In an age where post-launch downloadable content feels like an afterthought — content that does just enough to get by — The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine does more than enough to establish itself as an expansion that will be remembered for years to come. It exceeds all expectations in a manner that will leave fans entirely satisfied with last great contract Geralt of Rivia will ever accept.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine Review
When The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched last year in May, longtime fans of the series, and even those itching to experience the third and final entry in CD Projekt RED’s epic RPG series, embraced the game as a masterpiece of its medium. This is no exaggeration. Game forums, both official and third party, were flooded with high praise in regards to the game’s quest design, art direction, character development, musical scores, voice acting talent, and most importantly of all, narrative writing. Fast forward to October of 2015, when CDPR dropped the game’s first official expansion, Hearts of Stone. The praise rolled on.
Blood and Wine, at its core, is a perfect experience
Incessantly. There came a point where despite the unparalleled excitement that surrounded Blood and Wine’s eventual release, the Witcher 3’s community held strong beliefs that to raise the bar even further — a third time — would prove to be difficult. When Blood and Wine launched on May 31st, the Polish developer showed what they were capable of by expanding Geralt’s story to an entirely new region and filling that new sandbox with friends of long time past, deadly enemies, enhanced gameplay mechanics, and a twisted narrative, as is staple to the Witcher universe.
Blood and Wine, at its core, is a perfect experience. It takes everything that made the vanilla game and first expansion so compelling and amplifies it by the power of ten. It expands the game’s combat system tremendously and explores narrative leads both complex and interpersonal in nature. In addition to all this, it sees our white-haired protagonist traveling to a brand new region unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. In my forty hours with the expansion, I experienced not a single noticeable glitch. As mentioned, without fabrication or misrepresentation, Blood and Wine is a perfect expansion.
Blood and Wine begins just like its predecessor: Geralt finds a new contract on a notice board in Velen/Novigrad and is instantly intrigued at its calling. Apparently, a foul beast stalks the night in Toussaint and the duchy’s illustrious hierarch, Duchess Anna Henrietta, desperately seeks the aid of the legendary Witcher to dispel this evil. The contract’s details remain unclear at first, but with a bit of push via the Duchess’ envoys, Geralt dutifully accepts. Upon arriving in Toussaint the Witcher is thrown right into action, inspecting the crime scene of the most recent unruly murder and attempting to track down the mysterious phantom killer.
Above all else, it’s a narrative about companionship
It’s a narrative that spans nearly fifteen meaty quests with a surprise appearance of an old friend — very early on — who will help the investigations along the way. Those who have dabbled in Sapkowski’s original prose can feel comfort knowing this character’s return is handled with the utmost care and respect. In fact, book readers will pick up on so many references throughout the expansion that smirks and smiles will strike their face time and time again. Structurally, the narrative follows familiar detective story beats. As one can expect then, it takes a wild turn about halfway through as dark secrets are uncovered and new threats aim to hold the region of Toussaint in greater peril. Much like Hearts of Stone, Blood and Wine succeeds in its mystical narrative set up. We are given a contract with very little details and the more we uncover, the greater sense of both dread and intrigue ensue. In its conclusion, our actions (or inactions) dictate the lives of Toussaint’s noble family both innocent and guilty. It’s a story about friendship, familial love, loyalty and deceit. Above all else, it’s a narrative about companionship and the lengths we would dare reach to reclaim those we once held dear.
Toussaint, similar to the narrative it houses, is a region that exudes brilliance. It’s roughly the same size as Velen (No Man’s Land) from the base game, with a little over forty points of interest worth uncovering. As you gallop atop trusty Roach along the roads infested with knights errant, you’re bound to take pause on more than one occasion and soak in the vistas Toussaint provides. At nearly every stop, the eye is drawn to one aspect of the world or another — the quiet, flowing rivers, the bustling vineyards, the clear blue skies, the vast grassy knolls; the entire region evokes a compelling sense of requiescence.
Exploration is key in Blood and Wine
Make no mistake, though, for monsters are still prevalent in Toussaint in the deepest corners of the duchy. And nearly every enemy encounter is one against a foe we’ve yet to see before — devilish archespores, fire-breathing scyzards, colonies of pesky kikkimores, giant centipedes, wretched wights, hell hounds, wild hogs, deadly panthers, and perhaps the deadliest, vampires; Fleders, Garkains, Alps, and Bruxa. It’s a beautiful contrast — the pristine environment of a fairytale-like region filled with nearly two dozen new species of vile monsters from another world.
