Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

Thronebreaker is essentially a Witcher side-story in visual novel form. It’s a very well-told one, with beautiful presentation and meaningful reactivity. In this respect, it deserves to be called a Witcher game as much as any other. Its characters are sympathetic, and without exception, voiced by talented and well-cast actors. The art, from the cards to the animated figures in cutscenes, is absolutely fantastic. The music is not only good but impressively dynamic, boiling up as the player puts cards down, which isn’t something I can demonstrate just by linking to selections from the soundtrack on youtube.

Perhaps my favorite thing about it is getting to feel immersed in a story where I’m leading a ragtag army again, experiencing steep rises and falls in fortune, and at times admitting former foes as new allies, gaining new party members. Narratively, it reminds me of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, or even Final Fantasy Tactics in a way. As the story itself goes, it was a bit of an adjustment to go from Geralt, who has the luxury of fighting whoever pisses him off without worrying about whether it causes a war, to Queen Meve of Lyria and Rivia — especially when up to this point, royals in the Witcher world have been consistently portrayed as fickle psychopaths best avoided, and rightly so.

At first I didn’t see eye-to-eye with Queen Meve’s “too proud to bend the knee” attitude, though this was in part because I was affected by the historical context provided by other Witcher games: it seemed like a futile struggle to hang onto a throne in 1267 when I knew that the invading Nilfgaard armies would come back even harder in 1272. To take a class-conscious view, as well as one colored by hindsight, it hardly seemed worth having all her subjects burned alive just for one queen to keep her throne for a while. Later, though, as I started to treat the situation as the present and not a page in a history book, and as it became apparent that Nilfgaard was quite ruthless to the peasantry even after taking the lands, I came around more to Meve’s resistance effort, also in part because she ceases to represent one specific small kingdom’s interests, traveling the world and generally righting wrongs to some extent as Geralt does.

But enough of that. This is a collectible card game, so I should probably talk about cards. It’s not just a visual novel after all. But here is the weak link of the game: the gameplay. The exploration is tedious. The card matches against the AI are, too. I’m actually quite a fan of Gwent, and I was really looking forward to a single-player campaign. But Thronebreaker was so easy (on “Bonebreaker” difficulty) that battles became tedious in their lack of challenge. Mind you, I played Thronebreaker at launch in October. As of December, a patch was released to fix up the pathetically easy battles. So to some extent, it’s a solved problem, but while I’m not playing through the game again, I’ve seen that the changes only boost power and armor values of enemies.

I think the right level of difficulty to aspire to is to occasionally lose battles even without making obvious misplays if your deck is suboptimal, to feel a constant need for gold and wood resources to unlock units that might take off some of the pressure, and (in the later parts of the game) to have battles that realistically can’t be won at all if the opponent has a hard counter to your current deck strategy. It’s possible that the patch changes to power and armor values accomplish this, but it does nothing for the “puzzle” fights, where you’re expected to play a specific hand in the one sequence that will just barely net you the exact point total you need. From what I’ve heard, the Hearthstone single player puzzles often manage to do just that, but Thronebreaker puzzles are rarely so tightly designed. I often had more resources than I needed: at times I’d find myself finished with extra cards to play. Not red herrings, but cards that would solve the puzzle more.

I could define a “hard” Thronebreaker puzzle as anything that took me more than fifteen minutes, and there weren’t many. A puzzle would go like this: I would be shown a board with various cards, each with their own text description of how they react to other cards and situations. Before I’m even ready to attempt a solution, I might first sound out these card mechanics through play, just making vaguely educated guesses by slapping cards down to see what happens, rather than trying to put the bigger picture together in my head. The thing is, I beat a lot of the puzzles on the first or second try during this process — before my brain was even ready to work. Such puzzles are patronizingly easy, and as of this writing, it seems the developers have no intention to change this.

Even putting aside whether they’re hard or not, I hoped for puzzles that were more to Gwent as chess puzzles are to chess. I wanted to be put into the middle of what could ostensibly be a real Gwent game, and find the one sequence that would get me out ahead by the end of a round. But the puzzles were often minigames with entirely custom rulesets, such as those where a “character” would be made “walk around” by swapping places with empty “tile” cards. Yes, I suppose it goes to show that you can technically do literally anything with Gwent cards, but it felt tedious and silly.

Capture

Tile-based movement? Why?

