Wow guys, I've been chomping at the bit to play Blood and Wine for a long time now and my goodness was it ever worth the wait. CDPRed has put a story together set in a large and beautiful world that gives us fans a pretty solid 30 hours of game play; and they call it an expansion. This, folks, is what expansions should be. An actual fully built, big addition with new content that really matters. Blood and Wine could have just as easily been sold as a stand-alone title and would have been just as satisfying to play. All the props to CDPRed.
I'm going to try and make this as spoiler free as I can and I'll make sure to warn ahead of time if I need to put any in place. My images have some quest descriptions in them, but hopefully nothing that gives away anything important. Anyway, here's my glaringly positive review of Blood and Wine.
I decided a while back that I would run through Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine back-to-back, instead of separately. This, as it turns out, was a good choice since there are a few references to Hearts of Stone that could be easily forgotten if I'd played it months back. After I finished it up I decided to go ahead and pick up the starting quest for Blood and Wine and right away I was presented with a choice. One that matters in the grand scheme some 25+ hours later. In any case, after the decision is made I was transported to the absolutely beautiful and "wow" inducing, Duchy of Toussaint.
This is a place saturated in color and idyllic views in virtually every corner. Picture Tuscany paired with Spain and a little French Riviera sprinkled in for good measure. Compared to the relatively cold feeling you get from Velen and the other Northern Realms, Toussaint is warmly lit and welcoming. I could almost feel the humidity of the area in my chair. I even started feeling sorry for Roach being covered in the Undvik armor, with its heavy padded leather and fur she must have been super hot.
But man, what a place: Rivers, and lakes surrounded by rolling hills covered in vineyards. Windmills and grand estates dot the landscape and it's very clear that you've arrived in a wealthy part of the world. Geralt seems pretty out of place here, and that's exactly how it should feel. Afterall he was summoned by the Duchess via a contract to begin immediately, how could he prepare? Would he even? I kind of doubt it.
Beauclair City, is the capital of Toussaint. It's not as sprawling as the Free City of Novigrad, but it's a large and diverse place none the less, with its class districts ranging from the poor to the extremely privileged; and its people range just so. Artists and artisans line the streets, criers spout edits and news from around the Duchy while the general populace tend to their business milling about the city. Colorful buildings assembled and maintained with much care stand about covered in beautiful frescos and provide a pretty foreground to frame the opulent towers of Beauclair Palace standing near by like proud parents watching their children grow. The Ducal Guard and the Knights Errant stand watch and patrol the roads respectively and with pride. This is a place that is clearly well established and steeped in tradition, as with all Toussaint.
Characters and Details
The people of Toussaint are much more tolerant of Geralt being a Witcher than I would have expected. Part of that, I'm sure, is because of the writ that has been distributed throughout the Duchy proclaiming Geralt as a guest of the Duchess and that he is to be helped in any way needed. All in all though most folks do seem happy to have him there, and are even fascinated by his profession. It's a nice change from the peoples of the Northern Realms taunting and degrading comments toward Geralt.This is all very fitting because Blood and Wine is the last expansion for Witcher 3, and in fact the last game to feature Geralt. So the fact that he's landed in a place that makes him feel more at home than pretty much anywhere else he's been starts to provide a feeling to the player that this might be a place to settle down. Geralt is even given a home by the Duchess as part of his pay for taking the contract.
The characters you'll first meet are the barons Palmerin de Launfal and Milton de Peyrac-Peyron, two of the highest decorated Knights Errant in the Duchy. They exude the common fantasy of the honorable, virtuous Knight while still being total badasses. You'll immediately form relationships with them and soon enough you'll meet the Duchess Anna Henrietta herself, and as a player you will be awed.
You'll certainly meet many, many more important characters as you play. Some, Geralt has known for a long time and some who are totally new. All of whom have the feeling of real people living real lives thanks to the truly incredible writers and animators at CDPRed, and the equally incredible actors chosen to be their voices.
