If you couldn’t quite get into The Witcher 3 and were hoping that Blood and Wine would provide some fundamental gameplay or mechanical overhaul, then you can probably stop reading here. This expansion is not the Definitive Edition that removes that barrier for you. If, however, you are already a fan of CD Projekt Red’s sprawling epic, then please pull up a stool, pour yourself a glass of Burgundy, and let me regale you with the tale of The Witcher, The Duchess, and The Beast.
The final adventure of Geralt of Rivia takes place in the gorgeous lands of Toussaint, a picturesque nation of rolling hills, lakes, vineyards, castles, and sprawling palatial grounds taken straight from the pages of your favourite childhood fairy-tale. And as it was in those stories, the beauty here is often merely a façade. There are things dark and sinister lurking just below the surface, and if you dig just a little deeper, who knows what horrors you’ll find.
Geralt is tasked with locating what the locals have dubbed The Beast, a creature of unknown origin that’s been killing and desecrating the corpses of the Duchess's most senior knights. Soon the investigation takes a fascinating turn, and the adventure that leads to is exceptional! The central thread of Blood and Wine is easily the best work from the team at CD Projekt Red. A dedicated player could complete the core quest in eight to 10 hours, and that alone would make for a great game that’s likely well worth the sticker price. However, doing so would actually be a disservice to both game and player, because taken as a whole, Blood and Wine is simply the best RPG expansion I have ever played.
To the side of main story are an additional 90-odd quests that could easily fill another 20-plus hours, and many are gems that you’d not want to miss. There are gloriously pompous knights to humble, granite testicles to recover, tournaments to compete in, and even a quest dealing with the paperwork-heavy bureaucracy of the world’s banking system. All of these have been handled with utmost care, and even the most straightforward of quests feels satisfying and worthy of your time. The writing is on point, and its slightly tongue-in-cheek tone is balanced perfectly throughout. It never veers into parody or farce, but these things are on the periphery, and all the while play on your awareness of them. This represents a brilliant tonal change that distinguishes the expansion from all that came before.
This change also carries over to the visuals, which are frankly phenomenal. Gone are the muted neutral tones and oppressive greys – Toussaint is a vibrant land filled with deep greens, sumptuous golden hues, and crystal clear blues that give its vibrant landscapes a feeling of purity and prosperity far removed from the ravaged regions of earlier chapters. The architecture of Toussaint is quintessentially Renaissance Southern France with a slightly whimsical twist, and every turn is a screenshot just wanting to be taken.
That’s not say it’s all beauty and butterflies. Veer off the beaten path and you’ll find those abandoned places ordinary folk know to keep clear of. There are monsters to be found, and dark places to explore. In many ways this is the best way to play the game: just jump on Roach and complete quests as you discover them. Discovering and exploring in a more organic fashion works perfectly, and provides many hours of happy adventuring should you wish it. In terms of size and content alone, Blood and Wine punches well above its asking price, and easily competes with most AAA games released in the last five years. It puts to shame recent DLC offerings from other RPG developers, and let’s hope they pay attention and follow CDPR’s lead!
It’s not all about monsters and stories in Blood and Wine: a few tweaks and welcome additions remove some of the awkwardness and annoyances from the core game’s systems too. The UI has been updated to make navigating your accumulated gear, recipes, quests, and skills a lot more user friendly. The menu still has its own quirks, but is vastly improved and much easier and quicker to navigate. There is also a new Mutations system that is unlocked via an early quest. This system has some real promise for any power players looking to build the ultimate Witcher, as you can add critical hits to signs, turn Geralt in to a chain-dismembering one man slaughterhouse, or give him temporary immunity at the point of death to name a few. It’s not a game-changer as such, but it does give you more build options as you level up to the new cap of 100.
The next addition is a first for the series, and likely for Geralt himself: a new home, gifted by the Duchess herself. Repairing and upgrading it is expensive and takes a lot of effort and time to complete, but the Corvo Bianco Vineyard will likely find an eager audience in those looking for a little home improvement in between monster slayings.
Some upgrades have an in-game effect, such as providing ingredients for Mutations and a lab for transmuting your Mutagens. You can also improve Roach’s quality of life with a sweet stable which also provides him a stamina boost. There is even a guest suite for any friends that might want to pop over for a chat. I usually don’t go in for all this Sims-lite filler, but I got a bit hooked when I realised I could display all my hard-earned yet excess-to-requirements epic Witcher gear on some swanky stands for all to see.
The only negatives I found in Blood and Wine are just those rather unwieldly aspects that have become part of the experience. Finer movements when walking around can still be less precise that you’d like, and those moments where Geralt alternates between pyromania and kleptomania when a lootable object is too close to something combustible are still aggravating. The only other disappointment is the game’s over-reliance on the Witcher Sense mechanic. By the end of my time with the game it really did feel like a crutch for quite a few missions.
But these really are minor irks, and do not detract from what the game achieves as a whole. And taken as a whole, Blood and Wine is nothing short of a triumph – a stunning conclusion to one of the best RPG series ever made. While I am sad to see Geralt go, I could not have asked for a better or more fitting swansong. The finale of the main quest gives the player closure through one of the most spectacular game sequences I have ever seen. So despite some legacy mechanical clunkiness, the final chapter of The Witcher saga is everything a fan could ask for – and yes that also includes more Gwent!