I also suspect that the resource curve is still broken, because even if players have to take several tries to win battles now, it doesn’t affect how much they’re earning. I spent the first couple acts of the game worried about how tight money was going to be. When unexpected expenses came up for Meve in the story, I felt the pinch. Early on, I made sure to get the abilities that had a large down payment but increased the amount of gold I would win per fight, but I think this was a mistake, as it’s only in the early chapters that you’re suffocating for want of coin, and by the time these investments pay off, you don’t care anymore. Around Act 4 or 5, there are still story events asking you to carefully consider whether it’s worth buying your way out of a problem, but the answer is always yes, because money becomes worthless. It negatively impacts the narrative. The dialogue options often seemed like they were written with a harder game in mind, and the dissonance can be felt.

Though the game was not difficult, the pretense of difficulty is in its spirit. It autosaves whenever you make a decision, and decisions can result in your friends abandoning you forever, deserters making off with some of your money, sections of your army getting poisoned, or crushed in an ambush. As if it were Oregon Trail, or some roguelike. Even despite how little of an issue it was to lose units and money, the story was well-told enough to make me regret my bad decisions, and I embraced the feeling of having to live with the consequences. That said, I found the autosave system annoying, and not just because it forced me to live with some bugs present in the game at launch. The thing is, I can live with a decision I made, but it’s frustrating to live with a decision I never wanted to make. I missed out on a character because I misinterpreted a dialogue option. That’s something that can happen in any game — though ideally those kinks should be worked out following tester feedback — but if it had been The Witcher 3, I could have reloaded a save in that situation. Did anyone really complain that it wasn’t good to be able to reload a save in The Witcher? Why is it any different here?

I encountered many bugs that have since been patched, so on this I’ll only say that it’s been a while since I played a game at time of launch, and that it has always been a mistake to do so. But to replay it now? I can’t be bothered. I did do a quick rush-through on the easy mode (on which battles can be skipped) to collect some achievements that had been bugged when I first completed the game, but I couldn’t imagine myself wanting to go through the whole tedious experience again of gathering field resources to actually make an army. Frankly, puzzle games and reactive gameplay don’t go well together either: who wants to repeat a puzzle they’ve already found the solution to? It’s a shame, because I did catch a few lines in the story during my little speedrun that picked up new meaning the second time I heard them, bits of foreshadowing and winking hints of twists to come, so I think the writing itself is actually very suited to a second playthrough.

I would very much like to see more “Witcher tales” told through Gwent. To experience the deep lore of the Witcher universe from the perspectives of other factions is very cool, and a Monsters chapter in particular (the witcher equivalent of a Starcraft Zerg campaign) would be absolutely incredible — but only in a streamlined fashion without the tedious gathering gameplay, and with other lessons learned. I’d much rather advance simply to the next puzzle or story node after each victory, even though the artists did such a great job on the Diablo-esque free-roam maps.

The reviewer finds this game hard to get excited about, but still has a positive opinion of it. It may be somewhat fun, having good features or ideas counterbalanced by a few boring parts, bad design or other fundamentally irritating qualities that can’t easily be overlooked. Alternatively, it could be pleasant, but with nothing new to offer. Worth a little money if you’ve got the time for it.
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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 is in many respects the best game in an incredible series, but it’s funny to think that The Witcher 2 was more to my liking in some respects, because I thought the same thing about W1 when I played W2. For all its relative shortcomings, I found myself enamored with W1’s pacing–or lack thereof. And likewise some of W2’s questionable decisions seem somehow endearing in the face of some cynically AAA-standard design strategies in the third game.

Some aspects are nearly perfect. The amazingly nuanced morality and questing that makes fools of its competitors, the subverting of white-knighting and Mass Effect-esque busybodying. Players are accused and interrogated over their biases and emotions. I love it.

Geralt is his own person; he isn’t given the freedom to “be evil” just to allow the game to pretend that it has more freedom. And W3 understands that the weight of the world on its characters’ shoulders has a direct relationship to your immersion: it’s not too easy to get rich or kill your way through the town guard, and as a consequence, poverty seems more real and Geralt is sensibly not so above-the-law in the narrative itself. How many games have you played where you were chomping at the bit in some cutscene that seemed completely limiting and at odds with your mastery of the mid-gameplay world? I can think of several.

