One of the best surprises about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was the inclusion of a surprisingly deep tactical card game: Gwent. The game proved such a big hat with fans that developer Cd Project Red has decided to release an expanded version of Gwent as a standalone, free-to-play game, due later in 2017.
The public beta is now running, meaning you can try the game out for yourself right now. Here's everything we know so far about the game, including the release date, platforms, how to join the beta, and the latest in-game events.
When is the Gwent release date?
CD Projekt Red hasn't yet announced an official release date for the full version of Gwent, but it's now said to have been pushed back until 2018. Still, you can play the beta already - see below for more info.
The game will come out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. There's no news yet on any potential Switch version, or a release for iOS or Android, but the devs told us at Gamescom that it "would be great to bring it to other platforms."
Until then, you can get a taste of what to expect by playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt if you haven't already. You can buy a Game of the Year edition from £24 on Amazon UK or $38 on Amazon US, though if you're a PC player your best bet might be GOG.com, which has the game free of DRM software, and with exclusive bonuses like a digital soundtrack, comics, and concept art.
How much does it cost?
Here's the good news: Gwent will be free-to-play. That makes sense given many players have already played a more limited version as part of The Witcher 3, but also because it puts Gwent in line with its biggest competition: Hearthstone, one of the best free PC games out right now.
Like Blizzard's hugely popular deckbuilding card game, Gwent will be entirely free to play, but will make its money through optional in-app purchases. Those will presumably consist mostly of buying new cards. Packs of five random cards are apparently priced at £1 each, but you can also buy them using the in-game currency you earn from winning games.
If you want to get the chance to play Gwent early, your best bet is to join the game's free open beta, which is running now.
The public beta is open to PC, PS4, and Xbox One players, and follows on from the game's lengthy closed beta, which ran from October 2016.
How does it play?
Anyone who's played The Witcher 3 will be familiar with the base mechanics of Gwent, which remain for the most part unchanged - it's still a turn-based two-player card game where winning relies as much on the deck you build as the way you play it.
You draw 10 cards from your deck at the beginning of a game, and each turn choose to play one or pass - and since you only draw a handful more cards as the game goes on, each is hugely valuable. The strategy comes in choosing which cards to play, where to play them on the battlefield, and when - especially since each match is split into three rounds, and victory requires winning at least two of them.
You can earn new cards by 'milling' your existing ones for scrap to craft from, or by buying card packs (here called kegs) for either £1, or 100 ore, the game's currency.
You can also buy a Starter Pack that includes 51 cards, with at least one guaranteed Legendary card, for just £3.99/$3.99 - but you can only buy it once per account.
While the core game remains unchanged from The Witcher 3, this standalone version will be expanded and improved upon in multiple different respects.
For one thing, there are more cards than before, and a greater variety of card types and functionalities. Some existing cards have also been tweaked, and a few elements of the original game, like spying and the Tight Bond ability, have been removed.
The production values have also shot up, with cards boasting animations, voice lines, and new art, all to match the level of quality set by Hearthstone.
There are five core factions, and every player will be given a starter deck for each: Nilfgaard, Skellige, Monsters, Scoia'tael, and the Northern Realms.
More content is on the way though, with at least one new game mode and new cards, factions, and leaders all on the way.
One of the biggest and most important additions to the standalone Gwent is that it's now a multiplayer title, with casual, ranked, and private matches available - playing against other people rather than just in-game AI will no doubt be a huge part of the appeal for people who've already played Gwent within The Witcher 3.
That will be supported by CD Projekt's extensive plans for a competitive Gwent scene, which includes the launch of the official Gwent Masters: a series of tournaments with prize pools ranging from $25,000 all the way up to $250,000.
That doesn't mean multiplayer is the only way to play though - there's also going to be a campaign mode, which is going to be surprisingly in-depth.
We met up with CD Projekt Red at Gamescom 2017, where they showed off the first story campaign: Thronebreaker. It sees you play as the ruthless Queen Meve in a story set some time before all three Witcher games as she fights to defend her kingdoms.
Written and developed by some of the same devs who worked on The Witcher 3, the campaign will last roughly 15 hours and is spread over five maps. It's essentially built like an old RPG, with an overworld map that you have to explore before getting dragged into fights, at which point the card-based combat kicks in.
You can also pitch a camp at any point from the map, which gives you the chance to manage your deck, craft new cards, and chat to characters - you can even develop and improve the camp across the game to give you access to new cards and items.
Exploration includes the chance to find resources and rare premium cards that you can use in either single-player or multiplayer - though some cards are single-player exclusive, which the devs argue gives them the chance to play with fun mechanics that would be too difficult to balance for competitive multiplayer.
The game is fully voice-acted - in multiple languages - with 2D animated cut scenes and even branching dialogue options which will have real impact on the way the story progresses, adding to the sense that this campaign is a fully-featured RPG, and not just a throwaway extra.
Thronebreaker doesn't have a release date yet, but when it does come out it will be a paid expansion - though anyone who buys it will immediately receive 20 exclusive cards that can be used in the multiplayer mode.
Gwent is going to experience regular events and updates, and the fist is the Mahakam Ale Festival. Running until 12 October, gives you the chance to earn a unique player avatar, frame, and title. Here's the official description:
"All have heard of Mahakam, but few have beheld the dwarves' famed stronghold from within. Elder-in-Chief Brouver Hoog has no trust for travelers and opens his gates to them only with the greatest reluctance… unless, that is, they come to attend the great Mahakam Ale Festival."
Trailers and videos
The best way to get a sense of how Gwent works is to watch it in action in this (very rapid) breakdown of the game's basics:
And if you want to watch something that's less informative and more very, very silly, check out the game's announcement trailer from E3 2016: