The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
In The Witcher 3’s last expansion, famed monster hunter Geralt of Rivia embarks on what is supposedly his final adventure. In it, he ventures to Toussaint – a vast new swath of land unspoilt by war – in order to solve the mystery of a beast terrorising the land.
It’s a marked tonal shift from everything The Witcher 3 has attempted previously, swapping the depressive wasteland of a nation crippled by an invasion for an idyllic countryside ignorant to the horrors of conflict. Instead of the refugee camps and abandoned towns of the main game, you’ll find an ornate city perched atop elven ruins, vineyards world renowned for their iconic wines, and some of the most beautiful countryside you’ll ever get to explore in games.
Developer CD Projekt Red also gets a chance to demonstrate its witty side. The studio has done funny before, but not in such generously humorous quantities. Toussaint and its inhabitants – pompous knights and warbling peasants – make for some hilarious scenarios, and there’s a real sense that this is a team that’s having fun with its world, flexing its writing muscles to deliver an experience that feels truly distinct.
But beneath Toussaint’s picturesque landscape and amusingly dim inhabitants is a surprisingly dark story, and the fact that Blood and Wine so successfully balances its humorous and sinister sides is really impressive. Focused mainly on vampires, which makes for some interesting storytelling and intense boss fights, Geralt’s adventure kicks off with three clashes in quick succession – against a marauding giant, an escaped rock monster, and a particularly vicious type of blood-drinker.
The less said about the finer details, the better. Blood and Wine’s best moments hide in its unexpected series of unusual twists and turns, each one featuring something fresh that keeps the story feel varied throughout its 12-hour runtime. Highlights include fights against some brand new monsters, an eerie haunted house inhabited by a cursed, spoon-collecting beast, and the interactions you’ll have with Geralt’s main ally. As a friendly vampire, it features some fantastic dialogue opportunities, allowing you to have meaningful conversations with a blood sucking beast about the meaning of life and death, and whether Geralt even enjoys being a Witcher.
With an advertised 30+ hours of stuff packed into it, Blood and Wine’s new expanse of landscape includes all new monster contracts and all new, fully-fledged side quests that continue to blend the humour and darkness that characterises Toussaint. The contracts themselves are surprisingly few and far between, but the game makes great use of its treasure hunts – side quests that often just had you searching for nearby loot - and transforms them into something far more interesting than throwaway time-wasters. One hunt found us solving the mystery of a dead woman, piecing together a ritual before facing off against a screaming evil spirit. It adds new intrigue to the proceedings, and makes you want to complete these treasure hunts just to see if you find something interesting along the way.
This being a Witcher expansion, there’s far more to it than just its main quest.
There are also refinements to its alchemy and crafting mechanics, as well as all new armour and weapon sets to craft and loot. Complete one of the game’s many side quests and you unlock an entirely new upgrade system for Geralt’s skills. Mutagens, as they’re called, allow you to use your ability points to kit out Geralt with overpowered abilities that add a fresh layer to combat. These unique skills are expensive to unlock and you can only use one at a time to give combat a new edge – the best being an ice augment to your Aard shockwave spell that gives it a percentage chance to instantly explode any enemies it doesn’t freeze on the spot.
As a final expansion, Blood and Wine couldn’t be more fitting. In many ways, it’s more of the same exemplary RPG that you’ve played for hundreds of hours already, but it feels distinct and fresh enough to stand tall in its own right. It’s also bittersweet, with every hour you play edging you closer to what is a closer on one of the best games ever made. For an expansion pack to be a game of the year contender is a truly impressive achievement, but with Blood and Wine, CD Projekt Red has crafted something every bit as polished and engaging as a full release.