I haven’t played The Witcher 3 since Hearts of Stone came out last October. Now that I say that out loud, it seems like a really long time ago. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but the engrossing world of The Witcher pulls me in far too much for my own good, and I could spend countless hours exploring every inch of the world and completing the seemingly countless quests. Oh, and Gwent, that sick addiction that I have to the cards anytime a dialogue option offers me the opportunity to play it. Needless to say, I was excited to finally have a solid excuse to put aside my responsibilities as an adult and spend the last week of my life with Geralt in the new expansion, Blood and Wine.
When I review an expansion or DLC, I expect to set aside a couple of days to play a few hours each day and get a good idea of what it has to offer and how it compliments the base game. Blood and Wine far surpassed this expectation. CD Projekt RED did not just create an expansion to The Witcher 3. They packed enough content into Blood and Wine to warrant thinking of it as a full game itself, but it also manages to completely tie in with the existing content. It’s a monumental feat, improving on something that I lauded as near perfect when it was first released, but they have defied expectations at every step.
Even as far back as nine months ago, the updates that came with Hearts of Stone managed to resolve the couple of issues I had with The Witcher 3, most notably making the inventory system and menus much more user friendly. And they did not rest on those laurels. They continued to refine, update, and change interfaces to be even better, and it helps make the entire game feel fresh. I dove into completing a couple of existing side missions to refamiliarize myself with the game and compare the changes made in Blood and Wine.
A Vibrant Fairytale World
The first glimpse of Toussaint is telling, a small look at the completely new area. The colors are bright and vibrant, and graphically, the area somehow looks even better than the rest of The Witcher 3. Toussaint is a land clearly inspired by the Italian renaissance, thick with vineyards and unique architecture dotting the landscape. A murder mystery brings Geralt into the employ of the Duchess, as knights are being killed under mysterious circumstances, the likes of which call for the expertise of a witcher to resolve.
Anyone who has played The Witcher 3 extensively will be intimately familiar with its music and soundscape, which is why it’s so refreshing to get a whole new soundtrack for this expansion. The typical lilting flute that you hear anytime you are in town in the base game is gone, in favor of new music that inspires a sense of artistry. Some of the soundtrack actually reminds me of Ni no Kuni oddly enough, though the theme of Blood and Wine does fit that same sense of grand kingdoms very well.
The easy route in development of Blood and Wine would have been to follow the formula of the base game. Give players a bunch more quests, contracts and treasure hunts, ship it and call it a day. I have a strong feeling that Blood and Wine would have done well by just giving us more Witcher. But that’s not the way CD Projekt RED works. They seek to exceed expectations, and they’ve more than done so.
Toussaint has everything you’d expect with a twist. It’s got a series of brawls. It’s got a new Gwent tournament. It has a bunch of new contracts for beasts and ghouls. But it also shirks expectation by evolving on these base concepts. The fistfights are each unique, such as one seeing you only parrying quick attacks, and another one requiring you to be drunk to participate. Gwent adds in a whole new deck — Skellige — with new players using different strategies that will make even master players question the decks they thought were undefeatable. And the Gwent tournament? You’ll need to use the new Skellige deck to participate, meaning your old tried and true deck won’t save you here.
A Place to Call Home
Geralt gets his hands on the deed to his own vineyard, giving him a home base and a place that you can pay to upgrade, from giving Roach a stable, to buying a nicer bed — which offer bonuses to things like horse stamina, vitality, and more. You can also place trophies earned through side quests as well as display armor, weapons, and paintings throughout the house. It’s an interesting mechanic that further breaks up the content offering for Blood and Wine from what we’ve come to expect. There’s even a side quest where Geralt has to hilariously overcome the bureaucracy of paperwork and multiple forms at a bank.
Everything is set to a more bright and colorful backdrop than anything else in The Witcher 3. It adds a grim sense of darkness as the fairytale world is stained with the blood of a people that still have a significant monster problem. The contrast of the dark secrets that Toussaint hides under its vibrant art decked exterior brings a sense of life to the world as the citizens are wont to look the other way.
It’s all wrapped in a fun sense of the fantastical, such as the side quest to prove yourself virtuous and worthy of being granted the awesome sword by the lady in the lake. It’s like the renaissance era meets the legends of King Arthur and the medieval period, which is fascinatingly different from anything else we’ve experience in The Witcher 3 thus far. On a number of occasions Geralt voices his amazement at the kingdom’s strict adherence to old customs and funny ways of talking, almost being a voice for the player in the process.
Not only does Blood and Wine give a wealth of new content, it also expands on Geralt’s character development. An early side quest will unlock mutations, enhancements that utilize ability points and mutagens to further evolve Geralt’s abilities. The extensive nature of the base game and Hearts of Stone could easily make players feel like they have hit the peak, but these mutations give something further to work for and even unlock additional ability slots for Geralt to become an ultimate powerhouse character, which is needed against the new enemies you’ll face.
The Witcher 3 Blood and Wine Review - Perfecting Perfection (PS4)
Blood and Wine by itself would set the bar high for games in general, but as an expansion it is entirely unrivaled. CD Projekt RED have closed out Geralt’s story with an incredible finale to a game that handily won our Game of the Year award for 2015. Blood and Wine takes The Witcher 3 and expands, evolves, and turns conventions on their heads for a fantastic adventure that not only is a must-buy as DLC, but makes The Witcher 3 even more of a must-own game for those that don’t already.
The Witcher 3 Blood and Wine review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.