Hearthstone players recommend to each other every time Blizzard does something to alienate them again.
Not everything has gone well for Gwent, though. In June 2020, support for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions had to be dropped because, "We were spending a lot of time supporting those versions, more than any other platforms," as Slama explains. "The way it was set up was forcing our timetables to be locking entire products and concepts in really far ahead of time. We don't have the giant development team, thousands of people working on Gwent. Like, we're not that big, and every resource that we put in is super valuable."Though they were pleased with the console ports, adding fun little features like the PS4 controller's light changing color to match the faction you were playing, the time saved by dropping support for them seems to have made it easier to add more to Gwent in terms of gameplay options. The draft mode, for instance, though it's in early access and still has a way to go. "I think there needs to be longer-term goals and some sort of ladder or ranking system as well as some ways for your deck to evolve as you play matches," Slama says.
And then there's the Way of the Witcher expansion, which comes with 70 new cards. Ostrowski is particularly excited by this. "[When] we have to actually start working on new cards, it's like, 'Yeah!'" he says enthusiastically, as the others laugh. "But you know, this is the best time of the year. I think it's fun, implementing is fun, but the best time is when we are starting to talk about new expansions."Though its full name is Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, actual witchers are only rarely played in the popular decks. Geralt's philosophy of neutrality makes him a perfect fit as a neutral card, usable by any faction but essential to none. Among the additions of the Way of the Witcher are cards representing historical monster hunters who founded the various witcher schools, each designed to suit an existing faction but alter their playstyle. Another recent addition from Witcher lore is Alzur the mage, a character mentioned in passing in the books and short stories who is credited with creating the first witchers, and who has been fleshed out by the Gwent team."I think it's super interesting and exciting that we've actually put a face on the guy who created witchers. That didn't exist before," says Slama. "You have any idea how hard it is to dissect the Witcher timeline and actually add to it without becoming incoherent? It's a lot of work. But I think it also lets us make some pretty exciting things."
Every new addition carries with it a risk. While a new set of cards should ideally shake up the meta (I expect my triple duel shieldwall Northern Realms deck to be taken down a peg or two), there's a danger of going too far, of making it seem like people who pay for the latest toys have an unfair advantage and everyone else has been left behind.
"What we want to do is create more gameplay options for you," says Slama, "more interactive stuff than just, 'Hey, here's the shiniest new thing, that thing that used to play sucked.' Do we always succeed at that 100 percent? No, balancing a card game is hard—news alert! This, as noble a goal as it is, is not just snapping some fingers. I think it's always easy to go into the armchair and go, 'You change this by one and there you go. My thing is super powerful again.' Yeah, it's not always so simple."
The ballad of Gwent
Back in 2019, The Witcher received a boost in public consciousness when the Netflix adaptation of the books debuted. The staff at CD Projekt Red watched it, of course. "I think it's fair to say that we all love Toss a Coin to Your Witcher," says Nowakowski. "I heard it being sung in the corridors so many times.""I think they did some interesting bold choices," says Slama. "I enjoyed it overall. And I think it's really cool to see the Witcher brand get so much attention and love, right? I think more than anything, it adds excitement to us working on that. Hey, look, you know that thing you just watched on Netflix that's all over the walls? You're working on the card game of it."
Their own vision of the Witcher world remains paramount. While the TV show adapts the books rather than the games, many of the characters from those books have already made their way into Gwent, and been memorably illustrated. The mage Vilgefortz, for instance, has one of the more horrifying depictions, especially on the animated premium version. He cackles as he burns a man alive, his victim's head going up like a candle.It's a long way from Pokémon holos and the cat gif that inspired the animations. It's my favorite card, and frankly it's pretty disturbing. "We think the Witcher world is a dark, dark fantasy world," says Nowakowski, summing up the tone Gwent aims for. "It's not a high fantasy where one wizard could, with a snap of his fingers, change their whole surroundings. There are rules. It's more grounded, it's more gritty and kind of gory in a way. We believe that the world is a beautiful place occupied by monsters."