With Blood and Wine, CD Projekt Red puts The Witcher 3 to bed so it can focus on Cyberpunk 2077. Medieval Batman has growled his last snarky quip, oiled his sword for the last time, dealt his final hand of Gwent, and romanced all the ladies. Given that, is Blood and Wine a worthy follow-up to Wild Hunt and the excellent Hearts of Stone?
So far... hell yeah.
Blood and Wine sends Geralt down south to the sunny climate of Toussaint, a cross between medieval France and Italy. While the Temeria and Skellige regions were dark, drab Eastern European-style areas full of unhappy people, Toussaint has a punch of color and a sense of ceremony. Amidst the rolling hills of vineyards and sunflowers, knights, lords, and ladies talk in flowery speech about honor and justice. It's such a contrast from where the story previously took place that the early moments of Blood and Wine are about Toussaint knights trying to operate normally in the barren wasteland of Velen's No Man's Land.
Those knights are envoys sent to find Geralt at the behest of Duchess Anna Henrietta. Some supernatural creature is killing former knights and nobles. No spoilers, but the cover art, trailer, and even title will give you a few hints as to the nature of Geralt's foe this time around. The 'what' isn't as important as the 'who' and 'why', and so far, the story has Geralt's loyalties being pulled between his duty and his friendships. Wild Hunt was the search for Ciri and Hearts of Stone was Geralt being forced to pay back a debt. Blood and Wine thankfully lacks the false urgency of the former, but also has some of the emotional spark the latter was missing in the main quest.
What helps Blood and Wine stand out the most of Hearts of Stone is the change in setting. These are different lands with a different lifestyle. The main city Beauclair is a magnificent contrast, moving from slum to palace as it crawls slowly up a hillside. Seriously, CDPR's environmental artists continue to outdo themselves with this city and its various districts.
Out in the countryside, the terrain is equally dense with things to explore. In caves, lakes, and forests, you'll find ancient elven ruins. There's new monsters in those hills, plus a bunch of old ones for good measure. The people are so well off that they believe in things like knights fighting giant monsters for the heart of their lady love. This is not a region mired in war and strife, with barons and kings vying for power. The tone isn't light, but it's definitely different from what came before. Plus, Temeria doesn't have your fabulous majordomo, Barnabas-Basil. He's the proper Alfred you deserve, Geralt.
While Toussaint plays around with concepts like honor, loyalty, and justice, the region does hide its own dirty secrets. Geralt has to navigate through the rituals and pageantry to find out who is truly the wronged party in this situation. Sure, people are dying, but is the Beast really a demon or a necessary evil? Can a being suppress its true nature? Is the true monster is humanity? (No, it's probably the monsters that kill and eat people.)
As an expansion, Blood and Wine is built right on top of The Witcher 3. Combat is still a dodge and slash affair augmented by a system of exploiting monster strengths and weaknesses. Geralt and his trusty invincible horse Roach continue to wander a huge, detailed countryside, with Toussaint being roughly the size of Velen in Wild Hunt. Crafting and Alchemy are still necessary to really succeed, with Geralt needing the best armor, oils, and mutagens to finish off his hardest hunts. You're still using your Witcher Senses to find your next clue or objective. All of this works and CDPR saw fit not to touch it.
New additions include more weapons and armor, including new Witcher armor sets. CD Projekt Red also added a snazzy new dye system, so you can make your Geralt as bright and colorful as the cities of Toussaint. You can buy or craft dyes, but I generally just found them in treasure chests out in the world. It's a welcome bit of customization for a character whose looks are rather set; you could always get a feel for where a player was in their game by the armor they had available. At least now, your Geralt can be bright purple.
CDPR also redid the UI, but honestly, the inventory is a still a mire. It's better, but I still had bags full of nonsense that I can't get rid off because I might need it eventually. To help with this a bit, Blood and Wine does add Geralt's new vineyard estate, complete with built-in storage. It's good to have a place to store all the extra crap you collect and as an added bonus, the estate can be upgraded over time. There's not much real customization - think of the villa in Assassin's Creed II - but it's fun to spend some money, go questing, and return to new enhancements. Once upgraded, your estate gives you a place where you can take care of all your normal city needs, like repairs.