Beyond the new creatures you’ll encounter in Toussaint are a plethora of activities worth diving into. The more impressive of which include rebuilding the monument of the great prophet Lebioda or tracking down all the new cards for the Skellige Gwent deck. Along the journey you’ll also no doubt be clearing out bandit encampments inside old castle ruins and bringing fall to their barbaric leaders, and, a personal favorite, uncovering complex treasure hunts for Grandmaster Witcher gear.
Past that, the duchy has several engaging side quests that will take up a good chunk of your time in between investigations during the main narrative. Two side quests in particular worth seeking out are “Paperchase” in the city of Beauclair, and “The Warble of a Smitten Knight” near the duchy’s tourney grounds. While the former aims to poke fun at bureaucracy in a clever, comedic fashion, the latter is a lengthy narrative that sees Geralt of Rivia partaking in the annual Knights’ Tournament all while trying to uncover the dark secret behind a cursed noblewoman. Even the unmarked quests, such as “There Can Be Only One” steal the spotlight as Geralt works to display the five chivalric virtues in order to obtain a powerful ancient relic. It’s brilliant content, and that’s not even including the dozens upon dozens of remaining side quests that can be collected via notice boards or found unmarked in the open world. Exploration is key in Blood and Wine and players who put in the time to thoroughly explore the duchy will reap its benefits greatly.
Once such benefit comes in the way of the side quest “Turn and Face the Strange.” Upon its completion, players will unlock a powerful new gameplay mechanic: Witcher Mutations. These mutations will enhance Geralt’s combat finesse in a number of a ways, from transforming Aard into somewhat of a freeze blast that can shatter enemies upon contact, to increasing damage output based on toxicity (which is arguably the most powerful mutation in the game), granting immunity and a second life when the Witcher’s vitality drops to zero, and buffing the crossbow into what can be considered a pocket-sized, explosive shotgun.
Geralt is his strongest, deadliest, and most enjoyable to control.
It’s worth mentioning that only one mutation can be active at once — after all, there needs to be some sort of balance. As for unlocking these powerful abilities, players can finally invest their unspent skill points and mutagens to research each of the twelve mutations. It’s a gameplay mechanic that’s entirely welcome and extremely well crafted, but its maximum potential — that is, reaching the top tier mutations — will shine in New Game Plus playthroughs for the most dedicated of players. And alongside these mutations come Grandmaster Witcher gear sets. Speak with the Grandmaster Smith in the city of Beauclair and you’ll soon find yourself running around the duchy, uncovering dark narratives of fallen Witchers via five scavenger hunts for each of the Schools’ gear. For every three pieces of a single Grandmaster set equipped, you will unlock unique bonuses that further buff Geralt’s attack and defense abilities. In short, Blood and Wine offers no shortage of gameplay enhancements to further the combat experience. In his last outing, Geralt is his strongest, deadliest, and most enjoyable to control.
I can already envision a second playthrough occurring in the near, near future
Here’s the thing — even after pouring forty hours into Blood and Wine, there’s still more left to do, more left to explore, more left to see, and I can already envision a second playthrough occurring in the near, near future. This is due to the fact that, in true Witcher fashion, Blood and Wine’s narrative concludes in three unique ways depending on the actions players undertook in the third act. It’s without question that — after already experiencing two of the three endings due to clever save file manipulation — each ending is worth the experience entirely. Each plays out quite differently from the others, with character arcs coming to a close in unexpectedly beautiful — or horrifying — ways.
It’s a satisfying send off to the White Wolf and the series as a whole. His final contract complete, one cannot help shake the feeling that this is truly the last time we will venture across the Continent with the legendary Geralt of Rivia. But all good things must come to a close, and as our most loyal, mandrake-brewing, resurrected companion so rightfully puts it at expansion’s close: “I believe we deserve a bit of a rest.”
That we do, knowing the ride has been tremendous if not magical. Blood and Wine is perfection. It has forever left its mark, not just as one of the greatest individual pieces of downloadable content, but as a respectful, fitting end to CD Projekt RED’s greatest achievement.