Opinion by Dunkoro
When starting my journey with Gwent over a year ago, I was coming over with a baggage of expectations.
At first, I simply expected the game to be a fun game that used the familiar world of The Witcher to provide good, strategic gameplay.
When I got into the game and played with it for a few weeks, I noticed the potential Gwent holds as a game of bluff and deception, where you want to outsmart your opponent and have that be the reason you win the game.
Later on, I realised how deep and strategic Gwent’s deckbuilding is, with the multitude of choices to make all being influenced by the current popular decks and state of other cards. I’ve been a dedicated deckbuilder ever since.
I will be referencing this [url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCrFIiBWFqc]Gwent Trailer a few times through the article to indicate my expectations of the game.
Note: I’m not trying to rant about the current state of the game. I am merely trying to highlight the high points of Gwent and how the game could benefit from expanding upon those points, from the standpoint of a competetive player who mainly focuses on the strategic parts of the game.
ART AND GRAPHICAL INTERFACE
Expectations: I was hoping for a game that would break the popular, sometimes cartoonish style of other popular card games like Hearthstone or Shadowverse, instead trying to focus on a realistic artsyle with deeply mature tones.
Reality: Gwent has blown me away in this departament. The art is brilliant, the premium cards are so much better than what other games offer and the mature themes are plentiful, yet tactful, which is a direct result of the game becoming PG16 instead of PG18.
Thoughts: The game’s interface, while nice-looking and thematic, could use some features to match up to other games. I’d love to see such features as customizability (both in the main menu and on the playing board), more responsive movements and better-tuned keyboard controls. By customizability I mean, for instance, a ‘favourites’ tab where you put the windows you use most often (for me it’d be Ranked Play, Deckbuilder, Kegs, Leaderboard) or maybe being able to adjust the playing board’s looks or ratios.
While the game is pretty good at being fluid at all times, it’s pretty bad at actually accommodating so called ‘power users’. Sometimes I want to just quickly get through menus which I know by heart, but I can’t because I need to wait for said menus to move before I can even attempt to choose the next option.
Keyboard and controller controls are the same. Thus, controls are vastly tuned towards controller and only then mapped towards keyboard, which results in some awkward situations. I’d vastly prefer if keyboard controls were a separate set of tools that is tuned for the medium.
Expectations: I was hoping for a deckbuilding experience that would fully test my capabilities at valuation and truly strain me for decisions of one card over another or even one deck over another.
In such a tight environment multiple decks are viable and there is no clear best choice. Additionally, like the trailer proclaims, in this ideal world “Each faction […] offers a different playstyle and favours different tactics.”
Reality: Sadly, Gwent’s deckbuilding nowadays mostly comes down to tuning your archetypical deck. Some decks are clearly better than others and some cards are clearly better than others.
This has been the trend for multiple months now. Even with the great free to play model the game has, it ends up with the unfortunate cycle that many other card games, including Hearthstone and Magic The Gathering do; printing cards that are mostly ‘filler’ and cycling between which deck is the best.
Moreover, almost every single truly unique card in the game is being shunned away in favour of more and more homogenous decks. This happens within a faction as well as with neutral cards.
Thoughts: I don’t expect the game to be perfectly balanced with everything being equally viable, because I realise that’s an impossible dream. My hope is that cards are closer to each other in both power and utility.
I also hope archetypes would be both less disparate in how strong they are and more mixable, so that inventive deckbuilding still has a space to exist.
It would also be great if we got more varied and more accessible teching options. Cards like Sweers and Assire are great for countering a specific deck type, if that’s what one would want to accomplish, but they’re faction-locked and most factions have nowhere close as good tech options.
The most important thing to note, though, is the fact that different playstyles require different options to be available early on. For a truly varied metagame we require unique effects to be plentiful and competitively viable so that each game contains little twists. Good examples of such cards in the past were Reaver Hunters, Spellatel, Mill, Queensguards, Kambi, each playing completely differently from a typical deck and thus offering unique challenges in play and in deckbuilding. Paradoxically, all of these decks were shunned and hit by consequent nerfs until they were no longer playable. (except for Kambi, which never was and probably never should be competitively viable)
Expectations: As the trailer proclaims, “You have to play smart, you have to bluff, and in some cases you may want to lose a battle in order to win the war.”
This was basically how I expected and wanted the mindgames to function; you’d have ways to make opponent unsure of whether you want to actually win the current round or just gain more benefits for the future to win these rounds instead.
For that to be true we have to have options of playing for the future and the only such options ever presented were Card Advantage and the multiple varied forms of Carryover.
A good past example was Ciri, which was feared and revered, all for good reasons. Thanks to her ability to return to your hand once you lose a round, you could play a game of ‘chicken’ with your opponent after playing her. Do you truly actually want to lose the round and gain that one additional card advantage?
Or are you trying to instead just make your opponent bow out of the round early in a beneficial for you moment and win the round anyway?
The three-round structure of the game allows to facilitate this greatly, as you falling behind early has no bearing on future rounds, so you can actually sacrifice power in the present to obtain more power in the future.
Reality: Currently the game allows for very little bluffing. This is a direct result of the fact that ‘playing for the future’ and ‘playing for right now’ is completely identical for most decks. That’s because most decks don’t actually have a way to play for the future.
Most forms of carryover have been meticulously nerfed to the point where they’re no longer viable, andt most decks didn’t have access to these options in the first place – this clearly exacerbates the issue.
