Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine Review (PlayStation 4)
How do you deliver a send-off to one of the most amazing fantasy-fiction adventure titles of all time? How do you look at everything you’ve explored in a vast universe and approach the challenge of making it even better? No doubt these are questions CD Projekt Red faced with serious determination when creating Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine expansion. It’s a vast and complicated set of questions that demand a vast and complicated answer. So how do you go about putting one of the best interactive stories told in 2015 to bed for the very last time? Well, it turns out that if you’re CD Projekt Red, you do it with the utmost of technical refinement and lavish style. Though there are a few wrinkles in the fabric of Blood and Wine, it delivers a final chapter unlike any you’ve seen before.
Blood and Wine begins as most Witcher quests commonly begin: with a contract. Specifically, Geralt is summoned to the Nilfgaardian-ruled region of Toussaint by its ruling duchess, Anna Henrietta. Toussaint is a colorful region famous for its wealth, wine, vineyards and moral code proudly touted by the knights and royalty. Among a time of excess and celebration, a creature known as The Beast mutilates several high-profile officials of Toussaint in ways far too specific to be simply bestial. Geralt is tasked with finding and slaying The Beast and restoring order and peace of mind to the region and its citizenry. As with all things Witcher, it’s hardly ever so simple and it’s not long before Geralt finds himself in a wave of moral dilemma and conspiracy.
There’s no avoiding the elephant in the room. Toussaint is gorgeous. That’s said recognizing Witcher 3 has offered up some of the most beautiful country and mountainsides we’ve seen in a video game environment. Toussaint is easily the most visually appealing of all of them. Lush grasses, vibrant trees, clear rivers and beautiful villages and cities make Toussaint pop with vivid color well beyond its core counterpart. Furthermore, for all its intense color, it feels natural and teems with life.
For all of its beauty, there is ugliness as well. Blood and Wine brings twenty new and unique creatures into Geralt’s path as explores the darkest corners of the region. Nearly every monster will have Geralt searching extensively through his bag of tricks to combine the ones that work best. Bruxae are mobile vampires that can cloak themselves as they attack Geralt. They must be faced with Moondust bombs, the Yrden magical trap, and blood poisoning potions to protect against their stealthy and blood thirsty onslaught. Meanwhile, Shaelmaar is a large armored beast and will repel Geralt’s attacks while attempting to bowl him over. Players must find a way to flip it onto its back to find its soft underbelly for real damage. Each new creature presents a new threat and challenge suitable of Geralt’s tools and skillset.
Speaking of tools and skillset, one of the most notable changes to the mechanics in Blood and Wine comes in the form of a revamped user interface (which arrived in an update for all when the content launched). Several aspects of the interface are now better organized for ease of access. In the inventory menu, weapons are organized into one window while armor is organized in another. Potions and oils share a window and bombs get their own. The notes and level-up menus received similar treatments, though not as drastic. The old system of organization in Witcher 3 wasn’t the worst, but the new interface is most certainly better and makes locating the item you’re digging for a breeze to find.
If you’ve already run the gauntlet on level-ups and skill points, but have the want for more power, Blood and Wine has you covered. At a certain point in the expansion you get a quest that unlocks Witcher Mutations. These Mutations are a separate skill tree on top of your regular one that allow for a slew of new abilities both defensive and offensive. You can go a route that uses your toxicity levels against your attackers when they shed Geralt’s poisonous blood, a route that makes fatal strikes occur more often, or even go a route that has your enemies exploding if you kill them with a sign attack. As much as we are fans of hacking the limbs off foolish opponents, our favorite was one that allowed Geralt to finish executable enemies off instantly if their health was below a certain range.
Blood and Wine also features a new tier on all of your precious Witcher School gear. Somewhere in Toussaint is an armorer who trained extensively with a Witcher armorer. As such, he has knowledge of grandmaster equipment and will craft such perfection out of your superior gear if you can bring him the diagrams. If the allure of simply having the mightiest armor wasn’t enough, there are several bonuses to go with it. Wearing all of the pieces of a set of grandmaster-crafted armor open up premium bonus stats that will boost you far beyond their normal stat gains. For instance, Grandmaster Ursine gear will grant your Quen shield ability a massive boost, doing 200% damage in all attacks that involve it and possibly casting a new shield immediately once the old one shatters. With these bonuses, girding yourself in the full upgraded set of one school has never had more of an incentive.
Blood and Wine is a massive outing for an expansion. The main story clocks in at about 20+ hours, but that’s not including the slew of new sidequests and contracts for you to take on, which can easily add another 10 hours to your game. Of course, with such an expansive update to an already extensive game comes new troubles. Blood and Wine has a new slew of bugs that hinder the experience on occasion. Though many are little more than minor inconveniences, it was nonetheless annoying when we went into the menu to find a few items were blocked out of view in their appropriate square, or when we tried to walk down certain stairs only to suddenly fall several feet and accrue fall damage. Blood and Wine has a ridiculous amount of good going for it and some of glitches and bugs seem inevitable given the scope of the expansion, but they’re hard to overlook as well.
Blood and Wine has been said to be the last pursuit for Geralt of Rivia for the foreseeable future according to CD Projekt Red. If that’s really true and we’re done with Witcher for a while, then Blood and Wine is most certainly the way to put this franchise to rest once and for all. The game is a testament to CD Projekt Red’s ability to craft a unique and diverse world even outside of its already vast core world. Geralt’s journeys may be coming to an end, but for your money, there’s no better place for that journey to end than in Toussaint.
This review was completed with a download of Witcher 3: Blood and Wine provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.