Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine

Editor’s Note: This review contains mild spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its Blood and Wine expansion.

Taking stock of the best downloadable content ever made is actually far simpler than you would think. The Last of Us: Left Behind, Red Dead Redemption: Undead NightmareBioShock 2: Minerva’s Den and GTA IV: The Lost and the Damned would be some of the standouts on an admittedly small list. As sad as it may seem, mediocre DLC is commonplace in this industry and this ends up making those shining hallmarks of quality stand out all the more. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunts first expansion, Hearts of Stone, should be on this list as well, thanks to its wonderful narrative based around fulfilling the three wishes of Olgierd von Everec in order to collect a debt the latter owes Gaunter O’Dimm (one of the most interesting characters in the entire game).  Topping Hearts of Stone was bound to be a tall order, but somehow CD Projekt Red has managed to pull this off, as perhaps the largest piece of single-player DLC in history not only provides players with another gripping narrative, but a stunning new area to explore and quest in, as well.

Blood and Wine takes place in the southern province of Toussaint, a corollary to the vineyard-rich southern region of real-world France. After being summoned on a contract by duchess Anna Henrieta, Geralt attempts to figure out who is behind a series of gruesome and humiliating murders in the generally (relatively) peaceful central duchy of Beauclair. Though it seems like the main quest will be a fairly standard murder/vampire story, the proceedings quickly shift towards a thematically-rich tale revolving around loss, revenge and redemption. See, what makes Blood and Wine‘s central narrative particularly fascinating is the fact that you find out the identity of the initial villain, the Beast of Beauclair, within a few hours. This creates a scenario where Geralt is involved in less of a whodunit and more of a “why’d they do it?” By subverting the player’s initial expectations about what the core narrative entails, it not only finds a way to elevate the entire story to new heights, but it also allows Geralt to travel to places that would not make sense in a standard detective mission. It’s this type of thematic care that separates something like Blood and Wine from the oodles of mediocre downloadable content shoved down our throats, as most publishers would be content to focus on the facts themselves rather than the emotions and thoughts behind them.

Of course, no story in The Witcher franchise would be complete without fascinating characters delivering powerful dialogue around every turn. Blood and Wine is certainly no exception to the rule here, as pretty much every new character introduced in this expansion makes it nearly impossible to stop once you’ve begun your journey in Toussaint. The aforementioned Anna Henrietta is a strong, fearless leader, which certainly goes against the bogus argument that women in The Witcher 3 serve only to be objectified (Yennifer, Triss, Ciri, Orianna and a central character introduced later in Blood and Wine would like to have a word with those making this claim). Aside from the fact that Anna Henrietta’s dichotomy between strength and hidden compassion makes her a dynamic narrative-driving force, Blood and Wine introduces arguably the best character in all of The Witcher 3 in Regis. A higher vampire who was brought back from the dead by a certain brooding Blood and Wine character, his mysterious motivations, friendship with Geralt and recovery from blood addiction make every scene with him absolutely captivating. Diving into other characters would completely spoil the main questline, so they shall remain nameless in this review, but it goes without saying that Anna Henrietta and Regis are not the only testaments to CD Projekt Red’s knack for building incredible characters.

Blood and Wine‘s characters, as fantastic as they are, aren’t the only factor that contributes towards its sensational main questline. The sheer variety of missions that Geralt is able to undertake creates some of the most memorable moments in an open-world RPG absolutely loaded with such instances. Without diving into full spoiler territory, it’s entirely possible to make a set of choices within the last few hours that trigger fights against the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs, a visit to a homeless shelter, a fantastic three-part final boss battle loaded with strategy and a midair sex scene. You’ll also be able to blast through dozens of human soldiers with a supernatural ally, obtain Geralt’s first house and test the very limits of Regis’s addiction. If all of these out of context summaries sound like absolute insanity, that’s because they are. No two moments in this questline feel exactly alike, and it’s so well paced that it’s tough to envision anyone who enjoyed The Witcher 3 putting down Blood and Wine halfway through.

However, the main questline is a mere fraction of what makes Blood and Wine such a marvelous addition to The Witcher 3. The sprawling region of Toussaint, as well as all the goodies lying within, is the real star of the show here. Considering that it would easily take forty-plus hours to complete every bit of content found in Blood and Wine, it’s safe to say that this expansion is larger and more robust than a number of recent full retail open-world games. From new quest boards that hand out thrilling side-quests like they’re candy to five new scavenger hunt quests that will allow you to craft grandmaster armor and weapon sets (the new, most powerful Witcher gear at Geralt’s potential disposal), there is so much to do in Blood and Wine that CD Projekt Red could have likely titled it The Witcher 3.5 and no one would have batted an eye. The aforementioned armor quests, while similar to previous Witcher gear hunts in The Witcher 3 proper, are a sensational detour, as every item immediately makes Geralt feel more powerful, driving the player to obtain more materials and currency to complete all five sets. The sheer density and size of The Witcher 3 proper inspired a sense of discovery unparalleled in a genre that prides itself on these very factors, and the fact that this expansion recreates this in a smaller form makes it a wonderful reason to hop back into arguably 2015’s best game one year later.

A number of new mechanical additions top off the fantastic combination of story, side-quests and world-building in Blood and Wine. Fans have been clamoring for additional Mutagen slots, and thanks to the new Mutations system, they have received their wish. After receiving a letter towards the beginning of the expansion, Geralt has the option to locate a Mutation-creating lab (sporting its own tragic backstory), which allows players to contribute skill points towards larger perks that have the potential to turn the Silver Fox into even more of a killing machine. From effects that translate toxicity into combat-enhancing statistics all the way to signs that sport critical hits, Mutations are an excellent addition that will keep players on The Witcher 3‘s level treadmill for long after the main quest is over. In addition to Mutations and the aforementioned grandmaster sets, Geralt obtains his first true property in Corvo Bianco as a result of his service to Anna Henrietta. By upgrading Corvo Bianco with cold, hard cash, players will have access to a central hub that will function as a way to improve weapons and armor, store extra items and activate status-enhancing boosts that make role-playing as Geralt all the more dynamic. Sure, you can go through the entire expansion without upgrading Corvo Bianco at all, but its combination of gradual visual improvement and genuine in-game enhancements make it a welcome addition to Blood and Wine.

baw 3Closing Comments:

Our review of Hearts of Stone mentioned that it was a shining example of how to create meaningful downloadable content, and yet Blood and Wine manages to top it in nearly every way imaginable. From a deceptively deep and emotional main narrative to a number of mechanical additions that make playing as Geralt even more of a blast, CD Projekt Red has truly outdone itself here. It’s difficult to think of any reason for those who enjoyed The Witcher 3 proper to pass at the chance to explore the beautiful region of Toussaint. The sheer amount of environmental and mission variety alone is justification enough to plop down the price of entry and regain control of everyone’s favorite silver-haired monster hunter, yet Blood and Wine amounts to oh so much more. Perhaps most importantly, it’s going to be really difficult for open-world games in the future to dribble out downloadable filler content, à la Batman: Arkham Knight, in a world where something as brilliant as Blood and Wine exists. If you’re looking for a clear-cut example of how to do DLC right, look no further.

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