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Blood and Wine,  CD Projekt’s final hurrah for The Witcher 3, makes me feel like I’m gaming in the nineties. During the nineties the Internet was rubbish, which meant that any additional content for an already released game came as a separate, packaged product a considerable time after the base game had released. They were called Expansion Packs; the term “DLC” didn’t even exist back then. They would invariably add in bucket-loads of new content, added game mechanics, new music, new enemies, new locations, new levels, new collectibles… the list goes on. Blood and Wine does all of that. It is way, way more than DLC; it’s an enormous Expansion Pack straight out of the nineties, delivered digitally to an already enormous game.

It’s also absolutely phenomenal and provides some of the most memorable encounters, characters and stories in the entire Witcher 3 experience. I didn’t think it was possible to love The Witcher 3 any more than I already did. Then I played Blood and Wine.

In short: this expansion is essential.

Game info

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Blood and Wine sees Geralt of Rivia taking on a contract that whisks him away to the neighbouring duchy of Toussaint, which is ruled by the spirited Duchess Anna Henrietta. Toussaint has managed to remain out of the wars that have engulfed the other regions in which Geralt’s adventures ordinarily take place, and as a result we’ve got a new, open environment that is very different to the rest of the game’s regions. Its vivid colours and bucolic environments are steeped in French and Italian motifs, making Toussaint quite a welcome respite from the dreary, Gothic vibes of Velen and the like. I came dangerously close to wearing-out my screenshot button while playing through Blood and Wine; it really is The Witcher 3 at its most beautiful. Throw in the soothing new soundtrack, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Geralt had taken a holiday.blood_and_wine_screenshot_9

Within moments of arriving in Toussaint, however, Geralt is doing what he does best: killing monsters. Blood and Wine introduces a host of new creatures that long to eat you, but luckily it also introduces you to mountains of new weapons and armour with which to fend off said creatures. You’ll also get a new skill set called Mutations. Early on in the story you’ll pick up a side quest that has you hunting down the secret lab of a Doctor Moreau (guffaw) to learn about Witcher Mutations. Completing this quest will open up a new set of 12 skills to unlock. These new Mutations provide Geralt with some powerful abilities, but you can only have one active at a time. They’re also rather hefty in their cost to unlock: they all require Greater Mutagens of various colours, and numerous Ability Points. However, unlocking sets of these Mutations will also add four new Abilities slots to your ordinary character skill tree, so the hefty asking price of each Mutation has some serious pay-offs. I began the Expansion at character level 35, and by the time the credits rolled on Blood and Wine I’d just hit level 50. During that time I’d only managed to unlock four Mutations; unlocking all 12 will keep you busy for a long time.

 

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It’s a tournament, and you’re invited! You get to take part; heraldic shields and full knight armour included.

In addition to the new Mutations skill tree, Blood and Wine adds armour dyes for you to customise your Witcher gear. It’s great to finally be able to customise armour a little more, but it’s unfortunate that the dye can only be applied to actual Witcher gear; you cannot dye whatever piece of armour you want. Keeping with customisation: Geralt finally gets a home in Blood and Wine, which means you get to spend money on upgrading and decorating your newly acquired abode. When you’re not running around slaughtering Bruxae and Archespores, you can kick back and make sure that your herb garden is flourishing enough to satiate Geralt’s no doubt potion addiction.

Blood and Wine is brimming with humour and fun, which is quite different to what we’ve experienced before in The Witcher 3. There are countless inside jokes and references to numerous other works of entertainment, including Game of Thrones, Batman, Highlander, Tomb Raider, Andy Serkis’s portrayal of Gollum, and even Disney’s Tangled. It’s clear that the dev team has had a bit of fun with their farewell adventure for Geralt. Don’t be fooled, however, as Blood and Wine offers up plenty of morbid and creepy encounters to balance all this fun, bright sunshine, and frivolity. In fact, there is a moment in the main storyline that must be one of the darkest moments in The Witcher 3. The matter doesn’t get

Yep, it's a Tomb Raider reference.

Yep, it’s a Tomb Raider reference.

fully resolved either, which makes the whole ordeal even more unsettling. I’m hoping there’s an epilogue quest that pops up later that brings me back to this particular little story arc, as there’s a character I’d really love to introduce to the business end of Geralt’s silver swor—oooh holy cow I just realised who that character is. Don’t click that link if you want to avoid spoilers.

The best parts of The Witcher 3 (the story and characters) are front and centre in Blood and Wine. What seems a fairly straight forward contract soon spirals into an ordeal that threatens the entire region of Toussaint. Characters like the vampire Regis and the Duchess Anna Henrietta are fantastically realised and engaging, especially the latter with her sharp tongue and incredible wardrobe. (I’m not kidding; CD Projekt’s artists have outdone themselves in costume design with this character.) The main quest is a lengthy affair that provides some of the best moments in Geralt’s story, and there is more than one way that the entire experience can end. While the main quest is good, it falters towards the end with a pretty rough, three-stage boss encounter that has no checkpoint, which means that if you make it all the way to the final stage and die, you’ll have to start all over again. You’ll also have to skip through a cut-scene every time you need to restart. This really stood out for me, because the rest of the The Witcher 3 has been so meticulously designed so as to avoid silly frustrations like bad checkpointing and obtrusive cut-scenes.

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If all this talk of colour and humour upsets you, don’t worry: there’s still a lot of creepy locations and twisted storyline to be found.

Blood and Wine is very, very good. It contains some of my most favourite quests in the entire game (do NOT miss the side quest “The Warble of a Smitten Knight”; it’s wonderful and loaded with chivalric waffle, knight-errants, and tournaments) and caps off an overall phenomenal gaming experience.

98While the previously released Hearts of Stone felt like superfluous DLC, Blood and Wine feels like an Expansion Pack worthy of The Witcher 3. I loved it from beginning to end and cannot recommend it enough. Over the last year since the game released, The Witcher 3 has become my all-time favourite gaming experience; Blood and Wine is a near perfect ending to a near perfect game. Get it; you won’t regret it for a second.

 

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