It’s exciting and also heartbreaking to think that Blood and Wine, the final expansion for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is the last time we’re going to see Geralt in a starring role (outside of the Gwent CCG, of course). He’s been a stable part of my gaming life for nearly five years now, starting with me finally playing the rough, but endearing original game and ending with a grand adventure that took an entire summer to finish. I’ve had my ups and downs with our friend from Rivia, and this last piece of DLC bears all of those emotions in equal measure.
The countryside of Toussaint, The Witcher’s take on France and foppish aristocratic culture, is the real star of the show. Moving away from the downtrodden and war-torn landscape of the original game allows for a great deal of variety (and some very welcome sunshine). “Light” probably isn’t the best word to describe the new region, but it does speak to the carefree nature of her citizens and focus on chivalry and nobility instead of war and strife. The land is also massive, with tons of new quests to complete, monster nests to destroy, and places of power to locate. Toussaint feels like it belongs in Geralt’s world, and that’s probably the highest praise one can give.
The main quest of Blood and Wine, however, lacks a lot of the grandeur and spectacle of the countryside. Geralt’s thrown into a mystery that isn’t very interesting and deals with characters who are a little bland and dull. The main game, Wild Hunt, started to feel like a chore towards the end, with lots of traveling from one location to another in order to have a key conversation and then fight some random beast or deal with lowly bandits. BaW continues this boring trend, unfortunately, with only a brief interlude in a wine cellar and an incredibly aggravating boss fight at the end standing out in my mind. There is one highlight in Geralt’s friend Regis, who is voiced and written in stunning fashion. Regis is a joy to interact with and adds some levity, spirit, and uniquely human insight to the proceedings. On the other hand, the main “villain” of the piece is a raving lunatic who deals with his problems in an idiotic fashion that makes little to any sense. “Let me get this straight, you’re worried about humans finding out about all of the vampires in the area and don’t want to start any trouble, so you decided to attack everyone with all of those vampires and murder hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people? Yeah, let me know how that works out for ya.”
These issues of the story are compounded by a startlingly un-Witcher way of dealing with player choice. At one point, Regis literally tells Geralt what the “good” solution to a problem is when given a choice of possible paths. If Geralt chooses the more straightforward (or rational, in my opinion) option, Regis shows up again to try and change Geralt’s mind. I kept hoping for some kind of twist that might make the whole thing decidedly gray in tone, but the potential outcomes are far more black and white than fans are expecting from this franchise. Thankfully, the side quests offer interesting vignettes that are satisfying and easier to swallow.
The gameplay in Witcher 3 proved to be quite the divisive topic back when the game was released, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any changed opinions after Blood and Wine. I myself wasn’t a big fan of how Geralt controls in and outside of combat, and this expansion only further solidified my issues. I can’t stand how Geralt must enter “combat mode” before he can properly engage an enemy. I hate how it’s a giant guessing game as to whether or not you can quick dodge through an attack or have to rely on the awkward rolling animation. I’m tired of enemies that get to bug out and leap backwards after you hit them twice but Geralt can be stunlocked and hacked to pieces without any recourse from the player. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the game’s camera and inability to properly lock-on to an enemy when things get hectic. Nothing has really been done to alleviate or ameliorate these issues, but Witcher’s combat is an acquired taste that some people really enjoy and admire. It’s certainly the best gameplay of the series by a mile, but all too often it relies on broken animations and obnoxious attacks that feel very out of place (have fun with the giant Pottsylvania Creepers littering Toussaint).
I’d be remiss to ignore all of the changes CD Projekt made to the UI and all of the numerous quality of life improvements with the most recent patches. Witcher 3’s menus were a mess of tabs, icons, and finicky toggles upon release, and we’ve thankfully seen a great deal of improvement. It’s way easier to sort items and recipes, and you can now read a note or letter immediately after picking it up (THANK GOD!!). The addition of a player stash along with an actual home for Geralt also adds some much needed domestic tranquility to the adventure. The Witcher must follow the path, yes, but it’s nice to have a place to kick your feet up and call home.
There are other additions that add some flavor but do little to address other issues with the base game. Geralt has a new upgrade system that is, somehow, woefully underpowered and insanely Godlike at the same time. New mutagens can offer small statistical increases to base attacks (boring), or allow the Aard spell to instantly kill enemies or leave them slowed and unable to properly defend themselves (Jesus!). Witcher 3’s leveling system was already incredibly unbalanced and lacked proper descriptions, but in an effort to give Geralt some new toys CD Projekt gave him a nuke mixed in with some firecrackers. There’s also a new tier for every piece of Witcher gear out in the wild, and players can now dye their armor to make the most fashionable of Geralts.
Blood and Wine isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about Wild Hunt, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. The new story content is a bit drab, but it is more adventuring with everyone’s favorite monster slayer. There’s tons of stuff to do and hours upon hours of content to be found, but this isn’t going to cure your boredom if you were already feeling some fatigue after one-hundred plus hours with the original game (like me). BaW is a victory lap for a successful adventure and gives Geralt a chance to ride off into the sunset. Those hoping for a better overall game should look elsewhere, but it’s an easy recommendation for gamers who loved Wild Hunt and want nothing more than to return to ride Roach again.
Just, you know, hopefully not off the road and into a tree. Again.