It’s just over a year since CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt first graced our PlayStation 4s . In that time we’ve chased pigs at a wedding, found out more than we needed to about the Bloody Baron and of course we’ve rescued Ciri. However, it’s finally time to put Geralt of Rivia to rest and what better way to do that than with a 30 hour expansion? That’s exactly what Blood and Wine (BaW) is; it’s around 30 hours of new story, side-quests, characters and a brand new location (oh and of course there’s new Gwent cards). Just like with last year’s Hearts of Stone expansion BaW doesn’t add to the game gameplaywise but it does provide our hero with the send of he deserves.
As always Geralt’s adventure in BaW begins when he comes across a notice board in the Northern Realms. He has been summoned to meet some knights from the southern duchy of Toussaint. After a brief fight alongside those knights in Velen Geralt and his golden clad companions travel to the duchy of Toussaint to meet with the Duchess. The story revolves around Geralt solving a series of murders that have taken place in the duchy. I won’t go into detail on the story here for fear of spoiling something but keep in mind this is one of the best stories The Witcher 3 has ever told – which is really saying something.
Accompanying a great story is a great cast of characters. There’s a knight who is trying to win his lady’s heart by bringing her a monster’s head (we don’t recommend doing this if you yourself have a lady you’re trying to woo, maybe flowers would work better than a severed head). There’s the captain of the guard who isn’t very pleased to have Geralt working on his turf. There’s a handful of Toussaint’s most chivalrous knights. The welcome return of an old friend (you’ll have to wait and see who for yourself). However the real star of BaW is the Duchess herself. She’s boisterous, unpredictable, and quick to temper yet kind with an exquisite taste in wine.
The gameplay is full of the same old Witcher 3 tropes. You use your Witcher Senses to follow a sent or series of footprints. You fight or talk with whatever is at the end of those footprints. You return to the quest giver and enter into a lengthy section of dialog which may or may not end in sex. Then you rinse and repeat, yet after a hundred hours – between the main game and the last DLC pack – the formula remains entertaining. This is because of the strong motives, stories and characters that lend weight and context to all of the quests you’re clambering around the map to complete. Geralt also receives his own vineyard/home which does seemingly go against Witcher lore but adds a new dimension to the game in so far as there are a few ways to interact with the land – such as remodelling it. It’s not a very deep system but it is a nice idea. There are a few new abilities which add some new flavours to Geralt’s arsenal such as the Aard sign’s new ability to freeze opponents. However, the DLC is still plagued by the original game’s unrewarding and uninteresting levelling system. This all adds up to say if you didn’t like The Witcher 3’s main game then this won’t be for you either because gameplaywise there’s little or no significant departures from the original title.
There’s only one thing left to discuss from BaW and that’s one of the DLC’s star attractions – the duchy of Toussaint itself. The DLC opens up a vast new area for Geralt and Roach to explore full of new quests, side-quests, enemies and points of interest. The main difference here from the main game is the colour palate and the fact that the land is untouched by war. In place of Velen’s rotting corpses, smouldering ruins and broken war machines are Toussaint’s vast vineyards, colourful buildings and friendly locals. That’s not to say all is well in Toussaint – spend enough time there and you’ll find liars, cheats, backstabbers and a gentleman who stole a statue’s lucky penis to enhance his sex drive.
Overall, just like with last year’s Hearts of Stone expansion Blood and Wine was clearly made with the original game’s fans in mind. It does put a little effort into new features but they’re not likely to turn any heads or pull any new fans into the series by themselves. Instead Blood and Wine takes what fans loved in the first place and refines it to give one of fantasy’s most beloved characters the send of he deserves. There’s some minor tweaks to abilities, a cast of incredible characters that give the original game's a run for their money, hours of fresh dialog, exciting new quests that are enhanced by story provided context, a rich new land to explore which differentiates itself from anywhere else in the game and a new Gwent deck.