The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine Review!

by on June 13, 2016

 

                As
the final expansion for the last title in the Witcher series, Blood and Wine faces
the difficult challenge of ending a story that has spanned eight books and
three games on a high note and in a befitting manner. After confronting his
greatest nightmare in the Wild Hunt and encountering the terrific Gaunter
O’Dimm in Hearts of Stone, Geralt of Rivia embarks on his final adventure that takes
him back to the fabled duchy of Toussaint, home of the chivalrous knights and most
exquisite wines, where he has been summoned in order to rid the land of a beast
on a killing spree. In doing so, the White Wolf is given the opportunity to end
his story in a way that brings closure both to himself and to the fans of the
Witcher.

                The
sun-drenched and France-inspired land of Toussaint is almost comparable in size
with Velen, although it is drastically different in terms of landscapes and the
problems it faces. As part of the Nilfgaardian Empire, it hasn’t been affected
by the war, and this can best be seen in the carefree nature of its people and
the absence of an army. Thus, knight-errants proudly patrol and safeguard the duchy
against its smaller threats, whereas citizens are mostly concerned with the
year’s wine harvest and the outcome of their Gwent matches. It is also a region
where Geralt receives the respect he deserves: gone are the cries of “mutant”
or “freak” and none try to cheat him out of his pay, instead
addressing him with “master” and even treating him with admiration at
times. As such, it comes as no surprise that one of the main themes of the
expansion which is explored through multiple dialogues is the one of finality,
as Toussaint represents the perfect place for Geralt to settle down after a
century of witchering. That is.. if he can overcome the threat of the Beast of
Beauclair, Toussaint’s capital and crown jewel.
                Blood
and Wine’s main story focuses on the confrontation with the Beast, whose
identity and plan Geralt must uncover. To do so, he is reunited with one of his
closest friends from the books, who is excellently adapted and written and has
some great conversations with our protagonist in which they reminisce about old
times. One of the things I really like about CDPR is their skill in adapting
characters from the books into their games, and thus managing to transition their
stories in a coherent way. Nonetheless, having spoken of the bright and joyful
side of Toussaint in the previous paragraph, the main quest focuses on its dark
and dangerous side, featuring multiple twists and tough decisions, with one of
them branching the story in two separate parts that last about two hours each
before they reunite at the finale. I thought the themes the story explored
(forgiveness, manipulation, finality, friendship against justice) were great, although
I now feel that certain characters could have been used a bit more screen time
in order to be presented better. The moral dilemmas that stand at the root of the
choices Geralt must make this time felt really tough for me, and yet I stand by
my decisions, even if the outcome they have led to was not entirely pleasant,
in true Witcher fashion. The quality of the writing doesn’t reach Hearts of
Stone levels, as overall the characters aren’t written as well as O’Dimm or
Olgierd and there’s no scene quite as moving as Scenes from a Marriage, with
the exception of the ending. Still, the dialogue ranges from great to
excellent, with clever hints and foreshadowing involved but also a ridiculous
amount of references, both to the books and to pop culture. All in all, I
really enjoyed the main story of Blood and Wine.
                Where
the expansion fares better than the other one and even the main game is through
its side content, mainly its side quests, which are more diverse and
entertaining than ever. One has you chasing forms to withdraw a deposit from a
bank and feels terribly similar to the real world bureaucracy while still being
a lot of fun to go through. Or you can go retrieve the stolen balls (literally)
of a statue which are said to improve one’s performance in bed, and once
touched even give you a temporary bonus to out-of-combat stamina regeneration. There
is another where you get to converse and do a contract with the friend which
accompanied you on most of your adventures, and is absolutely ridiculous in a
good way, proving that CDPR know how to make fun of themselves and the
