A little over a year since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched worldwide, CD Projekt Red have released the second and final expansion to conclude the adventures of Geralt of Rivia. But after a mammoth main game and a substantial first piece of DLC in the form of Hearts of Stone, you’d be forgiven for pessimistically thinking that Blood and Wine may be nothing more than the offcuts of the early development and an attempt to squeeze a few more bucks out of the series’ adoring public. Such thoughts would be absolute folly, however, as CD Projekt Red have instead helped us return to Geralt’s world with an adventure worthy of a retail release in its own right.
But in truth, we surely should have expected nothing less, right? Both Wild Hunt and Hearts of Stone gathered universal acclaim with critics and fans alike, and the saga of The Witcher 3 is undoubtedly one of the greatest RPG experiences in history. The chance to return to this world is one to eagerly snap up, but Blood and Wine isn’t just about reminding us of what was so good in the original game. This expansion offers us a glimpse at what CD Projekt Red could do if they ever opted to revisit this series, as well as giving us even more reason to be excited about their mysterious, upcoming title Cyberpunk 2077.
To get you back into the shoes of the White Wolf, Blood and Wine sees Geralt tasked with travelling to the lush, peaceful land of Toussaint. Toussaint is a small duchy within the Nilfgaardian Empire, famed for its acclaimed wines born within the volcanic soils. Unlike the existing regions through the story of The Witcher 3, there are no warring factions or civil unrest to be found in Toussaint; the land is calm and composed as Geralt approaches.
You may be wondering just what about this land could require the services of such an individual, and that’s where Toussaint’s dark secrets and harsh underbelly become exposed. It seems that recent times have not been kind to the citizens of this fair region, and a beast has begun terrorizing civilians from all areas. With all trails and expeditions to find this beast proving fruitless, the unique skills of Geralt the Witcher are required, and dangerous secrets will be uncovered along the way.
Right off the bat, Blood and Wine wraps itself around a quest that’s full of mystery and intrigue. When a suspicious note addressed directly to Geralt is pinned to a noticeboard, the White Wolf journeys to meet Knights of Toussaint. After an encounter with a number of bandits, the Knights request that Geralt travel to Toussaint and deal with the unnamed beast. The first steps taken in this new land are an utter joy, and the decision to send Geralt right into the lush, colourful hills immediately after he leaves the scorched earth of Holloway pays off in spades.
When the first trailers for this new expansion arrived, it looked as though Toussaint was going to be a beauty. It’s reassuring to realize, then, that the reality plays out just as attractively as the footage in the pre-release promos. As soon as I was given the freedom to do so, I took off in search of vistas and postcard-worthy landscapes to see just how stunning the place could be.
I never had a problem with the way The Witcher 3 looked, but in comparison now, the earlier regions seem so flat. Rather than be an indictment of an ageing game, however, this is testament to the way CD Projekt Red are able to so successfully distinguish the war-torn nations from the peaceful glamour of this new region. Toussaint is a triumph in its own right, and the position it takes in the world as a whole makes it all the more impressive.
But if it’s starting to sound as though Blood and Wine may be all style and no substance, let me banish those fears immediately. The world that this new campaign takes place in is wonderful, but the strength of the quests and the additional cast of characters that bring the story to life are just as important. The mystery that unfolds around Toussaint’s dark-dwelling beast takes Geralt into all manner of situations, and at times it requires just as much charm as it does prowess with a blade.
Blood and Wine is probably the most cutscene-heavy of the entries around The Witcher 3, but that’s not a bad thing here. In many of the longer scenes we get to see a different side to Geralt, showing that he may even be starting to relax a bit as he approaches his probable retirement. Some of the series’ most humorous exchanges take place in this expansion, and the entertainment value is as high as ever.
When he’s not trying his hand at cracking wise, Geralt goes back to doing what Geralt does best; slaying monsters. Toussaint introduces a number of ghoulish new creatures to the bestiary, with some of them bringing a genuinely perilous challenge to proceedings. This content is for players at the highest levels and who’ve worked their way to the endgame of The Witcher 3, and the new quests provide adequate challenge for that. I regularly found that the new creatures and even fighting habits for existing foes meant that I had to reassess my tried and tested strategies if I wanted to survive. Blood and Wine tests your mettle early on, and the resilience it instils in you will stand you in good stead as the campaign wears on.
To counterbalance the new challenges, Blood and Wine also introduces a few neat new gameplay mechanics that aid your quest. Following completion of an early side quest, you’ll be able to unlock mutations for Geralt that make use of ability points and mutagens to grant devastating combat boosts and buffs. Toying with the combinations for these will breathe new life into a customization system that’s virtually spent by the time you’re at the right level to experience the DLC. Other additions include the ability to dye different armours, and Geralt’s own vineyard. This works like a very streamlined version of the building upgrading from Fallout 4, which you may deem a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about the detailed stronghold maintenance from Bethesda’s game.
The only times that Blood and Wine falls down a little is as you approach the midpoint of the main quest. Pacing becomes a bit laboured at this stage and the motivations and movements of the mysterious beast become a little bit too muddled to really keep you engrossed in its tale. Some of the side quests in this expansion are quite plainly recycled from others within the main game, too, but this is more a problem of RPGs in general than it is a denunciation of CD Projekt Red’s ability to keep generating wonderful content.
All told, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine is one of the best expansion packs I have ever experienced. The sheer volume of content that comes for the fairly meagre price makes a large number of full retail releases look like utter rip-offs in comparison, and it also manages the feat of making itself feel totally essential. Your experience of The Witcher 3 won’t be diminished if you don’t play this expansion, but you’ll be depriving yourself of an epic adventure in a staggeringly beautiful new world. Perhaps best known as The Witcher 3.5, Geralt’s potentially final outing is a fitting and a fantastic one.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.