I haven't spent a lot of time playing Gwent in The Witcher 3 -- there are too many monsters to hunt, too many mysteries to solve -- but with CD Projekt Red's new spinoff, that's probably going to change.
Gwent, which is free-to-play and will launch on PC, Xbox One, and PS4, is more than just a competitive card game. It's going to have a full-fledged single-player mode. There will be several campaigns -- each 10+ hours, the developers say -- with top-down maps and even optional areas to explore. Your main character, who will vary depending on the story, will make decisions ranging from menial to significant, in true Witcher style.
During a short demo of Gwent at an E3 presentation this afternoon, CD Projekt Red showed off an early section of this new campaign. The premise: Geralt is working as an escort for a group of mercenaries, and they find that one of their men has been slaughtered, apparently by a demon. After some dialogue, they go off into the world, which is a simple cel-shaded map with a top-down 2D perspective. In the demo, Geralt and crew decided to ignore the main path and instead explore a nearby ruin, where they're rewarded with a card that they can use in future battles.
Combat encounters, as you might expect, play out via Gwent matches. Different enemies will have different gimmicks based on their characters, their abilities, or even the weather.
CD Projekt Red, always known for going all-out with these things, says they're putting just as much effort into Gwent's story as they did in The Witcher 3. Narrative designer Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz told me in an interview that he went back and looked at games like The Banner Saga and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes for inspiration, viewing this more like a strategy-RPG than a card game.
"I really love telling stories, designing quests and so on," Tomaszkiewicz said. "I really like card games in general, but I didn't so far find any with extensive story modes."
Also working on the single-player campaign is narrative designer Karolina Stachyra, best known for writing The Witcher 3's infamous Bloody Baron quest.
Geralt won't always be the main character, although he'll make appearances, as will many of The Witcher's other heroes and villains. In our interview, Tomaszkiewicz said he wants to offer players a top-down, strategic view of the universe. In Gwent, you're more leader than mercenary. "It's an extension of The Witcher's universe," he said.
They're staying quiet about what specific story campaigns will be featured in Gwent, but if they're anywhere as well-written as The Witcher 3's quests, it should be good times all around.