shortcomings of their games. Also, you can pose for a portrait or attend a
tourney, and there’s also my favourite side quest that is a massive throwback
to the first game and requires you to demonstrate the chivalric virtues of the
knights of Toussaint. As my Geralt decided to be just as kind and virtuous as
the people of Toussaint were to him, by the time I got to this quest I had
already display all required virtues through different decisions I had taken so
far. Thus, a great example of choices and consequences which can unknowingly be
failed based on your actions, and I only wish that this would’ve been the
general design of quests from the beginning of development of the base game. As
always, most of the side quests force you to make tough decisions and have
multiple outcomes, and they eventually shape up to be one of the strongest
parts of this expansion.
                Blood
and Wine could have been a separate game on its own due to the massive new
content it offers: my completionist playthrough took me about 35 to 40 hours to
complete. As an incentive to complete his contract, Geralt receives the deed to
a vineyard from the duchess, which serves as his new home and can be upgraded. Of
course, this is more of a symbolic addition that is intended to fit in with the
expansion’s story ending themes, as from a practical perspective the vineyard
serves as a place where you can display your weapons and armours on stands,
hang your portraits and trophies on walls and receive a few buffs such as improved
health, extra bombs and potions and better stamina for Roach. More depth here
wouldn’t have hurt, but the vineyard does serve its place thematically. Other
additions of the expansion include the Grandmaster tier for witcher armours
(which comes with a new set of scavenger hunts with small stories attached) as
well as the possibility of dying them in different colours. There’s also the
big UI overhaul which came freely with the 1.21 patch that both looks better
and adds more functionality to the menus, whereas the graphics have been
improved in terms of foliage and lighting, with Toussaint being the most
beautiful region of any Witcher title by far. Gwent has received its fifth
faction, Skellige, which relies heavily on berserkers that transform into much
stronger bears once a certain card is placed on their row, and you get the
opportunity to test it out in Beauclair’s Gwent tournament.
                There
are three other additions worth mentioning: the Mutation system, the design of
the Points of Interest and the new enemy types. The first one introduces
mutations of three types (swordfighting, Signs and alchemy), which are
basically small combat twists such as Aard gaining a freeze element (and
working wonders when paired with the Northern Wind bomb) or improved Attack
Power based on the number of enemies at the start of the fight which drops into
a debuff if you don’t eliminate them fast enough. Of course, these don’t fix
the main issues that the combat has had ever since the release of the vanilla
game (clunky controls, poor targeting system and enemy AI), but rather offer some
alternatives in gameplay and encourage experimentation. Although they offer up
to four additional ability slots, the cost of unlocking all the mutations
necessary to do so is way too high in terms of ability points, which makes it
more of a New Game + feature. Moving on to the new enemy types, we have
vampires (alps and bruxae), centipedes, archespores and barghests (returning
from the first game), as well as wights. The encounter design is generally
improved, with each type rewarding proper preparation for the fight: you’ll
have a much easier time against vampires if using the Black Blood potion (just
as in the A Night to Remember trailer), centipedes are easily annihilated using
Yrden whereas a Golden Oriole potion actually makes the archespore poison heal
you. The final addition is the way Toussaint’s Points of Interest have been
integrated this time around: there are more variations of them (rescuing
knights, clearing wine cellars; not terribly impressive, but more diverse),
with there being three bandit bases (hanses) on the map that once cleared
weaken the bandit force in the area. Some of these PoIs even tell stories that are
continued from one to another, some have cutscenes and some are integrated in
at least one of the side quests. Overall, they are much better done than in the
base game or in Hearts of Stone, and they are a contributing factor to my
following point.
 
