The Witcher franchise is arguably more popular now than ever, thanks to the live-action adaptation of the franchise hitting Netflix late last year. The fantasy series has already spun out into a wide array of video games, including Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. Shortly after that game's initial release came the debut of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, a standalone single-player spinoff that weaves more of a narrative into the act of dueling with digital cards. Earlier this month, Thronebreaker made a jump to mobile with an iOS release, and it does so in an almost seamless way. Whether you're a new fan of the franchise who wants an easy and entertaining way to explore more lore or a diehard fan who wants to play the game on the go, the new release of Thronebreaker might have something for you to offer.
Thronebreaker's narrative is set before the events of the first The Witcher game and follows the quest of Queen Meve, the leader of Lyria and Rivia. Fans get a chance to play as Meve, as she and her army attempt to take back control of the North. Along the way, players also get to learn more about Meve's compatriots and the world around her as well as enlist a wider variety of soldiers into her army.
Despite being structured around a series of individual card games, the world of Thronebreaker manages to be surprisingly immersive throughout. Each match is bookended by some sort of narrative significance or exchanges of dialogue, and the choices you make as Meve can significantly influence what comes up next. While the narrative of Thronebreaker is easy to follow while your device is muted, this is definitely the kind of game that can benefit from a good pair of headphones, as the voice acting and music help make the world lusher. The visuals of Thronebreaker might be one of its strongest assets, as everything from the interstitials to the actual gameplay is gorgeously-executed, and is easy to appreciate from an aesthetic level even on the dimmest of iPhones. The character and monster designs also feel unique, but also like they can understandably have a place in the larger Witcher universe.
A good part of the game also involves mining various tools and materials -- and interacting with the villagers and soldiers around them -- in a way that almost comes across like a fantasy answer to Animal Crossing. These elements don't translate over to a mobile release seamlessly, as navigating around the map as Meve (which is achieved by touching your finger anywhere on the screen) can occasionally lead you in a wildly different direction or obscure what you're supposed to be focusing on. But as you play more of Thronebreaker, you learn to get accustomed to those elements, and it helps make the 30-hour narrative a worthwhile undertaking.
When it comes to the card battles themselves, Thronebreaker's mechanics can be a little hit-or-miss, but they end up culminating in an enjoyable experience. There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to certain elements of the battles, both in terms of getting acquainted with the roster of different cards and their capabilities and in actually figuring out how to implement those features in the game. Entirely new players might feel stuck during a battle, especially if a certain card needs to be played in a certain row or interact with another card in order to move things forward. Again, these problems start to fade away once you play more of Thronebreaker, but a player needs to be willing to put in the work.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales isn't here to revolutionize the iOS gaming landscape, but that's totally OK. Once players get past the occasionally-clunky mechanics and the slight learning curve, it's an enjoyable experience in a lot of ways. For a price of $10 (half of what the game costs on platforms like Steam), it might not be the most feasible for purely casual fans. But if you want to lose yourself in the world of The Witcher in one way or another, and aren't afraid to put in some work, you will definitely get your money's worth. Plus, any game that unironically lets you play cards against a giant monster is something worth celebrating.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is now available on iOS, and it was previously available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. An iOS review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on an iPhone XR.