Midwinter Update: Commentary
I absolutely adore the Christmas season. The carols, the sweets, the various Christmas rituals shared by the people from all across the world. The Slavic world that Witcher Universe was built upon calls the happy celebration around Christmas, Christian and its pagan alternatives, Koledowanie. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy, if for nothing else, because it makes people happy.
Disclaimer: I do not have any internal information on the matter. This article is based on speculation, professional experience and industry patterns from the past. It’s an opinion based piece that is not to be taken objectively. It does not reflect the opinion of The Gwentlemen organization, nor its other members.
The Midwinter Gwent Update brought a lot of changes, and a very vocal part of the community is unhappy about several of its aspects:
- Diluting flavor by shortening card names
- Introduction of “Create” mechanic
- Dumbing down the card mechanics
- UI overhaul
- Plethora of bugs
Before I jump into a point by point analysis of each major point, there is one thing we need to acknowledge. All of us Reddit, Discord and official forum users are in a minority. While we are the most vocal part of Gwent community, we are far from objective, our opinions do not represent the majority of users and most importantly, our complaints are not always legitimate.
The Midwinter patch update feels rushed, unfinished and lacking in polish to a lot of people, and I wholeheartedly agree. That being said, it’s understandable. Next week marks the start of the Christmas holidays in Poland, and most companies have collective holidays at the time. With the delay of the Thronebreaker update, and the relatively stale meta we’ve been in since the start of Season 1, the CDPR needed to release new content before the vacation. This is not something the dev team should be getting the heat for, as it was most likely the call of the higher-ups. Rethaz and his team must’ve worked hard in the past few weeks to be able to serve us with a major update such as this in a relatively short time. Let’s all remember that the alternative was another month of the same game, and neither us nor the company wanted that.
By releasing the patch on Tuesday, CDPR is going to be able to issue a hotfix before the holidays, and while not everything will be fixed in the update, it’s my personal opinion two weeks of wacky new things is far better than the rut we’ve been in for the past two months. Furthermore, if we want Gwent to continue to expand and improve, its market success is key. Most of the changes and decisions coming in this patch were made to appeal to the more casual audience, and while I personally disagree with some of them, I do believe that they are beneficial in the long term.
Dumbing down the card mechanics & Diluting flavor by shortening card names
The most common complaints about the current patch are these two. They are related in a way so I want to address them together. Clan Brokvar Hunter (now just Clan Hunter) is the one card that both complaints apply to, and very rightfully so. The card used to support the now more or less nonexistent self-wounding Skellige Archetype, by doing damage on deploy, and then Strengthening itself by 1 every time an adjacent unit got damaged. The card was fun, flavorful and one of the fan favorites. In the latest update it’s been changed into a 6 strength unit that deals 5 damage on deploy. Why?
The reason is fairly simple. The new patch introduced us with a new source engine for the game, and all of the cards have been adapted and transferred to it, fixing most of the priority issues we’ve been facing in the past. It removed the majority of what we referred to as “spaghetti code” and made every action in the game foreseeable. Some of the keywords we’ve used in the past, such as “Regressing”, which prevented the old Hunter from being too strong, didn’t make it to the new engine. That in turn made the game a lot cleaner and once all the bugs and issues have been dealt with, much more enjoyable to play. A lot of so called “complexity” the game seems to have lost comes as a price for an overall better, more consistent and more enjoyable game Gwent is shaping up to be.
The name changes follow the same reasoning. Card names in general are becoming shortened and polished in what I believe to be preparation for the handheld client release, which will see some of the flavor lost or moved to different parts of the card (i.e. clan tags), but it’s ultimately what we all want and need. The harsh reality of the matter is flavor doesn’t concern most people, and the potential loss of clients due to lack of flavor (which I believe is an over exaggeration) is nowhere near the potential client market a clean and well designed mobile game can attract.
There is no RNG in Gwent. A phrase we’ve all used or at least heard before. Let me start off by saying Chess, the most respected game in the world sees almost a 10% advantage in going first in the tournament settings. 10% variance is a lot. It’s a lot harder to determine the exact number in Gwent, as different decks perform in different ways on either side of the coin, as you can see in this article written by OtakuMZ . One thing is for sure, the newly introduced mechanic brings more RNG to Gwent which is something most of the competitive players disagree with.
When discussing RNG, it’s very hard to ignore Hearthstone, the single most successful CCG there is. Hearthstone is notorious for the insane high rolls in tournaments and ladder, with cards like Yogg-Saron and Piloted Shredder as the posterboys. While the RNG is absolutely disgusting in tournaments, especially when the opponent has no ways of playing around it, it makes for a great source of fun when playing casually or in a non-competitive environment.
I believe the “Create” mechanic is very healthy for the game’s growth and longevity, while at the same unhealthy for the competitive scene, and I am sure the Developers acknowledge that. The biggest problem with the “Create” cards right now is their ability to create a spy, which is most likely an oversight as the CDPR has worked very hard to prevent multiple spies being played in a game.I believe this is one of the changes we will see addressed in the inevitable hotfix.
It’s my personal opinion however, every “Create” card should be banned from any tournament environment, as the variance there is a lot higher than it is on the ladder to begin with (especially in elimination rounds). While the possibility of low rolling is high, the “Hail Mary highrolls” have no business in the competitive scene. One might argue cards like Djikstra already provide that, but truth of the matter is cards like Djikstra provide controlled RNG, that we can influence with our deck building and the plays we make.
The UI overhaul is a godsend. It’s hard to argue something as subjective as artstyle and what one deems pretty or beautiful, but as far as function goes, the new UI is light years ahead of the old one. There are some quality of life changes that could help push the interface to the next level, such as fixing the unintuitive “confirm choice” ability cancellation, or having the whole decklist fit on one screen in the deckbuilder, but overall the changes are great.
As far the visual and audio effects in the game go, I can understand people having some complaints. A lot of the flashy visuals and amazing sounds have been dialed down, and are now underwhelming in comparison. On the other hand there are players like myself, with older graphic cards. My GF960m saw over 90% usage in the old client, and with a board full of premiums, my computer started to show its age. I can only imagine how older consoles and computers must’ve felt. Again, our community consists largely of PC enthusiasts, gamers and people who spend a lot of time on the game. We’re not the majority of the audience, and we’re not the people who spend the most on Kegs. It’s important to take all the casual and console players into account.
We’ll most likely see continuous improvement of the interface and other effects in the future, and I think this is the part where constructive feedback is most important.
We’ve already covered this point partially in the introduction. The patch was most likely rushed due to a number of reasons, and although the end result is far from perfect, I am certain we’ll see the hotfix in the next 48 hours. I understand the frustration you feel after the rushed PTR and swift release, but as I’ve said before, it’s better than the alternative. It’s in our best interest as the beta testers, to provide thorough and accurate bug reports to the developers so they can provide us with the best possible hotfix.
Game development is a difficult and ungrateful job. Between the pressure from the higher-ups and the often unwarranted harsh feedback from the players, and ungodly amount of hours spent at work, it is definitely not the dream job a lot of us imagine it to be. Although I am myself stressed if not worried about certain design choices in Gwent, I believe the Midwinter Update was one of the best things to happen to the game. I am certain the developers will fix the bugs and fine tune the game in the coming weeks, leaving Gwent in a better state than ever. In the words of the immortal Mark Rosewater “Your audience is good at recognizing problems and bad at solving them”.
With that said, I wish you all happy holidays, and I hope I’ll see you all around next year!