Blood and Wine
Blood and Wine, the swansong DLC for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is yet another exquisitely crafted blend of quality adult narrative and action gaming. As ever with this franchise there’s a central story that drives the game but the devil is in the detail of the secondary quests, witcher contracts and treasure hunts that occur along the way. Blood and Wine oozes both beauty and mystery during its thirty plus hours of content. It’s also a fitting denouement for Geralt of Rivia; a character I’ve warmed to over the four hundred plus hours I’ve played. Future RPGs will have a tough act to follow now that CD Projekt Red has set the bar so high.
Set after the events of the main game, Blood and Wine finds Geralt of Rivia summoned to the Duchy of Toussaint to investigate the slaying of the regions elite by a creature dubbed “The Beast”. The new region bears a striking resemblance to Southern France, with a warm climate, vineyards and picturesque villages. It’s a striking contrast to the windswept and rainy forests of Velen and Novigrad. As with the main game the superficially straightforward plot soon become complex, filled with duplicity, difficult decisions and multiple story outcomes. Toussaint is also a dangerous zone which can be taxing even at the default difficulty level. Bandits and monsters are considerably more robust requiring a more considered approach to combat. Alas, Superior Grapeshot is no longer the get out of jail card it was in previous DLC.
Blood and Wine not only offers new content but a wealth of upgrades to the UI, quest trackers and such like, which greatly enhance the game. Sorting your inventory is now far easier as is managing your abilities. The DLC adds a new mutation mechanic that allows you to create specialised ability modifiers. It certainly adds to the combat system and levels the playing field against some of the sturdier monsters. Blood and Wine also embraces the cosmetic allowing colour customisation of Geralt’s armour, of which there is now a Grandmaster tier. Early on in the game you are awarded a vineyard and an estate that can be upgraded. It boasts an alchemy table, armour bench and stable for Roach.
Irrespective of the fine tuning, which is most welcome by the way, the foundation of Blood and Wine as well as the main game is the quality of the stories it tells. When I first started playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I was not overly familiar with the character of Geralt of Rivia. I had played through some of the first game in the franchise and had skipped the second. At first I thought Geralt was going to be another gravel voiced anti-hero in the classic Clint Eastwood idiom. I was greatly surprised by breadth of his backstory and depth of his character. Due to the dialogue options there is scope to play Geralt as an insensitive dolt, if you so please. However if you embrace the emotional quandaries that the story offers and go with your gut feelings, you’re rewarded with the tale of a decent and humane individual that flies in the face of the stereotype that witchers are emotionless.
Blood and Wine offers several storylines that have moral choices and these tend to be complex and nuanced, as opposed to arbitrary and trite. I found the side quest involving the Spotted Wight especially tragic yet the option to be merciful has a satisfying outcome. There is sentiment in the game from time to time but it is tempered and often bitter sweet. Life is frequently depicted as a bleak struggle, especially for those of the lower classes. Yet it is through the prism of this flawed and brutal world that CD Projekt Red explores the finer points of humanity. Games seldom have this level of maturity and intellectual honesty.
Games reviewer Tom Senior over at PC Gamer effectively sums up how I feel about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its DLC. “Frankly if one of these expansions came out every year I'd still be playing The Witcher 3 in 2020”. Sadly this is the last we’ll be seeing o the Northern Realms and Geralt of Rivia for the immediate future. Developers CD Projekt Red naturally wants to focus on new games and fresh ideas. In the meantime I shall content myself with finishing all available content in Blood and Wine and ensuring that I’ve left no stone unturned. It’s the little things in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that are the most rewarding. The notes and journals that you read with their snatches of people’s lives or the rhymes the children sing as they play in the streets. The pop culture references that you find along the way often raise a wry smile. So I intend to enjoy every last part of the game as I suspect it will remain a high point, not to be bettered for a long time.