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I’d like to ask forgiveness for a sin I’ve committed: I started Blood and Wine, the widely-lauded Witcher 3 expansion, loved it, and then stepped away from it for like… 9 months. I’d like to be able to explain my absence by claiming I was busy or pregnant, but this was at the crest of the pandemic and science isn’t there yet, so I really have no excuse.
Honestly, I think it was, in part, a mutated version of a problem I keep running into with open world games: I have trouble acknowledging that I’ll one day have to leave this place for good. The more I progress, the closer I come to an ending, and that makes all the in-game investments I’ve made seem… worthless, in a way. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. But at some point, there’s a destination. It’s a curse, and I’m terribly sorry for sharing it with you.
That’s my experience with open world games in general. Here, the story went a little differently: Blood and Wine’s setting, the Duchy of Toussaint, may be the most beautiful and enchanting place I’ve ever visited in a video game, one of the last things I might have expected out of the otherwise sanguine and dreary world of The Witcher.
There’s a supposed travel phenomenon called Paris Syndrome, where Chinese tourists enraptured by the idea of a tremendously romantic fairy-tale Paris are so disappointed by the actual city that they experience actual psychosomatic symptoms. Whether or not it’s a real, distinct thing is debated.
Toussaint, to me, is the interpretation of France a wide-eyed romantic wants to see. Every corner of the duchy is uniquely vibrant and entrancing, from its powerful, snow-capped mountains and azure lakes to its brightly-painted urban houses and ornate chateaux. The people espouse a Mediterranean vivaciousness unmatched by the more doom-focused northerners we knew in Velen and the hardy Celtic Vikings of Skellige.
Of course, this is still The Witcher 3, and so this radiant canvas is, at the end of the day, the backdrop on which grotesque horrors and vicious monsters make their homes. The beauty of Toussaint doesn’t overwrite the brutality befitting The Witcher. The impetus for Geralt’s journey south is a personal invitation from the Duchess, desperate for help dispatching the Beast of Beauclair, an unseen and inhuman serial murderer known for killing and tearing apart the bodies of hardy knights. In Beauclair, it’s a chivalric mission befitting poetry. For Geralt, it’s a contract.
The story plays like a detective mystery fit with intrigue, unexpected turns, and a satisfying ending. The final hours of The Witcher 3‘s main quest were one of my few disappointments with the game, and by Blood and Wine, it really feels like the developers honed their craft. It’s what you’d expect from The Witcher 3, but a little better.
That’s a shorter way to describe most facets of Blood and Wine: The Witcher 3, but better. The expansion adds to most of the title’s major corners and, in doing so, makes them feel more fleshed out and complete. Mutations add to the complexity and creativity of character building. Large-scale hanse raids bring something new to the game’s familiar combat formula. The addition of player housing is surprisingly grounding, giving the otherwise-itinerant Witcher a place to put his things, decorate, and call home, even if only for a year. More minor features like armor dying add a touch of flavor to the game, even if my experience with dyes was limited to one particularly un-Geralt shade of pink.
If you’re a big Gwent fan in 2021, you’ve probably moved on to the standalone version, but Blood and Wine shakes up the old-school progenitor with a brand new deck. How much shaking has been done I admittedly can’t say — I avoid Gwent like the Catriona plague.
My experience romping through Toussaint and lopping off the heads of dragons, vampires, and hostile plants was everything The Witcher had led me to expect and more. Again, this expansion feels like the point CD Projekt Red mastered their craft. It almost makes me wish they hadn’t decided to end the game’s legacy on this high note, just to see what we might have received next.
It’s a challenge, sometimes, to try to invasively enter the minds of potential readers and determine who might be interested in a game. This is one of the easiest recommendations I’ll ever write: if you enjoyed The Witcher 3 even a little bit, pick up Blood and Wine. If the base game didn’t grab you, this expansion doesn’t do as much to change the formula as it does to enhance and perfect it.
I’ve completed my quest through Velen, Novigrad, Skellige, and now Toussaint. Now, much like Geralt of Rivia himself, and assuming an equal amount of danger, I move on to my next contract. I can only hope I’ll be lucky enough to find a universe as enthralling as this one.
Game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt — Blood and Wine
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Published by: CD Projekt
Available for: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Violence: Graphic; gratuitous human and monster blood and gore
Content: Partial nudity, icky monsters
- New upgradeable player housing
- Expanded character modification through mutations
- Large-scale combat raid bandit strongholds
WHAT I LIKED
- The Duchy of Toussaint is the most visually appealing place I’ve been to in an open world game.
- The expansion’s story is compelling, with excellent characters and a satisfying ending
- Every corner of Blood and Wine is The Witcher 3, but better.
- Time: This is an epic, hours-long expansion to what was already a hundred-hour game. A marathon, not a sprint.
WHO’S IT FOR?
This is one of the easiest recommendations I’ll ever write: if you enjoyed The Witcher 3 even a little bit, pick up Blood and Wine. If the base game didn’t grab you, this expansion doesn’t do as much to change the formula as it does to enhance and perfect it.