It brilliantly improves over its predeccessors in both scale and mechanics, for example in avoiding burdensome potion-hoarding in favor of a system in which potions automatically replenish themselves, which masterfully incentivizes their use. And it’s just a visually stunning game, both in terms of an island’s flora and the dynamic way Geralt might bisect a Drowner from shoulder-to-hip with his silver sword, which is all the more shocking when you’re accustomed to only seeing Gamebryo Engine People pop apart like dolls at the joints.

But the “cynically AAA-standard” remark is a real criticism. One way to call attention to it is my 223 hour playtime on Steam, compared to the 120 hours it took me to beat W2 twice. I didn’t entirely want to spend over 200 hours on the game to get 100% completion. Length comes at the expense of reactive depth, and length also means hours diving to pull up randomly generated smuggler’s cache loot in the North Sea around Skellige just to get some markers cleared from the map. It means bad horseback riding quests.

And it means Gwent–okay, fine, Gwent is really good. I played a lot of Gwent. It’s not balanced well–I don’t think anything is ever going to beat a Nilfgaard spy deck–but the mechanics and card collecting are really nice, and I think Gwent is the exception to the “less is more” argument, because they did a good job of making sure they really had something before shoving their card game down players’ throats. It’s an obvious step up from developers shoving full Texas Hold’em mechanics into Far Cry 3 or Watch Dogs or whatever just to give players something to do and make their game seem like it was worth more money.

I do think it gets a bit cutscene-heavy toward the end, and despite being very invested in the story, I would have preferred something minimalistic in presentation where I’m responsible for more of what’s happening; in dealing with the Wild Hunt and White Frost, I’d truly be thinking, “Hurry up and end this grand spectacle of a cutscene and get back to making me regret my choices.” I saw a few too many “You cannot do that now” messages for my liking. Scenes where I just run along behind someone. Fist fights where I don’t choose whether I’m aiming to kill. In some ways it does feel like it’s lost some of that extremely reactive, extremely agency-friendly CD Projeckt style. The nuanced morality and intelligent writing is better than ever, but otherwise is it really outplaying Mass Effect or Assassin’s Creed at their own game? The expansions definitely felt better about this, and by the time I was wrapping up Blood & Wine, I was actually thinking once more about what I would do in a hypothetical second playthrough. Very hypothetical at this point, given the sizable time investment, but maybe next year… and, hell, maybe just the expansions alone.

Perhaps from how grown-up the writing feels, it really is the game Ubisoft Montreal or Bioware could only ever vainly wish to catch up to. There was some fantastic dungeoneering that I really enjoyed, though this might’ve peaked early-in while crawling through the muck with Keira along, complaining the whole time. There were also parts where I thought they were just ripping off some other AAA game with some idea. This is partly why I wish CD Projeckt tried less to be these other companies this time around.

The story is incredibly solid, for what it’s worth, and the character writing in particular may be the best I’ve seen in games. Despite not having read all the books yet and having had much more time to get to know Triss, I deferred to the Yen route, and I did think she was a tremendously interesting person–standoffish and unfriendly but deeply considerate in her own way, revealed through little things. When she keeps it a secret from Geralt that she’d be mutilating a sacred grove with dark magic in order to find Ciri, she’s saving him from the responsibility for that decision, not to avoid him going against her decision, but because she knew and trusted him well enough to understand that he would have done far worse things for Ciri if he had to, and chose to take on all the guilt and blame herself. I really liked that.

I had a great time of not knowing where I stood with characters, particularly in the expansions, sympathizing with them and thinking they’d crossed one line or another, but ultimately I think it was the Bloody Baron of Crow’s Perch who felt more real than just about any video game character to date, between his down-to-earth and relatable terrible shit of alcoholism and domestic violence, his guilt, his relationships with his family, and more. So many characters were brought to life.

There’s also some great music, of course. I even enjoyed going over the soundtracks on youtube, seeking out things like Priscilla’s song in Russian, and other curiosities. There’s some great sound design as there is great graphics, and I don’t know where CD Projeckt RED snatches up their talent, but it’s certainly working for them.

Ultimately, purely as it works as a game, I don’t feel at all prepared to say “Move over, Dark Souls,” or any such thing. It’s hugely ambitious, and I respect that. Its central combat mechanics are in very good shape but the state of its other features, in exploration and item management and questing, don’t really stand out, and these invariably occupy a lot of any player’s time. It does do some things with a little more nuance than your typical Elder Scrolls, and in rare instances there will even be some divergence in a quest that can’t be dealt with just by mindlessly following a map marker in the corner of your screen. Though, also, unfortunately, most (but not nearly all) of your choices in dialogue are more about allowing players to skip some secondary questions than they are about truly providing players with different approaches.

