes in which to play cards in, there are now only two: one for melee and the other for ranged. Furthermore, most cards can be played in either of the two lanes, allowing for superior tactical variety. Card effects have been overhauled as well to ensure this is much more than a cut-and-paste job from The Witcher 3's Gwent, as have the designs on them, which are beautiful, particularly on the animated varieties.

Screenshot for Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on Nintendo Switch

Any combat system runs the risk of becoming stale after thirty hours, but Thronebreaker masterfully distinguishes itself from the chaff. It isn't shy to mix up proceedings and provide some unique combat experiences within the bounds of the Gwent formula, as evidenced in a particularly memorable combat encounter in which you must quickly kill a renegade cow before it reduces any of the other cows' health on the battlefield to zero. Special rules, when they are encountered, are well-relayed so that even the periodically drastic shake-ups to the rules don't feel like a cheat. This is CD Projekt Red fully realising the potential of Gwent and running wild with it, and it's a blast to play.

Between combat encounters and exploration, there's also the upkeep of your army's base camp to attend to. By upgrading the camp's tents with resources collected during exploration, the abilities of your Gwent deck, such as the power level cap, can be expanded, and you can even craft new cards to add to your deck to complement the ones that are picked up along the journey. Completing the collection of Gwent cards was one of The Witcher 3's great quests, and it's safe to say the same thrill has been recaptured in Thronebreaker's deck-building aspect.

Screenshot for Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on Nintendo Switch

All of these strengths contribute to this title being relentlessly addictive. Thronebreaker provides a compelling story, moreish exploration, and endlessly surprising Gwent gameplay. The only issue with the core gameplay is the difficulty imbalances - even on Bonebreaker, the toughest difficulty, experienced Gwent players will likely make short work of the majority of the battles. Some of the best encounters, though, come in the form of Puzzle Battles; unique encounters that last only one round and require a specific solution to beat. These range from simple to teeth-grindingly tough, with some of the late-game puzzles requiring a blend of careful strategizing and trial-and-error. Beating them, though, is a cathartic experience.

The quality of the Switch port is impressive for the most part. Thronebreaker looks and sounds great thanks to its simplistic but beautiful art style, which slots in wonderfully to the Switch's hardware. There are, however, some frustrating stalls in particularly intense combat scenarios, with the AI enemy seeming to take a long time to make up its mind on which move to make. While it may feel more akin to playing against a human opponent, the stalls in the action break the immersion and are more irritating than anything else. Furthermore, navigating the battlefield with a gamepad is a sluggish endeavour without a keyboard and mouse. It's a shame this wasn't better addressed to feel more at home on consoles. Blemishes aside, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales does a fantastic job providing quality entertainment on an only slightly smaller scale. Its expansive story and willingness to stray away from the core Witcher narrative provides a unique experience that is sure to woo fans of Gwent, and newcomers alike.

Screenshot for Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

It may not be a terrific port, but Thronebreaker is a wildly addictive and relentlessly entertaining RPG-lite. The version of Gwent herein is the most fully realised to date, taking the core mechanics of previous versions and refining them into a malleable card game with endless potential. A beautifully written story and compelling characters make this a must-play for fans of The Witcher.

Developer

CD Projekt Red Studio

Publisher

CD Projekt Red Studio

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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