I was personally blown away by the level of detail brought to the people of Blood and Wine. Everybody feels unique both in their personality and looks. Clothing brings a feeling of class and quality with patterns and stitching visible in minute detail. Characters have unique faces and emotion is expressed clearly in large part because of their extremely life-like eyes. Each person you meet has their own movements, they fidget, scratch beards, twirl moustaches, furrow brows etc.Through your travels, you'll also find new diagrams for grand master armor sets and be allowed to color them as you please with a pretty impressive number of dyes available. It took me quite a while to decide which set I wanted to make grand master. I'd always preferred the Feline armor set to all else, but I ended up making the Manticore set and using it for a while, then finally settled on the grand master Wolven set. Luckily you can pick up the quest lines for all the set diagrams in one location. Be forewarned though that the grand master gear is very expensive.
New Quests and Enemies
Of course with the addition of a large new story and world there must also be the addition of new quests for Geralt to complete and new monsters for him to fight. Some of these quests are the general detective style "find out what happened to this destroyed caravan" kind of thing, while others befitting the land you're in, will give you a feeling of "first world problems". Every one of these tasks is rewarding and I would recommend doing everything you can do as some of the side quests and contracts feel as engaging as the main quest line does. --Very minor spoiler in the next paragraph, skip below the next image to "New enemies are few..." to avoid it--
Some of these can be solved in more than one way. During one of these quests Geralt finds himself facing a destroyed camp. During his investigation it's found out that an endangered monster is the culprit and he's then faced with the choice of killing the beast, ending it's species line, or sparing it, perhaps allowing to continue causing some level of occasional havoc.
New enemies are few, but are challenging. The Giant Centipedes spring from the ground, are only vulnerable from the front and are difficult to hit unless you can trap them. Archespores, are man eating poisonous plants that spawn exploding pods, annoying to say the least. Then there are bandits. Though they aren't really new to the game itself, they are a bit more organized. Bandits in Toussaint have found areas to call their own in the form of old Elven ruins and abandoned watch towers. Coming across one of these "Hanses" can be very lucrative for Geralt as there are bound to be dozens of enemies to fight, each dropping weapons and armor. Of course it can be challenging since there's the possibility of guards calling for help from surrounding bandit camps; and you'll have to fight your way to the leader before the Hanse is rendered harmless. There are more enemies of course but I'll let you discover them yourselves.
During your play you'll discover tons of references to music, games, films, comics, stories and fables. The one going around publicly and also happens to be close my heart, is the Dark Souls reference with a secret bonfire to be lit and sat next to, complete with a protruding sword. I also really enjoyed a fantastic Tomb Raider reference.
Something else to enjoy is CDPRed's ability to poke fun at itself. I won't spoil it but there's a specific quest that heavily involves Roach after Geralt imbibes a tea necessary to complete an investigation. Those who have completed it know what I mean, and I found it to be one of the more enjoyable experiences in the varied side quests.You'll also be introduced to a new Mutation system that allows Geralt to continue evolving his Witcher powers. This involves a new level of mutagens and provides a use for the (probably) hundreds you have in your inventory from the game as a whole. You'll unlock a central node which branches off into the three mutagen colors: Blue, Red, and Green. Each branch has seperate nodes that add powers to the usage of your signs and allow for extra abilities to be active in your tree. More options become available as Geralt levels up, and it's all presented to you in one of those references the game's so good at subtly placing without the need for eye rolling.
The main story itself is wonderfully written and full of choices throughout that will effect the endings. Each branch may change a bit based on your Wild Hunt play through, if in fact you've played through it all to begin with. You'll have access to Blood and Wine as soon as it's installed (as you did with Hearts of Stone) with the option to let the game just level Geralt to the appropriate strength to begin the story. I would, however, highly recommend playing all the way though the Wild Hunt story line before starting either of the expansions, that is unless you just don't have the kind of time it takes to do it. My original play through took me 160 hours, Hearts of Stone took around 12, and Blood and Wine around 33-ish even without taking on the Gwent tournament. Each would be decidedly less if I hadn't done virtually all that I could, but this game demands time to be committed in order to play. I would also highly recommend saving Blood and Wine until last, as it is the end.
CDPRed has given us what is arguably the best game of its type in the Witcher 3, and it's their first attempt at an open world RPG. To say that it's impressive is a colossal understatement. Perfect is of course an overstatement as it doesn't exist, but Witcher 3 and its expansions come about as close as I can say any title has ever come to the word. World building, level design, characters, animation, story telling, voice acting, and pure subject matter have, I believe, never been brought to us on a level such as this in a game of any type. But that doesn't mean it comes without problems.
