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Why The Witcher 3's best diversion ​is getting its own spinoff

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They Gwent ahead and did it

Damien Monnier originally designed Gwent in secret. The competitive card game has long been a part of The Witcher's fiction — the RPG franchise is based on a series of Polish fantasy novels — and Monnier wanted to create a version of the game that would be playable as a side activity in the sprawling Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The problem was that he was already busy making the third installment of the video game.

So he created a prototype in his spare time, and then brought it to the CD Projekt Red office to show his colleagues. If someone enjoyed the game after playing a match, Monnier would try to recruit them to join his after-hours Gwent-making team; eventually the group included concept artists, marketing designers, and even a producer to keep everything running smoothly. "At some point or another, they all absolutely regretted doing it," says Monnier, "but at the end they were happy."

"We knew that we wanted to do more than just a port."

Soon after The Witcher 3 was released, Gwent became so popular that emails flooded into the Polish studio asking for a standalone version: and at E3 last week CD Projekt Red announced just that. A free-to-play version of Gwent is coming to the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, but it's not just a prettied-up version of the game.

Gwent has been redesigned so that it can stand on its own, getting a number of features that go above and beyond what you'd expect from a free digital card game. Among this is a meaty single-player mode, that will include an hours-long campaign, complete with voice acting, moral dilemmas, and even a large map to explore. "We knew that we wanted to do more than just a port," says Monnier. "That's usually the CD Projekt way."

Gwent

At first glance Gwent looks similar to other digital card games like Hearthstone, but it's different in a few key regards. For one, all of the information in the game is tied to the cards themselves; there are no external currencies like mana or health points that influence what you can do or when you can do it. The game relies as heavily on bluffing and subterfuge as it does on deck building. "It's closer to poker, I would say, than other card games," Monnier explains. "It's all about knowing how to manage your hand." The cards are also relatively easy to understand: the visual design is clean, communicating important attributes at a glance, and in most instances, cards only have a single special ability you need to learn.

"It's closer to poker."

Just like with the original version of Gwent, Monnier has been able to rope in some impressive talent to design the single-player aspect of the game. Gwent will feature the same lead writer and quest designers as The Witcher 3, as well as the voice talent behind characters like Geralt and Yennifer. The card game and narrative also look to be well-integrated with one another. When you stumble upon a recipe for an explosive device in the game, for instance, that card will be added to your deck, while a battle that takes place with the evil Wild Hunt will already feature a game board altered by frost and other elements.

Gwent

"My point of view was that Gwent worked really well, and a good part of that was because it was part of The Witcher," Monnier says of the surprisingly big focus on story. "It worked well within the world." He adds that, from the perspective of the writers and designers, "All of the stories are things that they didn't get to tell [in The Witcher 3], that they had in their mind, so you get to see another side to some of the stories from The Witcher. It runs in parallel." And with The Witcher 3's final expansion now released — and no word on when we can expect Geralt's next adventure — Gwent's campaign could be the last chance in quite some time to enjoy CD Projekt Red's dark and beautiful fantasy world.

"You get to see another side to some of the stories from The Witcher."

Monnier also believes that Gwent could potentially serve as a sort of gateway drug to The Witcher universe. It was made because the hardcore fans requested it, but it's being designed in a way that anyone can pick it up and play. "A lot of people enjoyed The Witcher 3 without having played the first one or the second one," he says. "For us it's exactly the same goal. Even if you don't know who a character is, you can still appreciate the story."

It's also a game that will continue to expand with new content after it launches. CD Projekt Red is known for over-delivering — The Witcher 3's massive, incredibly detailed world being just one example — and that looks to extend as the company explores the free-to-play card space.

"We don't know when it ends," Monnier says of Gwent. "No one does."

Gwent doesn't currently have a release date, but you can sign up for the beta on Xbox One and PC now.