There’s not much else that isn’t in every other big modern CRPG. A lot of quests revolve around using Geralt’s witcher senses to identify clues and track footprints, but for a central mechanic, it’s not that interesting. You follow the indicators and Geralt says “Ah, these are Nekker tracks,” or “This blood is about a day old,” and there’s not much in the way of questionable LA Noire-esque solutions to really make attention to detail matter.

★☆★

We could really put an end to the review here, but since I can do whatever I want, what I’d really like to do is get into the minutiae of design. Here are some further notes on the things I’d change, were it all up to me:

Get rid of “combat mode” as an automatic adjustment that changes the controls. Being unable to disengage is bad. Whenever I have to think about “what the game thinks”, this is a sign of bad controls. And if the game thinks I’d rather fisticuffs the enemies who can one-shot me rather than break into a full run with my sword sheathed, it’s not working out. When Geralt decides to engage with a harpy in the sky whom I can’t reach, while I’m jumping from one rock to another, so my jump turns into a roll and I plummet 10 meters, it’s really not working out. I’d associate engagement with drawing weapons–fists only if no sword is equipped at all, still allowing the game to override equipped items if a combat encounter is understood to be “non-lethal”, as in a tavern brawl. To deal with potential issues arising from this change, I’d also make it so Geralt would be unwilling to loot containers while enemies were nearby at all. And I’d make Geralt take critical hits–attacks of opportunity–if struck while sprinting past foes without manually “engaging” in this manner.

Reduce container looting. Players are incentivized to loot through the drawers in every village for old pelts and busted fishing rods. It’s just not fun, though–cleverly hide a chest or two in each village with non-randomized loot that always feels worthwhile–up on a high roof or some gamey place like that, even–and the time investment would feel much better. And while I respect the game for not biting off more than it could chew with awkward stealth mechanics, they might as well’ve not had guards pay attention to looting at all, because villagers don’t call for them and you end up with this backwards and arbitary distinction that looting the outsides of houses is a crime but the insides are fair game. In the meantime, AutoLoot Configurable All-in-One and Alternate Lightsources Interaction are some good mods for reducing frustration or tedium, though AutoLoot sometimes loots containers it shouldn’t, spoiling some chests that may have been inside a locked basement or whatever because you walked past them on the floor above. Luckily, it knows better than to open quest-related chests in this way.

I’d add more stash access points, or better yet, use a Dark Souls-esque (or Darklands-esque) equipment weight system where only equipped items affect the player’s burden, and carried space is infinite–the stash would only function as a means to declutter. Decoctions related to carry-weight, like Fiend and Arachas, as well as Roach’s saddlebags, could always have their purposes adjusted.

I’d make horse trophies a little more interesting, as their effects are typically reused by several species, and usually go unnoticed during gameplay.

The game is terrible at explaining itself–not unlike Dark Souls, really. While this clearly doesn’t hurt the appeal of cult-followings, it’s not a good thing. Instead of confusing toxicity offset and toxicity level, rename toxicity offset to something else, like “immunosuppressive damage”, maybe? The way they compliment each other tactically in gameplay is clever–the way they’re communicated to the player is not. I don’t think it’s explained how toxicity isn’t necessarily bad apart from imposing a limit–unlike overdose, which is actively harmful. I don’t think it’s ever said that toxicity ticks down in seconds even while still under the potion’s effects, whereas offset, this “immunosuppressive damage”, lasts for hours without ticking down at all, either.

Remove the often-necessary mid-combat pausing, and make oils and potions take a full second to be used if consumed while an enemy’s nearby. Have the player find them in the menu without stopping time for them, like in Dark Souls. Time could still come to a stop in the settings menu where you also adjust your Gwent deck, or while meditating and doing alchemy. Oils should last forever, as putting a use limit on them only encourages more pausing. To make it a little more interesting, force Geralt to do an oiling animation if you oil your weapons in mid-combat, so you might do something like setting down Yrden to slow and distract enemies while you take the few seconds to do it.

