Well. Here we are. CD Projekt Red’s immense, emotionally-charged and heartrendingly beautiful Witcher Saga has come to an end. The second of two expansions released for 2015’s The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine sees dad-of-the-year Geralt summoned to the Nilfgaardian Duchy of Touissant for one last contract. The sheer bang for your buck here is unheard of in this day and age. Not content with churning out a little DLC with some blatant fan service, maybe a mission or two to wrap up loose ends that takes in total maybe 2-3 hours to complete, CD Projekt Red have bundled Geralt’s last hurrah with a complete overhaul of the UI, multiple new gameplay additions and an entirely new mystery to solve. Take it from me: this expansion will keep you busy for upwards of 30 hours. For a detailed summary of everything that’s been added and changed, click here. As for how Blood and Wine compares to Geralt’s previous adventures, simply read on.
Firstly, while there is a lot of new content, don’t go into this expecting The Witcher 4. The Witchering activities and mechanics from the base game are still at work here. You’ll hunt monsters, kill bandits, save peasants, play Gwent, craft weapons and armour, brew potions, play Gwent, get in fistfights, race horses and of course play some Gwent. It’s fundamentally the same, but there are a huge amount of adjustments that successfully refresh the formula. For example whilst out exploring I came across a nest of Endregas in someone’s vineyard. Naturally I killed them and incinerated their eggs and while in the middle of looting I heard someone say “They… they’re…. thankyou!” I turned around to see the vineyard supervisor standing there looking bewildered. A couple of workers had also arrived, prodding the eggs and looking generally disgusted. It’s this simple attention to detail that not only makes the world feel alive, but also conveys the sense that you’re actually helping people. When such simple distractions are presented in a way that makes you genuinely feel like a monster slayer, they become just as enjoyable as a fully-fledged side quest.
The previous expansion Hearts of Stone, while fantastic, was set in a region we’d already seen in the main game. Blood and Wine introduces the totally new area of Touissant (roughly the size of Ard Skellig and surrounding isles) and it is stunning. Remember all those times you pulled up on Roach just to bask in the sights and sounds of this world? Well they’ve done it all over again with Touissant. Just like Skellige and Novigrad this idyllic valley is a joy just to walk around in. The capital, Beauclair, is simply beautiful. Often in games castle towns or villages are merely representative and you can only explore certain restricted areas; it’s left up to the player to imagine what lies beyond these boundaries. In the Witcher, cities are realistically large, with their own ports, markets and financial districts. They’re laid out in a way that just makes sense, with wide roads, canals, alcoves and alleyways. Beauclair continues this philosophy. The city may be smaller than Novigrad but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in its vistas, vibrancy and architecture. CDPR have always cited the countryside and cities of southern Europe as their main influence on the design of Touissant and it really is the best way to describe the whole areas atmosphere. This doesn’t apply just to Beauclair but to the entirety of the new land Geralt can traverse: little lakeside villages, the many different vineyards and the tourney grounds are all equally gorgeous.
Just like the base game, Blood and Wine is not without flaw. You will of course come across the occasional bug or glitch, and Roach will definitely perform her audition for The Ministry of Silly Walks a number of times, but the expansions biggest drawback is unfortunately its main quest. Hearts of Stone had a phenomenal narrative, benefiting from its smaller scope to deliver an exceedingly tight, satisfying tale. Blood and Wine goes large from the get-go, both in terms of square kilometres as well as new features. This seems to have come at the expense of a thoroughly compelling, emotionally intense story. That’s not to say Blood and Wine’s vampire-ridden, fable-like murder mystery is boring or of low quality, it’s just not quite as impressive as earlier stories in the series. At times it even manages to feel a little rushed and disjointed. Geralt will have to make monumental decisions just after learning some significant plot detail, without the time to really appreciate either the choice or the consequences. Certain characters will return to you midway through a quest, appearing to have said and done rather important things off-screen. More than once I found myself wondering if I’d accidentally skipped a cutscene. It’s a shame, because there’s a lot to love when it comes to the new characters and the plots overall premise. It just never quite reaches the (admittedly lofty) heights of previous narratives.
Another problem arises from a kind of narrative dissonance. Geralt’s been given this extremely urgent contract by the Duchess to hunt this terrible beast that is still killing people, yet he’s just spent the last few days buying armour stands and weapon racks for his new vineyard. It’s so easy to go from point of interest, to monster nest, to bandit camp that I would feel burned out within an hour of playing. No progress would be made in the hunt for the Beast of Beauclair and when I would eventually get round to doing a main story mission there’d be a certain disconnect with everything that was going on. It’s why Hearts of Stone was so engaging from start to finish: any and all fat had been trimmed. That said, there being ‘too much to do’ is a damn fine flaw to have, and not one I would normally expect from a DLC.
In my preview write-up I waffled on about how CD Projekt RED raised the bar with Wild Hunt, and looked to be doing the same with Blood and Wine. This prediction has turned out be 100% accurate. For those of us who have followed Geralt since his very first janky adventure back in 2007, this expansion is more than DLC. It’s a farewell, a sendoff, and one that hits all the right emotional notes in that regard. There’s a particular moment of recognition toward the end of Blood and Wine that hurt. A realisation that it’s all over, combined with flashes of the monumental adventure I’d been on with this haggard old monster slayer across the span of three games. Blood and Wine is the definition of bittersweet and a fantastic demonstration of what post-release content can be.