The “Kill the Servers” stress test event for Gwent: The Witcher Card Game has come and gone, leaving Gwent fans with a much better idea of what to expect from the upcoming standalone from CD Project Red. During the stress test events held at the end of September, a limited number of players got to experience the early stages of the Gwent standalone, while also indirectly contributing valuable user feedback and data.
Although this new version of Gwent is still recognizably the same Witcher card game that fans know and love, various changes to the game's core mechanics have instigated both positive and negative responses from its devoted player base. This article discusses some of the good and bad aspects of Gwent that we’ve experienced so far, based on what was presented during the “Kill the Servers” stress test events.
New Skellige Deck Faction Ability - The Skellige deck in the Gwent standalone will be considerably different from the version found in the Blood and Wine expansion. One notable change is its new faction ability, which appears to grant +1 to various units at the end of each round. This ability allows low-tier unit cards to hold out for longer against stronger enemy units in the later rounds, which helps make the Skellige deck feel much more competitive. While the Skellige deck may still need some balancing to help it stand up against more punishing factions like the Monsters deck, the faction changes seem to be a step in the right direction.
Bronze, Silver, and Gold Card Tiers - Although this is a minor change, having cards labeled as either Bronze, Silver, or Gold really helps to clarify which cards are affected by certain abilities. Some cards also have the ability of promoting lower tier cards, such as Bronze or Silver, to the higher Gold status. This keeps the cards feeling fresh and dynamic, while also leaving some level of predictability for those who can anticipate the use of these special card abilities.
New Cards for Players to Learn - The stress test gave Gwent fans a sneak peek at some of the new and revamped cards that we can expect to see once the beta rolls around on October 25th. Some familiar cards have been reworked to fit with the new game mechanics as well.
For example, the Poor Infantry cards have lost their Tight Bond ability from the Witcher 3 version, and have instead taken on a new ability that allows a single one of these cards to make two copies of itself. This is likely meant to provide strength from these low-damage units without having to depend on card draws.
Conversely, cards like Giant Toad or Restoration utilize the mechanic of drawing cards from either the player’s graveyard or deck, which forces players to pay attention to not only what’s in their hand, but also what may be in their deck or discard pile. Other familiar Hero cards, such as Ciri, have been reworked to be more competitive as well. While there are some less-than-favorable card changes, most alterations seem to promote more competitive, engaging gameplay overall.
Cards Drawn Every Round - One major Gwent change that most players will notice is the new automatic card draw system. Basically, each player draws two additional cards at start of the second round, and both draw one more card at the start of the third. While this change isn’t necessarily for the worst, many feel that a built-in card draw feature like this undermines Gwent’s core gameplay mechanics. Much of what makes Gwent unique is the constraint it puts on a players drawn hand. However, if a player can fall back on drawing better cards each round, then it somewhat reduces the need to strategize with what you’ve been dealt. Although this change is understandable considering some of the other adjustments made to the game, it’s clear why this would be a matter of contention for many Gwent veterans.
The Lack of Spies - Spies were among some of the most useful and advantageous cards in the Witcher 3 version of Gwent. This is perhaps the reason why we didn’t see very many Spy cards during the standalone stress test. Previously, Spy cards allowed a player to place a Spy onto their opponent’s battlefield in order to draw two new cards from their own deck.
Multiple Spies often led to a swift victory from sheer numbers, rather than through calculated planning with a given hand. Given the new card draw mechanic mentioned in the previous point, it’s clear why the developers would decide to exclude Spies, as having that much card-drawing power would be greatly unbalanced.
Monsters are a Bit OP - The clear consensus among stress test participants seems to be that the Monsters deck is a tad too strong in comparison to the other decks. Before we entertain this idea, it’s important to note that the KTS event build is not in any way final, and we will likely see many changes to various features between now and then.
Like the Scoia’tael deck, the Monsters deck was previously known for having high numbers of smaller unit cards that could be summoned all at once using Muster. Although this is still possible, the Monsters deck has gained several new capabilities that allow for them to effectively pub-stomp the competition.
The Monsters deck now features additional weather-based enhancements, which are mostly expressed through the use of the new Wild Hunt unit cards. Not only do some of these new Wild Hunt cards have Muster or a Tight Bond-like damage increase ability, but they also have an immunity to Frost. Opponents who don’t draw a Clear Skies card while playing against the Monsters deck are usually in for a frosty world of hurt. It doesn’t help that the Monsters leader, Eredin, can create a Gold copy of himself on the battlefield to deal a whopping 15 damage.
Mediocre Cards - While some of the new cards featured during the Gwent stress test add new dynamics to the game, there were other cards that seemed generally underwhelming. For example, The Last Wish is a new neutral event card that allows its user to draw two cards, then discard two cards. This may seem like a reworked version of a Spy, but instead this card was often more of a thorn in one’s side than anything else.
By the time most players used The Last Wish, it would force them to either discard two good cards from their hand, or simply discard the two that were drawn from the ability to begin with, leaving no clear benefit. Although the Birna Bran card has pretty much the same ability, at least it is a Gold unit that offers ranged damage, rather than just being a neutral event. Perhaps once deck building is enabled and more cards are introduced, the benefits of seemingly less-advantageous cards may become apparent later on.
Based on user feedback from the stress test event, the Gwent standalone clearly has some balance issues to work out. However, keep in mind that none of the Gwent features from the KTS event are final, and we may see an entirely new set of features during the Gwent closed beta on October 25th.