                I
was impressed with the way the world of Toussaint was built and how it comes
together. Aside from the elements already mentioned such as the way Geralt is
treated or how PoIs are integrated, there is also an interesting amount of
world reactivity to your actions. People will acknowledge and cheer for you
upon clearing a hanse or performing any great deed, to the point of being amusing
as it feels that no one has anything better to do than watch your every step. Almost
all merchants have at least one extra dialogue option aside from bartering
which really makes the world feel more alive and organic. When one of them
mentioned Vengerberg to Geralt, he mentioned that he knows the place well as
it’s the home of his lover. Or in a conversation with another merchant, upon
hearing the name of a man for whom he’d already completed a contract, he
recognised the name and remarked his unpleasant attitude. These are of course very
small details, but they add a lot of feeling to the world. It also helps that everything
looks so damn good: Beauclair is not comparable with Novigrad size-wise, but
its architecture is artistically superior (in my opinion), making good use of
verticality and a rich palette of colours. Galloping through the radiant
countryside and its impressive number of vineyards is not only a relaxing
activity, but also offers the opportunity of countless beautiful vistas. Lastly,
on the audio side, we have an unsurprisingly excellent soundtrack that fits the
two sides of Toussaint like a glove: bombastic tracks that emphasize the determination
and ridiculousness of its knights, ambient ones that accompany exploration and others
that are dark and mysterious and keep you on the edge of your seat during
fights. The voice acting is as always on point, with bonus points for Geralt’s
returning friend and for the obvious french accent used by the people of
Toussaint.
                Before
the conclusion, I’ll point out all the things that have bothered me during my
playthrough. As with the main game, the problem of urgency in an open world is
still not solved: multiple side quests make use of the passing of time between
phases, yet Geralt has no time limit on his main contract, just as he didn’t
with finding Ciri. So there’s some immersion breaking right there, since the
world is waiting on you in the main quest. Witcher senses are still spammed as
a mechanic, which really made me wonder what it would have been like if
alternate paths would have been included that led to a quest failure if you
just followed tracks/scents/hints without using your brain. There’s also the
fair amount of bugs such as Roach permanently losing her mane and tail (this is
bothering me much more than it should, but a horse without a tail is unnerving
to look at) or certain quests not working the way they’re supposed to. Not a
big minus as a patch is coming soon. What really bothered me is something that
occured (or better said, didn’t) in the “tragic” ending. Just as the
world of the vanilla game reverted back to its state prior to the ending, the
same happens here, with people mumbling their usual happy monologues instead of
being affected in any way by the events that transpired. Again, a big immersion
breaker and something that I’d really like CDPR to address when working on
Cyberpunk 2077. As for the gameplay, it’s always been the weakest part of The
Witcher 3 and I didn’t expect many improvements with Blood and Wine, but if
you’ve already gotten here, you probably can trudge through some more hours
knowing that it’s worth it for the story and atmosphere. I can only dream of a
RPG with Dark Souls-ish combat and itemisation and Witcher-ish everything else.
                All
in all, as a long time fan of the Witcher universe and of Geralt, it was tough
playing through Blood and Wine knowing that it’s the end of the adventure. Yet
it’s an ending done right and one that comes at the right moment, and that’s
worth more than other stories which might make us weary of more (I’m looking at
you, cow milking developers). It’s an expansion that trumps any other recent
DLC release, both in terms of value-per-investment ratio (20 to 40 hours of
gameplay for merely £16) and sheer quality of content, through its engaging main
story and fantastic side quests. For any Witcher fans,
it’s a must buy, while for the others, it’s an example of how additional
content should be done. No matter how sad knowing that I’ll never go on another
adventure with Geralt makes me, I’m thankful to CDPR for ending his story on
such a high note.
Goodbye, old friend…
Pros:
+ Fantastic new
playground: Toussaint
+ Engrossing main story that
branches based on your decision and has compelling themes
+ Best Witcher side
content amongst all games
+ Better world building and
Points of Interest
+ Small gameplay
improvements through mutations and better encounter design
+ Great writing, although
not quite as good as Hearts of Stone
+ Excellent soundtrack
and voice acting
+ Insane content and
value for the price paid
+ A lot of references
and nods towards the books and the first game
+ More Gwent
Cons:
– Vineyard upgrading doesn’t
have enough depth and mostly serves as a thematic addition
– The issue of quest
urgency in an open world remains unresolved and affects immersion
– Mutation system is mostly
intended for NG+, as its requirements are very high
– The overreliance on
Witcher senses becomes annoying quickly
– The issues with the
combat system are still there and affect the experience
– Inconsistency in world
state after ending
– Some bugs here and
there
 
 
Wolfe