Last year, the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had a massive impact on the industry. Not only did it win countless Game of the Year awards, it also set a new precedent for all open-world RPGs to come. While reviewing, I already felt strongly that my expectations for the genre would change significantly, but it wasn’t until I tried to play another RPG juggernaut later that year that I realised what a profound effect Geralt’s final adventure had on me. If it were developed by anyone else, I would not have been surprised had they wiped hands clean in the hopes of getting a sequel out as quickly as possible, but that is not CD Project RED’s way. Since launch, there have been 16 pieces of free DLC, 21 patches and two expansions—the last of which just launched, and is so massive it could be justified as its own game.
There are few things that turn me off more than the idea returning to a huge game only to tack on an hour or two of familiar content; I personally find the re-entry process awkward as hell and the returns unfulfilling. Fortunately, this is not the case with the expansions for The Witcher 3. The first expansion, Hearts of Stone, was thoroughly excellent, clocking in at around 10 hours of gameplay to deliver a standalone narrative of the highest quality. While it did tread a lot of familiar ground, the story alone more than justified a return to the Northern Kingdoms while also serving as a reminder of how incredible the writing in this series is. Blood and Wine, on the other hand, steps beyond expectations to take Geralt somewhere entirely new and into the heart of the Nilfgaardian empire, to a little duchy called Toussaint.
Unlike the tattered and disconcerting condition of the Northern Kingdoms, Toussaint is a mostly peaceful country that has no military and whose knights live by the virtues of honour, wisdom, generosity, valour, and compassion. Ruled by the Duchess Anna Henrietta, it is a land that is renowned for both its wine and culture, and is something quite different from what fans of the Witcher have come to expect from the series. Naturally, though, trouble is afoot, and so Geralt is summoned personally by the Duchess herself to investigate a series bloody murders. Just like Hearts of Stone, the expansion can be played separately from the core game and doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the main storyline to be enjoyed. It is also a much larger with over 90 quests, a new set of Gwent cards, and quite a few improvements.
While it’s true that the patch (v1.21) released just prior to the expansion applies to the entire game, the improvements to the inventory system alone have such a positive impact on the experience that playing Blood and Wine almost feels like an entirely new game at times. Although, in saying that, there are plenty of new components that were added just for this expansion; a new type of alchemy, additions to the mutations system, lots of new weapons and armour, more Gwent cards, and, most notably, a place that Geralt can finally call his own, the vineyard, Corvo Bianco. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun dabbling in all the other additions, and I hardly need an incentive to play more Gwent, but I felt at this point in the story that providing Geralt with a home to return to, one you can upgrade and personalise, fits so perfectly.
Every time I return to this series, I am continuously blown away by the writing quality (especially when it comes to the depth of the side quests). The main storyline, to no surprise, embraces many of the tried and true tropes found in all good murder mysteries, although this distinctly sets itself apart due to the setting and tone of the Witcher universe. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest lover of vampires, but Blood and Wine takes no time at all to suck you into the mystery with its compelling cast of characters, unique missions and excellent dialogue. It’s an intelligent affair filled with intrigue and subterfuge rather than the melodrama seen in your typical vampire romp. I was also surprised by the direction overall as the plot delves into some interesting territories, not to mention some of the most memorable moments of the saga.
Simply put, Blood and Wine is a testament to how all modern game expansions should be, offering an experience so vast and varied that it could easily be justified as a standalone game. From the start, CD Projekt RED were up front about their plans for downloadable content, and there is no doubt that they delivered on all their promises while also working painstakingly for the past year to improve the core experience for everyone. Apart from the combat, which remains a little clunky and simplistic, almost everything else about the game has improved. Blood and Wine is just the cherry on top to wrap up what is unmistakably one of the best RPG franchises to grace gaming. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting ending for the series and make no reservations in recommending it to anyone who enjoyed The Witcher 3.