Of all the heavy hitting triple-A titles launching this year, I can confidently say that not a single game has me more excited than Witcher 3’s second expansion, Blood and Wine.
For anyone who has read over my thoughts on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt during last year’s Game of the Year debate, such excitement over the game’s upcoming expansion should be no surprise at all. If you didn’t catch wind of my ramblings on the game’s writing, narrative, characters, gameplay design, and overall presentation, then let me preface now by saying that I thought Witcher 3 was 2015’s best title by hundreds of miles, easily eclipsing giants such as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Batman: Arkham Knight, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Fallout 4.
But what I never openly spoke about was the game’s first expansion, Hearts of Stone, and how upon completion in October, I believed it to have raised the bar even higher for storytelling and writing in a video game. From a bank heist gone wrong to a heartwarming wedding party and an eerie adventure through an abandoned and haunted manor, developer CD Projekt RED proved that they had one or two hidden tricks up their sleeve in crafting a compelling story that extended beyond the narrative of the base game. What I mean by this is that in Witcher 3’s main narrative, the writers were somewhat constricted to key characters and narrative beats stemming from the source material in Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels (which are excellent reads by the way, whether or not you’ve ever played the games). With Hearts of Stone, CDPR’s fine writers had the creative liberty of crafting their own characters with their own twisted and sick stories.
From the expansion’s complex central character, Olgeird von Everec, a man you’ll hate with disgust and then sympathize with over the course of fifteen hours, and main villain, Gaunter O’Dimm, an adversary more evil and menacing than the King of the Wild Hunt, to subtle side quests involving an elderly couple hiding a dark, ugly secret and even carrying out a bandit group’s revenge on a fractured military faction, Hearts of Stone showed players what was possible in the world of the Witcher beyond the Wild Hunt, beyond Ciri and the Elder Blood, and beyond Yennefer, Triss, Dandelion, Zoltan and all of Geralt’s closest friends. What Hearts of Stone did, so brilliantly, was raise the bar to unparalleled heights in regards to narrative and character writing, and more importantly, something that is nearly worth its own topic, what downloadable content ought to be.
If you hang around the game’s official forums or subreddit long enough, you’ll find a new post every couple days from a player coming straight off the heels of the expansion’s conclusion. Threads such as “Hearts of Stone Is Better Than Most AAA Games,” “Hearts of Stone’s Post Ending Discussion,” “Hearts of Stone Was Great,” “How Good is Hearts of Stone,” speak to CDPR’s talent in creating quality downloadable content that provides compelling stories and characters that surpass what can already be deemed as a masterpiece in the base game.
And that’s exactly why I’m more excited for Blood and Wine than any other title coming out this year. Make no mistake, that’s no exaggeration.
Tom Clancy’s The Divison. HITMAN. Quantum Break. Mafia III. DOOM. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Halo Wars 2. Mass Effect: Andromeda.
The list goes on and on, and for every title I can name (even those that have 2016 windows but no solid release date), it further cements my claim that Blood and Wine fills me with more anticipation and excitement than any other title will most likely provide for my tastes and wants.
If Hearts of Stone’s Gaunter O’Dimm, “Scenes From a Marriage” quest, addition of new gameplay mechanics and enemy variants, and open world design are anything to go by, then Blood and Wine will be fantastic.
Set in an entirely new country of Toussaint, a region untainted by war, almost fairytale like in design, we can expect nothing short of greatness when it comes to exploring new lands filled with beautifully complex characters and stories. We can expect quests both short and long that will undoubtedly leave our jaws hanging low and our hearts clenching tight with the Witcher’s traditional touch of moral ambiguity. And let’s not forget about the various points of interests that will add to the immersion of uncovering the secrets and treasures of such a prestine countryside.
And then there’s streams of speculation based off files and notes that PC players have found in the game since the latest patches. Notes that lead to a certain monstrosity of a character from the novels making an epic return. Notes that lead us to believe we will see a greater number of skill slots available to further build Geralt the way we want.
Most interestingly of them all, notes that lead to some pesky rumors that we will finally, after the disappointment that was the “Higher Vampire” during the base game’s “Carnal Sins” quest, face off against a true Higher Vampire…perhaps even the one shown in the game’s mesmerizing launch trailer entitled “A Night to Remember.” If you haven’t seen it, or don’t remember much of it, check it out below. Immediately. It’s amazing.
And don’t be so ready to dismiss the third point of speculation! At the end of the launch trailer, we can see Geralt riding off to a large city in the distance.
While most people thought it was the free city of Novigrad at first — that is, when the trailer first launched — the city in sight is clearly Toussaint, as made evident by the promo art of Blood and Wine released earlier last year.
So what does this mean? There’s no certainty in any of it yet, but it leads to the implication that Blood and Wine – even by name itself – will deal with Higher Vampires. You know…the Witcher Universe’s most dangerous and formidable monsters.
Take the feedback of Hearts of Stone — utter surprise and amazement that CDPR crafted characters and a narrative more compelling than anything found in the base game, which was already exceedingly wonderful and perfect to begin with — and apply that to what we can expect from Blood and Wine, and it’s easy to see why I’m so excited and thrilled to experience this expansion once it launches later this year.
I am ready to defend myself against claims of blinded fanboyism, shouts of utter bias or lack of taste in games, and whatever else may be thrown my way, but I will say confidently, with total conviction, that no other game in my seventeen years of gaming has captivated me the way Witcher 3 did last year. No other expansion in my years of gaming has shocked me in terms of quality and scope the way Hearts of Stone did last year. And for all that, I can’t even begin to imagine how I will receive Blood and Wine.