Almost four years ago now, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt accomplished something that no other game has ever done: it made me care about a minigame. No, not just care about, but obsess over. Which is why I was so excited when a new game focusing on the battle mechanics of Gwent was announced. And why I continued to bushwhack my way through the myriad of issues in Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales long after I’d grown frustratingly tired of them.
Map 1: Lyria (Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything. Going by map just gives my review writing rustiness some structure.)
Ah, back when I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and in awe of all that the isometric world of Thronebreaker had to offer. Everything was at my fingertips, from the colorfully rendered, simple yet detailed environment lying at the Queen of Lyria and Rivia’s feet, to the immediately engrossing, comic book inspired cutscenes and narrative title cards being voiced with such character that I now refuse to go back to a world that demands I read things myself. This is going to be THE BEST!
Queen Meve must share my overwhelming giddiness and anticipation at striking out on the journey ahead of us because she still struggles to open the map seconds after I give her the command to do so. Come on, your highness; breathe in, one two three, breathe out. Now open the map. God I hope this doesn’t become a thing. (It becomes a thing.)
With how long it took to open a simple map, I should’ve realized that hoping to study the deck of cards I already had at my disposal was asking too much of the game, because once the campsite tutorial was over I could no longer access its many features. No upgrading my camp buildings at the workshop, no eyeing up the men at my disposal in either the command tent (deck building) or the mess tent (infrequent chats with allies), no reading the paperwork in the royal tent, no nothing past looking at the thick fabrics that guard the function of the tents within.
Nope! No issues here! Just excitement! Excitement at the prospect of fighting lowly scum in standard battles as I did in The Witcher 3, and tackling puzzles that require much more clever thinking in regard to utilizing the cards’ abilities, as opposed to simple brute strength. Now follow Meve as she stutter steps with continued map loading difficulties to victory, men!
Map 2: Aedirn
Things have taken a turn. Along with Queen Meve’s kingdom, I find that I am often losing the respect of her men due to the choices I make on her behalf. Turns out it is not just the leniency they disapprove of when it comes to trouble makers; I’m also starting to suspect that the vast majority of them may be super racist to non-humans. It’s the only explanation for their constant low morale that makes them less effective in battle. I know a lot of them are new to the group seeing as the game forced my hand by taking my cards from me and replacing them with this lot, but they’re just going to have to accept that my Meve is a just and fair ruler to all of the people of the land, and will make her decisions accordingly.
It’s not like Meve could have foreseen that a certain someone couldn’t be trusted… I thought she was being helpful and the game was just being dramatic with its constant reminders of replacing one evil for another with every choice. Stopping murder filled hate crimes is not evil, dammit! So stop being all red with rage all the time you egocentric and ethnocentric jerks!
Crash the game all you want! It will not get to me! (It will get to me.)
If these men continue to have problems with my decision making, well, their cards can just sit on the bench. That’s right, I can finally access the multiple tents in the campsite and start attempting to build the most effective deck of cards now! The only problem is perusing my roster is proving to be more difficult than opening a map. For starters, Meve’s movement problems seem to have followed me into this section because the game loves to freeze for a few seconds at a time at least once every time I’m going through this process. That I can deal with, though; a few seconds is no big deal. What really gets annoying is that there is no rhyme or reason to the way in which the selection tool bounces around from one section to the next. I tell the cursor to move one card to the right with the D-pad and suddenly it’s in the upper left of this menu at the top of my current deck. The scamp! You get back here cursor! Yes, to this card! Now move one card to the right, please. [Clicks right once on the D-pad and suddenly the cursor is in the sorting options.] Ugh… I guess my current deck is fine for now…
Map 3: Mahakam
The cold of these dwarven mountains has caused Meve’s movement to be even more sputtery as the constant pummeling of falling snow and cold winds freezes her bones. The map loading in has slowed even more as well, with squares of environment struggling to come into existence.
At least the men are proving to be less of a problem. I’ve found them to be in much higher spirits thanks to this world of joyous, dwarven celebrations with jolly songs and drinking games. Blissfully unaware of all the game crashing that continues to go on around them. Before it didn’t bother me as much because the occasional crash when gaming is nothing new, but now my patience has worn thin now that I am well on my way to the 13 total crashes experienced during the entirety of this game. It’s almost as if the game is self aware because these crashes only ever happen during the late stages of a battle, or during the victory screen / post battle storytelling title cards before the game has autosaved. Pettiest sore loser ever…
Map 4: Angren
Even though the mountains of Mahakam have been left behind us, this section was my Everest as the problems I had been having up to this point somehow reached the peak of their dickishness. This journey has become a real slog as Queen Meve trudges through the swamps of Angren, and I can no longer see past the game crashing, freezing, and constant loading issues. No, literally, I can’t see past them because the game has completely given up. The map refuses to load in and I am often left in a world of grey. The boundaries to paths are still there, I just can’t see them, making navigating pretty impossible.
The one saving grace continues to be the illustrations and voice acting behind the storytelling. But even their soothing character work and narration disappeared from time to time during this map, and I was left alone in this grey, silent world. Alone with my rage.
The Rest of the Game:
I’ll stop with the breakdown by map at this point because the last two maps blend together. All of the frustration from the previous sections continued to varying degrees as the game dragged on to its conclusion. Not only was I over this game, but I’m pretty sure the designers were as well because all creativity in coming up with inventive puzzle battles had vanished. Seriously? A connect three puzzle and match two puzzle? Come on, now, we’re all better than this.
And to top it all off, after a ton of struggling in the attempt at beating an overpowered adversary in what I thought to be the final assault, the game crashed (because of course it did), drop kicking my progress back to where I had been an hour prior. At least getting shot back to my army camp allowed me to reevaluate the cards I had in my deck and form a better strategy to take on this behemoth, but that was the smallest of silver linings at this point. I just wanted the game to be over so badly…
Suffice it to say Thronebreaker brought out a hatred in me that I haven’t experienced since my save files corrupted both times I neared the end of Hitman: Absolution. I still don’t know how that game ends, and honestly I’m surprised I stuck around long enough to see the credits roll for Thronebreaker. That just goes to show you how great the game was when it was working. I loved getting to play Gwent again, both in its OG form and new puzzle based variant, I loved how these battles were used to inform the story that was being told by such talented voice actors, I loved the characters that formed up around Queen Meve in this world of human and supernatural corruption… I just didn’t love the technical difficulties corrupting the game to such an extent that it was near impossible to enjoy at times.
To put it simply, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales was a great game, when it was allowed to be.
So what did you guys think of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales? Did you have as many issues playing it as I did or was it a smooth gaming experience from start to finish? Is my day one Xbox One really starting to show its age? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or you can always find me on twitter at @BewareOfTrees!