Because we’re in a metagame of ‘playing for right now’ being the most viable decision (and the only one) we come down to a metagame where having most points is the thing that matters most. And winning round one is extremely important for most decks.
Thoughts: I realize that both Card Advantage and Carryover are some of the most problematic ‘mechanics’ Gwent has ever had and how difficult it is to balance the two options against one another.
Even so, I believe that if we’re to go further with the current direction of these disappearing and losing power, the relevance of the three-round game will continue to diminish, which would be a great shame.
I think we need to come back and allow multiple options for playing for the future, not necessarily in the form of carryover or card advantage, but options like buffing a card in hand INSTEAD of a card on the field.
The first two rounds would stop being just about who can force out how many points out of the opponent but also how much value can each player pass on to the future rounds while fighting in the present.
Expectations: I expected a very skill-testing environment where the three-row nature of Gwent would force players to figure out how to play around multiple different effects at the same time including the likes of Weather and Igni.
Units being row-locked forced creative deckbuilding, where sometimes one had to pick an inferior unit just because it was locked to a different row.
One such example was running Dun Banner Light Cavalry (a vanilla 7 str ranged unit) over a Redanian Knight (a vanilla 8 str meele unit) back in Closed Beta for the sole reason that it allowed you to play around Igni better.
Reality: Currently, units being row-locked is gone. There is nothing meaningful to distinguish rows from one another (the only differences in existence is that middle row always gets affected by White Frost and that units get pushed with Aard one row above).
Due to rows being removed, it’s no longer meaningful where you play your units in most games. As long as you spread out your units in the same manner – which actually reduces the amount of decisions to make – your choice of row is ultimately meaningless.
Due to all units being agile, the developers also lost another important tool for balancing cards by forcing them into a less favorable row, in addition to the aforementioned dumbing down of the decision making process.
Thoughts: Contrary to popular belief, restrictions don’t actually limit your choices most of the time. Instead, they enable you to have more meaningful ones. Units having been row-locked was a great way to balance stuff out; some archetypes would be a little bit more powerful than others but were very vulnerable to being blown out by a single weather or Igni, for instance (including closed beta Dwarves and open beta Armor decks).
I can’t say I have a good solution on how to reconcile row-locking with row limits, but I do have three ideas I’ve seen thrown around;
If a row is full, allow your units on the field to be replaced with ones from hand. The unit on the field would be sent to the graveyard. (very limiting and punishing).
Allow units to be placed in a different row with a penalty (slightly punishing).
Instead of row-locking, reward units for being placed on their ‘favored row’ (mechanically identical to previous solution, probably cleaner and more approachable).
Expectations: As a former competitive player of multiple card games, I was hoping Gwent would reward player skill in unique ways and allow one to even benefit monetarily for obtaining game mastery.
The best ways to facilitate such expectations are tournaments, which measure player skill in a very intensive test and then reward them appropriately in proportion to the results achieved.
I hoped that maybe because the crowd for Gwent was going to be innately more mature than most other card games, small money-for-entry money-as-reward tournaments could be something of a daily basis, as even Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: the Gathering (indirectly) do by giving out sellable product as rewards for winning.
Additionally, I was hoping that maybe players that are great at the game, but not necessarily the greatest would also have a shot at monetizing their time and commitment to the game.
Reality: And then, reality struck. Gwent’s competitive scene is extremely insular, only allowing 8 players every month to even compete for prize money. That amount is really minuscule in the grand scheme of how many players are actually playing the game.
Additionally, the only way to get to these extremely elitist tournaments is to be grinding Pro Ladder for thousands of games every month due to the way Crown Points are distributed. If you’re, let’s say, the 20th best gwent player in the world then even if you have the time to grind as a basically full-time job, you still probably won’t ever see any official rewards from playing the game. That’s really discouraging. What about the 200th best player? That’s still an extremely elitist rank to be in, requiring one to be in approximately the best 0.01% of the playerbase.
Third party weekly tournaments like the ones Strivewire and GoodGaming organized have gone unnoticed by CDPR and since disappeared from the scene, ceasing to be an option.
Other 3rd party tournaments which required more organizing and basically self-funding the rewards, such as The Gwentlemen Open, Gwent Ru tournaments or even the first upcoming LAN tournament in the USA, [link the tourney]Wild Hunt organized by Topdeck, have all gone without official recognition or financing and even gotten as much as shunned by having an official tournament be scheduled on the same date.
Thoughts: A lot needs to change in this matter if the game ever wants to actually become a full-blown e-sport. Yes, the big, flashy events draw a lot of audience and are very spectacular.
That doesn’t change the fact that Average Joe simply knows he never has a chance at even attempting to become a pro at this game, either due to the time constraints or due to not being one of the top 10 best players. I really hope this is just a product of the game still being in beta.
My proposition would be to have a lot more official or officially-recognized tournaments, which would happen on at least weekly basis and allow to obtain small (at least sellable) rewards on their own and allow to qualify for the bigger tournaments without insane amounts of hours poured into the Pro Ladder.
The Pro Ladder itself could also use a facelift. I believe it would work a lot better in the format of a league; you playing vs a certain amount of opponents per week (and no more!) playing full Conquest matches to determine a winner (as that seems to be CDPR’s format of choice).
Do you agree or disagree? What thoughts do you have about Gwent compared to your expectations of it? Let us know what you think on Twitter! https://twitter.com/TopdeckPro