Hearts of Stone added the Runewright enchantments as a new upgrade system for Geralt's equipment and Blood and Wine adds a whole new system for Geralt himself. Unlocked by a quest you'll get via a letter from Yennefer, Geralt dives into a mad scientist's lair and comes out with some mutations. These Mutations are powerful augments to Geralt, working in tandem with his existing abilities and Mutagens. In fact, you need to spend ability points and mutagens to research these new Mutations.
The trade off for your sacrifice is some very, very powerful skills, like supercharging your crossbow damage (six-fold!) or a skill that increases your Attack Power by 5 percent every time you attack. It's a great system that aligns with the existing Combat, Signs, and Alchemy trees players already specialize in. I expect to see some very strong endgame Geralts.
All of this is before I get to some of the new side quests (CDPR says there's 90 total quests in the expansion), like a trippy fairy tale-inspired affair, the case of the stolen testicles, an encounter with a spotted wight, the gentleman who sends you graveyard diving because he just wants to get some sleep at night, or the numerous knights who get themselves in way too deep with the local monsters. (I'm honestly surprised they've survived this long.) So far, the main quest is up with there with the great storytelling work CD Projekt Red put in for the Wild Hunt and Hearts of Stone. I'm not done though, which is why this is a review-in-progress. I need to see if they stick the landing, or stumble like the abrupt ending of Hearts of Stone.
Blood and Wine continues CD Projekt Red's streak of excellence. If you thought Hearts of Stone being great might've been a fluke, this expansion puts that idea to rest. From what I've played, it's put together just as well in the story and quest department and it stands as a slight improvement from the previous expansion due to the new scenery. Regardless, I don't think Witcher fans will regret joining Geralt on his last adventure.
Updated: So I've finished Blood and Wine. What struck me the most about the game was the definite feeling of CD Projekt Red saying goodbye to Geralt. I honestly doubt it's their final Witcher game featuring the character, but there's an effort here to reward Geralt for his service. It's not just the villa, which is the most tangible reward, it's also the region of Toussaint itself. It's a place that prizes honor and loyalty; the people there see those traits in Geralt himself and acknowledge it.
Part of the strength of low-fantasy tends to come from doubling-down on reality. People die, sometimes without reason. Heroes don't always win. There was always the feeling that Geralt would die fulfilling some contract, unlauded and feared by the people he's helping. Here, that's not the case.
The main plot of the expansion does have a few pacing issues and some characters do carried around the idiot ball for story convenience, but in the end, I enjoyed the story being told. It's uneven, but hits higher highs than Hearts of Stone, which was a tighter overall expansion.
In the end, Blood and Wine is an ending for Geralt. It's one last lap around the track, soaking in the cheers and accolades of man, monster, and God alike. It's an acknowledgement this character would've never gotten in the regions that Wild Hunt and Hearts of Stone take place in: you did good. And even if your Geralt was a dick, the truth is he did do good and he does deserve his rest. Cheers.
The Nitty Gritty
- Interface: CD Projekt Red has improved the overall inventory UI, though I still have some issue with it.
- Lasting appeal: Once you've finished the 15-20 hour main quest, there's still more to see in Toussaint.
- Visuals: I previously played The Witcher III on PS4. It's a stunning game on PC and Toussaint is a bright and beautiful region compared to Novigrad.
Though you can tackle it at anytime, Blood and Wine is definitely CD Projekt Red's farewell to Geralt of Rivia. The great storytelling, interesting characters, and solid hunting mechanics all return in one last adventure, taking Geralt to a new region. If you've played Wild Hunt and Hearts of Stone, you owe it to yourself to experience this excellent finish to Geralt's tale.
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