The NPC's AI is still a little silly, townfolk will walk right into Geralt and Roach without changing their pathing and then complain because you hit them. Roach, while vastly improved, will still get hung up on curbs and even though she tries to avoid running into people when you whistle for her, she'll still plow some over, and get stuck behind walls or in ditches here and there. You'll probably see dock workers walking as though they're carrying crates but there won't be anything in their arms. And it's likely that at some point you'll see floating objects in the sky. None of this happens very often, but it does happen and if not just to induce a laugh here and there, it can break some of the immersion the game provides.
As much detail as is put into armor and clothes and animations each, you may notice some clipping problems with Geralt's chin protruding though his collar during conversations. The occasional NPC or even Roach walking through a wall while pathing will take place, though rarely.
Of course there are still the fairly long load screens. Mostly this happens with the initial load into the game. Taking 20-40 seconds, nitpicking really, but for some this is annoyingly slow and is perhaps much longer on consoles. During the Wild Hunt play through these screens were masked with the "bringing you up to speed" cinematics, but these don't exist in the expansions. Still this is just a matter of being patient and realizing the sheer amount of data being processed in order to allow you to experience the world presented to you. Subsequent load screens once you're already playing are much faster, taking no more than four or five seconds for me. And these of course only take place during fast travel or the traversal of some portals; otherwise it's seamless.
Saying Goodbye to The Witcher 3
As I said from the start I'd been looking forward to Blood and Wine for quite some time. This was both a wonderful and sad experience as this final expansion brings us an awesome and well written story full of twists and complications. One that makes me want so much more. After Hearts of Stone I desperately wanted to experience the land of Ofier and its peoples. But I'll not get to. At least not with Geralt, there is still a level of speculation when it comes to Ciri, but I won't go into that (looking at you Cyberpunk 2077).Blood and Wine makes me want more as well, but it's a fitting end to Geralt's story. I dare say I couldn't feel better about it in point of fact. I even admit to welling up a little when all was said and done with the story. Thinking about it now even brings up a bittersweet feeling and a bit of a lump in my throat. And by the way, isn't that just something? The fact that these completely fictional, animated characters and the world they exist in are so well conceived that they can bring about such feelings. But there's a bit more after the story ends and even a special thanks from CDPRed, so make sure to wait through the credits and keep playing. I promise it's worth the wait. At least it was for me, your decisions during play may give you a different finality that I received.
I could go on and on about how wonderful an experience this has been, but it'd be pretty hard to do without major spoilers, so I'm going to go ahead and end things here. The question of the day is: Do I recommend Witcher 3: Blood and Wine? The answer is yes indeed I do. I in fact recommend both major expansions for Witcher 3, they are worth the price asked and more so. To be clear, you'll need to own Witcher 3: The Wild hunt, to be able to play both expansions as they are not stand-alone titles, but that's fully worth every penny as well. For all that is good in the world, pick up Blood and Wine if you've been on the fence about it. If you've been on the fence about the Witcher 3 in general, just get off the fence and make the purchase.
You'll be jumping into a very deep and emotional story with lots of smaller but equally deep stories along side. Also for clarity, the whole of the Witcher series is -not- for kids, this is an important fact. Of course it's left to parents to make that decision, but all the titles contain some pretty raw, adult language and subject matter: Murder, sex, prostitution, gambling, politics, racism and bigotry just to name a few. It's all tasteful and relevant, but not for kids.
Cyberpunk 2077 has some enormous shoes to fill... Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon.
- OS: 64-bit Windows 7, 64-bit Windows 8 (8.1) or 64-bit Windows 10
- Processor: Intel CPU Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz / AMD CPU Phenom II X4 940
- Memory: 6 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvidia GPU GeForce GTX 660 / AMD GPU Radeon HD 7870
- Storage: 35 GB available space
- OS: 64-bit Windows 7, 64-bit Windows 8 (8.1) or 64-bit Windows 10
- Processor: Intel CPU Core i7 3770 3.4 GHz / AMD CPU AMD FX-8350 4 GHz
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvidia GPU GeForce GTX 770 / AMD GPU Radeon R9 290
- Storage: 35 GB available space