Drop the unnessary horse racing quests. It might be nice if the game made better use of the game’s broader mechanics while you rode, such as by dropping caltrop bombs or using Axii on other people’s horses to befuddle them. Personally, I think the game is better off without the horse-racing at all. How does it fit, aside from as AAA gamedev bloat? At least in a couple races without horses, like when Geralt gets into a rock-climbing contest with Cerys, there’s ostensibly some pride to be found on the line–he didn’t go through all those mutations as a kid so he’d lose to some brat in a personal athletics contest. But who cares about his horse mastery? He’s not supposed to be some Skyrim-esque simultaneous thief-lord and dean of the magic school–he’s Geralt of Rivia.

The water parts need work, both in terms of what’s to be done on boats and the swimming controls themselves. Despite assigning two buttons permanently to rising/sinking in the water, Geralt’s “Swim Forward” button also aims toward the camera–be it pointed up or down, rather than swimming at level height. Somehow he’d sink back down sometimes as I tried to make it to the surface for air. And combined with shifts in the combat-engagement control scheme, I ended up having Wind Waker flashbacks of loops of getting knocked out of my boat by monsters… so, ultimately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the water parts. Of course, one ought to get rid of the very “Ubisoft Montreal” smuggler’s caches, too. It’s the ocean; it doesn’t have to be full of anything other than fish and water. Given that swimming combat is mercifully just one-shot crossbow kills, CD Projeckt probably realized that it was far too terrible otherwise and didn’t have time to impliment a nicer solution, but in a perfect world it would’ve been nice to have a Geralt who could really fight in the water, and could interact with some unsunken boats, different kinds of sea creatures, or best of all: gnarly tidal waves.

Adjust character skill-speccing–either entirely toward or entirely away from the numbers. I find it unfortunate when one choice gives me something interesting, like a new gimmick ability, and another gives me +25% damage all the time or whatever. There may even be a possible best scenario where skill builds are removed from the game entirely, and all of Geralt’s customization comes from better armor set bonuses, more unique weapon properties, your chosen armor weight class, runewords, decoctions used, and better horse trophy passives. I think Geralt should always be encouraged to use his whole arsenal–signs, bombs, potions, swords. W3 smartened up over W2 when it came to the exclusion of mandatory abilities–like “rolling” and “parrying”–from the skill trees, but it should’ve gone further.

Show a little more care to quest items–where they’re sorted, whether they still remain unsellable after their quests are done. I had old keys and masquerade ball masks cluttering up one of my tabs through to the end of the game, and while their combined weight was probably about a single pound, that they had weight at all and couldn’t be dropped was somewhat annoying.

Make the crossbow more useful, and more fun. Blood & Wine does make it a little more viable, but really getting the most out of it does come at the cost of some other useful abilities. Most importantly, I think having a separate button to reload from the button used to shoot would have been really nice. If that’s left up to Geralt, the player is robbed of a good tactical choice.

Disable the storybook loading screens, at least as an option, or allow you to tap the skip button to go straight to a silent loading screen. I eventually opted for a mod called Disable Intro and storybook videos to remove them, as the repetition was pretty annoying–and frustrating, when I was failing at some Gwent game or whatever and had to keep reloading. Ever since I did, it felt like I was blowing through loads in a fraction of the former time, but it’s sad that a person needs to turn to mods at all for such a thing.

Now let’s look at some things that would really help in the UI:

  • See how many of something I already have when looking at it in a shopkeep’s inventory.
  • Pin specific missing ingredients, and from multiple incomplete items.
  • Buy missing ingredients directly from an alchemy supplier’s crafting screen the same way one can with blacksmiths. (I do think I saw a mod for this.)
  • List potion effects I’m under in greater detail on the character screen; for example, Basilisk Decoction bonus.
  • Don’t put a badge on the icon of new items if it’s just an increase in quantity of something you already have, thereby improving the signal-to-noise ratio.
  • Subsort items alphabetically under type, so all your stacks of white myrtle petals or whatever are kept together. (The Sort Everything mod helped a lot here.)
  • Have a same-cost buyback option in stores when accidentally selling something.
  • List items with text instead of simple icons that are impossible to remember, especially given that all the wraith decoctions (and so on) share the same icon. (In the meantime, the Better Icons mod helps a lot.) When using a keyboard, allow you to start to type somewhere to filter this list, including keywords–let someone find their White Raffard potion by typing “Whit”, or “Vit” for the vitality it restores.
  • Add sorting for books. And sort finished quests, by level, location, or most recently completed first. Sometimes I need to read the descriptions to refresh myself on some detail.
  • Turn minimap directions to quests off by default, and don’t automatically choose a new quest to have active on the UI when the active quest is finished. Let me have nothing active.
  • When an ingredient is tagged, highlight junk items in your own inventory that would give you those ingredients when dismantled. This would make dismantling a little more useful, as you wouldn’t need to manually check if there’s actually some need to spend money dismantling an item when you could just sell it instead–as a consequence, I only ever dismantled to get runestones back from an obsolescent sword. You could also simplify some blueprints so you only need to provide metals and magical/specialty ingredients, to reduce the need for junk items, such as no longer needing to buy a cloth shirt to make light armor.
  • Have an option to pathfind to custom markers or nearest quicktravel signs, instead of just active quests (when enabled). I’d sometimes set a quest in another region as my active one just to get it to point me to the nearest quicktravel sign, so why not make this an option all the time?
  • Split decoctions and potions, to better illustrate their distinctive use cases.
  • Mark levelled-up potions with ☆ to ☆☆☆ ratings, instead of giving them the same rarity as decoctions when maxed and putting “Enhanced” or “Superior” in their names. Do the same for weapons and armor. This is just about conveying information as simply and clearly as possible.
  • Mark stairs or points of elevation changes on the minimap, as these things often currently look like dead ends. Add a view of whole cave structures on the world map, at least while you’re in them.

