Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Reviewed for : PS4 Pro
Played: Around 20 hours, completing the main story and most optional sidequests.
I think the highest praise I can heap upon Blood and Wine, the second and final expansion pack (I miss that term) for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is that after everything was said and done and the credits had rolled… All I wanted to do was play the entire game over again. And I don’t just mean Blood and Wine, I mean all of it, goddammit.
So a little back story. I had played through all of The Wild Hunt back when it came out in 2015. I loved it, the game is and was fantastic. I sort of rushed things at the end, but in all I played the hell out of it, and it was amazing. And then I just kind of moved onto other games. Later, Hearts of Stone was released, and eventually Blood and Wine, and I always told myself I would return to Velen, but life got in the way. The stars aligned this week, and that fateful day arrived… It was Blood and Wine time. But of course MY Geralt was lost forever, in the great PS4 bricking of 2016. Luckily the folks over at CD Projekt Red had prepared for just this situation, and thus armed with my pre-generated character conveniently starting at an appropriate level, I set off for Toussaint.
Blood and Wine kicks off with a bang, and like most everything in Wild Hunt, is superbly written. Toussaint, a vassal kingdom of the Holy Roman Empire-esque Nilfgard, is famous for its heavenly wine, beautiful countryside and chivalric knights. Based on real-world medieval France and Italy, Toussaint is an incredibly lush setting of rolling green hills and vineyards that contrasts wonderfully with the bogs and marsh’s of Velen and the wind swept shores and icy peaks of Skellige. Set after the events of both Wild Hunt and Hearts of Stone, Geralt is offered a contract by Anna Henrietta, the beautiful and hard-hearted Duchess of Toussaint. A Beast is on the loose and has killed several knights already, in spectacularly bloody fashion, prompting Annarietta (as the Duchess is known) to enlist the aid of a professional monster hunter, a Witcher.
And I think what Blood and Wine does best is play upon established tropes to fantastic effect. We have all seen knights in various forms of media, and their depiction here is just that but dialed up to eleven. Noble lords, gallantly battling monsters in the hopes of winning a fair lady’s attention, and demanding satisfaction for any slight, real or imagined. Which is why I found myself laughing out loud at so many of Geralt’s interactions with these foppish types. Geralt, of course, is very no-nonsense and professional, but also has a wry sense of humour that comes out occasionally. So hearing him tell an effete knight to “fuck off” really didn’t get old for me.
Mechanically this is just more of the same great Witcher 3 gameplay loop: take on a quest or contract, use your Witcher senses to solve light puzzles and deduce the order of events at a crime scene, and engage either men or monsters in combat. Blood and Wine doesn’t really mess with this formula too much, and if you where a fan of the Wild Hunt than that’s a good thing, but if that doesn’t do it for you, then you won’t be converted by this new content. But content there is, as the main storyline is fairly lengthy (so long as you don’t mainline it) and there are a bunch of new side quests and contracts to take on as well. I spent around 20 hours with Blood and Wine, but I probably could have doubled that play time if I really tried to engage with everything here.
New mechanics are introduced by way of of mutations, which really shake things up, and the addition of a new home for Geralt: the vineyard of Corvo Bianco. Mutations are a kind of endgame addition to Geralt’s skill tree which can affect combat in a really surprising (and possibly game breaking) way. Examples include having the Aard sign take on ice properties and potentially insta-kill frozen enemies, or making your crossbow viable as a real damage dealer, or even having the chance for random decoctions to activate upon potion consumption. These are all quite powerful, but that is appropriate as Blood and Wine is essentially end game content, and features some of the most difficult encounters in the game.
The vineyard, conversely, isn’t so much a game changer as it is a place to store all your cool Witcher gear and display it proudly. Full disclosure, I didn’t have the gold to fully upgrade it, but I did tidy up the house and actually only visited it several times. As this was not my full play through character, I didn’t have so much gear that I really needed anywhere to store my things, but I imagine that this must be a godsend for players that have invested hundreds of hours into the main game. An aspect I really enjoyed was that you can acquire paintings from quests and stores and hang them in your home: there is a suitably fabulous portrait of Dandelion hanging in my foyer and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What Blood and Wine does best though, is provide a a fitting end to the adventures of Geralt. After countless years on The Path, Geralt, the White Wolf, the Butcher of Blaviken, slayer of countless monsters and hero of a thousand tales, deserves a happy ending. And he might even get one, depending on the choices made throughout the base game and compounded by the events of Blood and Wine. The world of the Witcher is a dark and harrowing place, and Geralt’s tale has been a long one, and even though he wasn’t my Geralt, seeing him settle down and live his version of happily ever after was one of the more satisfying conclusions to a video game I have ever seen. Of course, things didnt have to turn out that way, there are multiple ways this story can end, but I’m glad things turned out the way they did.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine might just be the finest piece of additional content ever created. It understands that its base game is rock solid, and doesn’t seek to change any of its core mechanics. Instead, it gives us a new adventure in a new land, but the way in which we experience it is wonderfully familiar: in fact, it feels just like coming home.