Rapid Recap and Reaction: The February 2019 Developer Stream
February 27, 2019 by lordgort
Another month, another Rapid Reaction! Team Aretuza bring you the latest news from Gwent following February's CDPR Gwent developer update.
Many thanks to SwanDive and Lothari for their help with note-taking and acute observations.
In a jam-packed development stream, CD Projekt Red laid out plenty of details on Gwent's immediate future, an update on 28 February 2019, as well as glimpses into the company's plans for the end of March 2019 and beyond.
Going over every small detail of the stream would take too much time to make this recap and reaction truly "rapid." For in-depth coverage of individual cards, I recommend watching Team Aretuza streamer (and Skellige Faction Ambassador) shinmiri2, which you can find in the embed below.
With multiple leader changes, numerous individual card changes and plenty of quality-of-life improvements, the End-of-February Update will have a considerable impact on Gwent. Even the game menus are getting in on the action: the distinction between Casual and Ranked Play is a checkbox below a card, for example, and the new Seasonal Mode (more on this later) occupies the vacated spot in the menu
Trap-based leader Eldain received a Charge for his Order ability, up to Charge: 4, granting an additional 3 points of power if all conditions are met. Until Traps are better, however, it is difficult to see how Eldain becomes a viable leader.
After Arachas Queen's considerable struggles during the last Faction Challenge, she received an order ability to spawn an Arachas Drone (Charge: 3) in addition to her passive that spawns an Arachas Drone whenever an allied unit is destroyed during its controller's turn.
Arachas Queen's gain was the loss of Emhyr var Emreis. After the update, Emhyr will only be able to move allied Nilfgaard units to hand, followed by playing a card. Jason Slama pointed out on stream that Emhyr's previous ability put constraints on the design of neutral cards that this change will free up. Of course, this change also means that Emhyr Shupe, one of the most infamous decks in post-Homecoming Gwent, will no longer be able to replay Shupe's Day Off, effectively dooming the archetype.
Notable Card Balance Changes
Speaking of Shupe's Day Off, its Shupe: Hunter mode has received two significant nerfs. First, its handbuff mode now boosts units in hand by only 1, eliminating the possibility of a 2-point boost. Second, the "nine damage" mode now comes in the form of three damage to three units each, a significant setback for its utility.
Also getting significant nerfs: Mastercrafted Spear and Wyvern Scale Shield. Each will start with Charge: 4 but be unable to gain more Charges, and neither will be able to use more than one Charge a turn. Further, Mastercrafted Spear cannot be used on allies, nor Wyvern Scale Shield on enemies. While both artifacts will still have potential uses alongside cards such as Geralt: Professional, the days of artifact-based frustration may finally be behind Gwent ... at least until the next expansion.
A last neutral rework turns Golden Froth into a miniature bronze version of Commander's Horn: for 6 provisions, it boosts three adjacent units by 2 each.
Ghoul only consumes bronze units. Archespore goes up to 2 power but loses Thrive. Golyat now summons the highest unit from the opponent's deck on Deathwish activation, rather than the lowest. Old Speartip goes down to 12 power from 13. This all works towards weakening the Big Woodland / Big Gernichora strategies that had been so prevalent on various ladders.
Coral gained Zeal but lost a Charge, a curious decision in light of how little play she sees. (Is this a pre-nerf ahead of the next expansion?) Derran only discards one card, though it gained two points of power and lost a point of provision to compensate. Heymaey Spearmaiden gained power, though its damage and self-damage are down to 2 apiece. Tuirseach Axeman gained one point of power.
Damned Sorceress goes to Reach: 2 from Reach: 1, opening up far more damage possibilities. Reinforcements now plays its copy, rather than merely spawning and summoning it. Among the more notable provision nerfs, Hubert Rejk went up one provision, from 7 to 8.
Mahakam Horn gains an Order ability slightly weaker than its Ambush (3 points on each side rather than 4), making it no longer a dead card after the opponent passes if it is in hand, as the stream pointed out. Elven Wardancer now damages an enemy by 1 on Deploy, going up to 3 if the Wardancer is already boosted. Mahakam Volunteers loses its Melee row restriction. Vrihedd Sappers now procs its Deploy ability if you control an Elf, rather than merely having one in hand. Most intriguing of all, Schirrú gains a point of power, from 2 to 3, a seemingly small change that creates a wide-ranging shift in what units its Order ability naturally takes out and what units are reachable with a little power manipulation.
Letho of Gulet has abilities once more; at 6 power for 8 provisions, its Deploy ability now locks a unit if Auckes is in hand and deals 3 damage if Serrit is in hand (doing both if both are true). Letho: Kingslayer goes down in power from 6 to 5, as does Rainfarn of Attre. The latter's ability changes to boost an enemy by 2 on Deploy, followed by damaging the same enemy by 4. Team Aretuza member Lothari notes that Rainfarn has lost the majority of its enemy-boosting synergy, particularly with Master of Disguise, and this seems to make little sense unless it is a move made in anticipation of the upcoming expansion.
Seasonal Modes, Trees, and Faction Unlock Requirements
The long-awaited and long-teased Seasonal Trees, also known as Reward Books, arrive with a bonus: Seasonal Modes! These rotating game modes will change the rules of Gwent, and playing in them will help fulfill the quests unlocked from "Quest Nodes" (marked by trophy cups) within the Seasonal Trees. These quests have rewards ranging from bronze cards to kegs and even borders and titles that formerly required Ranked Play wins to unlock, such as "Ursine Novice" in the Season of the Bear tree.
Each Season has two Reward Books to unlock, one "Season of the X" and one based on an avatar. The Vernon Roche Reward Book, associated with the Season of the Bear, has a major new vanity prize at the end: the Season of the Bear card back! Yes, card backs are finally coming to Gwent, and their details look gorgeous.
Cardbacks for Season of the Bear, Season of the Elves, and Season of the Wolf
The Seasonal mode does have the potential to pull players away from "Classic" play, the new umbrella term for Gwent as we know it. This is of particular concern to would-be Pro Rank players. As partial compensation, the number of matches needed to fully unlock ranked score per faction is going down to 25 from 40, which will definitely help with the "ladder grind" feeling.
Additional Quality of Life Improvements
The End-of-February Update adds automatic turn ending, a popular request ever since the dawn of Homecoming. While automatic turn ending does have limited utility – there must be absolutely nothing a player can do, so a Big Woodland player saving their leader ability for the end would not pass automatically until the last turn, and only then if there are no Order abilities to activate – when it does work, it will save time.
Players with older computers may be able to rejoice, as the stream promised visual and performance improvements. In related news, the chromatic aberration visual effect, which distorts the appearance of colors in Gwent, is out.
One of the biggest quality of life improvements is the first stage of deck exporting and importing! The ability to export decks from the in-game client to PlayGwent.com, which will allow deck titling, written notes, and even upvoting and downvoting, will come in the first few weeks of March. Importing decklists from PlayGwent.com to the game client is a work in progress, and it remains to be seen whether this new technology will allow creation and sharing of deck lists on third-party platforms easier as well.
The More Distant Future
Players hoping for details on the expansion coming at the end of March were left somewhat wanting, as no new cards were previewed. There were, however, occasional hints dropped; for example, that the new expansion was "creepy" and that a sixth faction was in the works. Viewers also received promises of a bumper crop of Burza's signature "leeks" all through March, leading up to the expansion.
Among other items:
- The blacklisting mechanic will not return in the near future (or likely the far future, either). The developers fear adding too much consistency to Gwent, as they like where it is now; further, the blacklisting mechanic caused numerous backend problems, including the infamous "Mulligan Bug" of pre-Homecoming Gwent.
- Mobile development is on the back burner, as the current focus is on getting the expansion and future faction right.
- The next Faction Challenge will actually be a Leader Challenge based on the five Thronebreaker leaders. More details will emerge when the Leader Challenge launches in mid-March.
The overall feel of the stream was of a committed company with an ambitious team determined to make Gwent the best game it can be. At the end of the stream, I felt optimistic about Gwent's future as a cared-about, thriving game, and from the online reception, I was far from alone. The uncertainty that long haunted Gwent feels like a distant memory, replaced by a sense that this is the Gwent that was always meant to be.