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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5

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Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales   PC (Steam) 

A 40-Hour Ad for “Gwent.”    3/5 stars

In 2015, with the release of “The Witcher 3,” it seemed like CD Projekt was ready to wrap-up their signature franchise adapting the works of Polish novelist, Andrzej Sapkowski. Of course, even videogame companies that make a Big Deal about how pro-gamer or pro-consumer they are remain corporations in the end. Thus two years later, in 2017, CD Projekt released a stand-alone PvP version of “Gwent: The Witcher Card Game,” complete with microtransactions and all of the nonsense the core gamers who love to sing CD Projekt’s praises actively hate.

A year after the release of “Gwent,” CD Projekt made noises about throwing the gaming audience a bone with a brand-new single-player Role-Playing title set in Sapkowski’s universe. That game was “Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.” Unfortunately, very little in the game is ‘new,’ it has nothing to do with Role-Playing, and ultimately feels like an attempt at herding reticent players toward “Gwent.”

Unlike previous ‘Witcher’ efforts from CD Projekt, “Thronebreaker” is built in the Unity Engine. Unlike the vast sea of presentationally-mediocre Unity games out there, produced by inexperienced developers, “Thronebreaker” really demonstrates just how big a difference experience makes between different groups utilizing the same toolkit. “Thronebreaker” doesn’t try to do the photoreal thing the main ‘Witcher’ series tried (and ultimately failed) to pull off, but instead goes for a unique style featuring hand-drawn assets. While the world map and the figures that appear on it are quite minimalist, the game’s real visual style comes through during cutscenes and “Gwent” battles, in which 2D paintings of characters are brought to life via vivid animation. While Common “Gwent” cards are just as static and basic as real-life trading cards, Rare ones feature the same animation technique as characters during the game’s many cutscenes, which looks incredibly novel, but also quite good – almost reminiscent of the ‘magical’ paintings and photographs utilized in the ‘Harry Potter’ movie adaptations. Of course, none of these visual endeavors really do anything to tax the engine or push limits, but, oftentimes the best and most memorable visual stylings in gaming don’t.

Audio is also quite excellent, with a fully voiced narration and cast of characters. The actors give excellent performances across the board. Likewise, the game’s original soundtrack, while frequently understated, does feature a number of memorable tunes – though I must point out that I absolutely despise the background music for battles against ‘monsters,’ since it features a ‘refrain’ that sounds like Andy Serkis performing Death Metal as Gollum.

Technically, “Thronebreaker” is also quite solid, featuring stable performance, native Xinput support that just works, and a conspicuous lack of DLC or expansions. Of course, the lack of DLC is a bit disingenuous, as “Thronebreaker” is, itself, a stand-alone expansion for “Gwent,” with a main menu option to install the multi-player game and a large number of unlockable cards and cosmetics that can be used in the multi-player game. Yup, it’s just like all those ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ videogames Konami sold with useful premium cards as pack-ins.

“Thronebreaker” retreads the rut-worn backstory of the war between Nilfgaard (read: Witcher-world Germany) against ‘The North,’ with a specific focus on the exploits of Queen Meve of Lyria and Rivia (read: Witcher-world Poland). The player takes control of Meve and must navigate her through what is, effectively, a Visual Novel, filled with Choices That Matter and a large number of NPCs who can (and do) make things more complicated.

For people who obsess over those Choices That Matter, “Thronebreaker” might offer quite a bit of replay value, as the choices typically lead to life-or-death outcomes for a large number of NPCs. There are also numerous Shades of Gray involved in the storytelling, forcing Meve to choose between two evils more often than not, and rarely rewarding the player for showing mercy, leading to a grim, dark tale that is, unfortunately, rarely interesting.

For those hoping for more ‘Witcher’ in their ‘Witcher’ game, prepare to be disappointed. Sure, there are three Witchers who make appearances in “Thronebreaker,” including everyone’s favorite, Geralt of Rivia… for exactly one token cameo appearance. Yes, for an IP that revolves entirely around Witchers and their activities as monster slayers, “Thronebreaker” demonstrates how inconsequential Witchers actually are, with Meve’s army of Lyrians and other recruits capable of destroying every monster they come across with little difficulty.

Clocking in at around 40 hours for a blind playthrough, “Thronebreaker” would be at the sweet-spot in length for an RPG… but it’s not an RPG, and it comes across as overly-long and padded out for what little story it has to tell.

Do you like “Gwent?”

Do you LOVE “Gwent?!”


Well, tough noogies, you’re getting “Gwent” whether you like it or not!

“Thronebreaker” utilizes the mini-card-game popularized in “The Witcher 3” as its core battle system. Every encounter, be it with monsters, soldiers, elven rebels, or anything else plays out as a game of “Gwent.” Thankfully, the vast majority of card battles in “Thronebreaker” use ‘modified’ rules to make the entire “Gwent” match involved last a single round instead of the by-the-book best-out-of-three rounds. There are also numerous ‘puzzle’ battles – most of which are optional – that employ mathematical and/or strategic gimmicks to make themselves stand out from a standard “Gwent” match, similar to Chess puzzles or the like.

Ultimately, “Gwent” revolves around having the highest number of points on your side of the field at the end of the round. Each turn, each player may play one card from their hand or pass. Passing effectively ends the player’s activities in that round. In addition to playing a single card from the hand, during their turn, each player may activate the various effects of cards already in play or activate their Leader Ability – with Meve able to choose between a number of different options during deck setup, based on which weapon she equips.

Collecting gold and wood from various points scattered across the game’s regional maps (and from winning battles) allows the player to upgrade Meve’s army camp, adding extra abilities to a number of cards, allowing for a higher point total in the player’s deck, and a variety of other things. These minor upgrades, however, shouldn’t be confused with RPG mechanics, as “Thronebreaker” is 50% Card Battling and 50% Visual Novel decision making, with 0% space for any other genre definitions thrown in.

Personally, I found “Gwent” grating as a mini-game in “The Witcher 3,” and spent less time fiddling with the stand-alone “Gwent” game than it took to download from GOG before uninstalling it. That said, “Thronebreaker’s” mostly-modified “Gwent” is significantly less annoying than previous iterations, primarily due to the ways in which Meve’s pool of cards are able to synergize with each other. I never felt like I was playing with a ‘crappy starter deck’ like with so many other Trading Card Game adaptations. Of course, I still haven’t reinstalled stand-alone “Gwent,” nor do I plan to.

“Thronebreaker” feels less like an earnest endeavor to create a new single-player entry in the ‘Witcher’ saga and more like a 40-hour-long ad for the “Gwent” Trading Card Game. While it looks and sounds nice, the story is a boring retread of boring backstory fluff, and the gameplay is all “Gwent” all the time. If you do love “Gwent” but are adverse to PvP, “Thronebreaker” might be the perfect thing for you. For anyone ambivalent or hostile toward “Gwent,” though, this is an unremarkable side-game that can easily be skipped.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



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