For now I remain a loyal acolyte of CD Projeckt RED and hope for the best from their next big game–Cyberpunk 2077 or whatever it will be. (And here’s hoping standalone-Gwent becomes at least as F2P-friendly as Hearthstone.)

This game was thoroughly enjoyed by the reviewer. It is an excellent game that may be too simple or not ambitious enough to be a 5, or there are design flaws meaningful enough to prevent it from enduring as something truly beloved. Highly recommended.

Regency Solitaire

This is a strange one. A solitaire game set in Regency-era England where a young lady must restore her house to fortune by making money somehow through playing a card game by herself. (It’s not really explained.) It’s kind of charming, and the setting distinguishes it from a lot of other stuff coming out every day on Steam, but I ultimately found the plot a little too open-and-shut: the bad guy runs off without making too much trouble, the lady has already caught the dashing gentleman’s eye even before getting her family’s finances back in order. Everyone is as they appear at first glance. The plot doesn’t develop; the king and queen illustrated on the card faces don’t figure into the story. I couldn’t tell if the heroine was gambling to solve the debts incurred by her brother’s gambling, or what. And the ridiculous way money is earned adds to the underpinning of farce that’s usually present in these situations when you’re in the perspective of someone of high upbringing in a rigidly class-based society. I find myself wondering if there’s some turnip farmer waste-deep in shit a few miles away, dying from something curable, and completely barred from making his own money through magic single-player card games.

You do 10 rounds of solitaire to advance to the next level, which feels like padding, especially once you find out that the “Retry” button only brings you back to the start of the current round with no other penalties. (They don’t tell you how it works, but they should.) In a game with several luck elements (the order of cards in the deck, or the use of powers to shuffle or destroy certain random cards) it would be asking too much to get 8-9 perfect rounds in a row without using Retry. It feels almost like a free-to-play facebook game toward the higher levels where the odds are so stacked against you that you’re pressured to buy the in-app purchases. Except that here, the things that feel like microtransaction cheats–the retries, special energy powers, and joker cards–are all free. They become necessary, but invalidate the challenge, and this isn’t even motivated by real-world profit. It’s a balance that doesn’t really work quite right for anyone.

Likewise, I can only see people earning the high-combo achievements by throwing several matches in a row just to pull wildcards out of the deck, and then spending them all in one hand. You’ll eventually realize that the two destructive bonus powers don’t add to your combo when they remove cards from the playing field. This means they’re actually lowering your potential maximum combo. If you’re not stacking wildcards, then, you can only otherwise wait a very, very long time for the right RNG values to come along. Again, the sense of challenge is largely fake.

What I do like about the game is the sense of progression. I was never the type to waste time away playing Microsoft Solitaire. But set that in a world with art and people, sprinkle some plot between matches, allow the player to buy bonus abilities (reveal face-down cards, add jokers to the deck, etc.) and you’ve got my attention. (Mind you, for better or worse, this isn’t Klondike.) It’s just a little too shallow to get my endorsement.

The reviewer believes this game stands above total mediocrity. It has something going for it, but ultimately few real merits. Most of the time, it isn’t fun, and doesn’t otherwise provide any sort of emotional payoff. Even though it does some cool things, you should play something else instead.