In 2018, CD Projekt released Red Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales ($ 9.99) on PC and finally PS4 and Xbox One as a single-player campaign component of its popular GWENT card game. For those who don’t know, GWENT is a mini-game in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that has attracted a ton of fans alongside this release and has resulted in a full game being built on it. I played a bit of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on Xbox One when it got there and enjoyed my time doing it, but I felt like it would be better to experience on Nintendo Switch. The game finally arrived on Nintendo Switch earlier this year and is now on iOS with an Android version that will follow later in the year.
Thronebreaker: In The Witcher Tales you take on the role of Queen Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia. As the queen, you are immediately tasked with handling an invasion and thrown straight into the action. The story is full of well-written characters, excellent voice acting, and choices that you will make that have real consequences. I was already expecting the story to be great here, but this is one of the few games where decision making actually comes to a standstill. If you ever think that this is what you want to experience just for the story and not be interrupted by battles and puzzles, you can always skip battles in easy mode.
Adventure games are usually pretty short on mobile devices. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, on the other hand, takes about 28 to 30 hours and can be shorter or longer depending on the level of difficulty. Gwent veterans are better off on higher levels of difficulty, while folks who aren’t interested in Gwent can even choose the lowest setting that allows you to skip Gwent encounters. It’s great to see such accessibility options in long games.
The core game of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is exploration, gathering resources, talking to people, and both puzzles and battles that involve Gwent. Resources can be collected by tapping and holding near a POI. There’s also a camp menu that you can use to upgrade, work on your deck, recruit, and more. I was very impressed with the places you are exploring here. However, tapping and holding to collect resources became exhausting. As an introduction to Gwent mechanics, this does a decent job with explanations at first, but it’s not great and you have to spend time learning and practicing on your own. It doesn’t help that the balance between Thronebreaker (solo experience) and Gwent himself (multiplayer balance) is very different.
As with other reviews I’ve done on ports that are also on other systems, in addition to iOS, I also tried Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on Xbox One X and PC to compare how the game is in terms of graphics Performs on different hardware, performance and control options.
When a game with consoles and PC arrives on the phone, one would hope that all control options would be supported, since the phone is almost as flexible as the PC in terms of inputs. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales offers keyboard and mouse support as well as controller support on the PC. On iOS there are only touch controls. I’ve tried an Xbox One controller and a Steelseries Nimbus and haven’t had any luck with controller support. The touch controls work on the iPad and almost as well on the iPhone, but the controller support would have been good since the game already supports it on other systems. It’s great to see that haptic feedback is supported.
The ability to sync progress between PC and phone via GOG and Steam is something more games need to do, but the implementation here leaves a lot to be desired. GOG lets you sync your progress after you log in, but you’ll need to enter your password if you want to sync again. Steam requires you to fully sign in every time you want to sync, which is very annoying. I thought this would be as seamless as syncing progress between PC and Nintendo Switch for The Witcher 3, but this is far from well done.
When it comes to visuals, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales looks very stylized. It offers a combination of point and click movement in an isometric setting, visually novel segments, cutscenes and of course Gwent. For a game that offers so many different visual perspectives, aesthetics are crucial. Everything looks great on my iPhone 11 from the user interface to the actual card battles and movements. On the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro, I found that some assets were much lower resolution than they should be. The loading screens that maps are displayed on are noticeably blurry compared to the actual, clean gameplay.
Performance was erratic on the iPad too, but I’m not surprised by that as I’ve seen random frame drops over my time on Xbox One X, where it targets 60 fps. On the iPhone 11 and the two iPads I’ve played on, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales aims at 30 fps and mostly holds that. On the iPhone 11, my experience was almost perfect, except that some elements of the user interface were a little on the small side. On an iPad that scales everything better on, both the iPad Air 2 (expected) and the first-generation iPad Pro (disappointing) are not optimally performing.
The game has a graphics options menu to play around with, plus graphics quality, vsync, anti-aliasing and animation options for premium cards. This didn’t help me at all to keep the game running smoothly on the first generation iPad Pro.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales has excellent music and excellent voice acting. The production values on this version are generally very high, but the tone is consistently brilliant. This has more voice acting than many AAA games I’ve played. While there are a few well-known pieces from The Witcher 3, the original score for Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is well worth checking out on its own. This is definitely on my list for the best soundtracks of the year on iOS.
In its current state, the biggest problems with Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on iOS are the graphics and performance on my iPads, the non-seamless support for cloud storage, and the lack of support for controllers. Depending on how much these aspects affect your gaming experience, your overall enjoyment of this great story may change. If you are just looking for a deck of cards I would recommend looking elsewhere. Gwent is fun, but this game is more about history and the world than just Gwent. I also have a feeling that newbies to Gwent may have trouble understanding the mechanics here without the need for trial and error that could feel annoying. Other card games do a better job with tutorials.
Overall, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales on iOS is a must for all fans of The Witcher 3 and Gwent. If you don’t like card games but enjoy the world of CD Projekt Red’s Witcher, the storytelling here will more than make up for it. You can even play on a lower difficulty level to skip encounters if all you want to do is experience the story and the world. The writing and story are strong enough to make this worth it even for those who know nothing about The Witcher, as this is an experience in its own right. With a few fixes and improvements, the iOS version of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales can easily be the best way to play it.