The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine review (no spoilers)

Watching the Witcher series evolve over time has been a truly inspirational experience for me. Even though it all started with the incredibly buggy and downright unplayable Witcher 1 CDPR has managed to not only correct their mistakes, but steadily improve upon their formula to the point where they're now considered one of the best RPG developers out there. Quite the turnaround when you consider the... colorful reception they've garnered with their first release.

Speaking of the original Witcher, the final expansion for The Witcher 3, Blood and Wine, reminds me of it in many ways. Instead of struggling against nearly godlike foes and ancient prophecies you're simply plying your Witcher trade by investigating crime scenes, tracking down monsters, and attempting to figure out what in the world is going on. Politics do eventually rear their ugly head as well, but for the most part its just Geralt, the gorgeous duchy of Toussaint, and a monster that doesn't make itself easy to hate.

If this is to be the final expansion for The Witcher 3 and the end of Geralt's long and storied journey, I cannot imagine a better way to say farewell than by taking all of the good elements from the entire series and combining them together to form one last, grand adventure worthy of a true Witcher.

Video version of this review (14 minutes)

The story begins innocently enough, with a short letter delivered to you by a couple of old friends. Apparently the duchy of Toussaint is struggling with a series of particularly gruesome murders, all of which perpetrated with the intent to deface the honor of its most noble knights, an affront that simply cannot go unpunished. The two victims the beast claimed so far were found in rather suggestive poses, their bodies nearly ripped apart, not by mindless savagery, but with calculated strikes. Whatever this beast is, its clearly far too much for a simple knight to handle, and so with noble intentions in his heart (and a hearty sack of coins in his eyes) Geralt sets off to the small duchy in order to lend his expertise.

I've seen some idylic vistas in my life, but the short introduction sequence as you enter Toussaint is one of the most charming and colorful locals I've ever seen in a video game. From the very moment the blackness of the loading screen fades away you'll be able to witness rolling green hills stretch as far as the eyes can see, flowers of all types littered across the landscape, an impressive castle far in the distance, and even further beyond a pair of mountain ranges perfectly contrasted by the bright blue sky.

I'm usually not one that falls for realistic graphics as I prefer style over raw fidelity, but its hard to remain ambivalent about what Blood and Wine has on offer. The Witcher 3 was one of the best looking games when it came out, and I'm happy to say that its expansion has managed to confidently continue on with that trend. I can't remember the last time I've decided to simply stroll through tall grass, or walk through a market square just because I wanted to see what's going on rather than to complete a quest, but Blood and Wine is so colorful and cheery its hard to resist such temptations.

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine graphical quality is amazing

Quite the view...

While the fancy visuals are definitely a big positive, it was the story that kept me constantly engaged. In true Witcher tradition it all starts with a simple and straightforward plot, which then slowly over time develops into an epic saga filled with unexpected twists, intriguing characters, and old comrades from both the previous games, as well as the book series. Since its my intention to keep this review spoiler free I can't exactly tell you why I loved the story in Blood and Wine so much, but to put it bluntly its because everyone in it acts like a real human being, with all of the flaws and quirks that come with that.

Even the characters that don't advance the main plot have plenty of personality and stories tied to them. There's one moment early on where you need to cheat at a festival in order to save someone's life, but no one else besides you knows this, so they all react with genuine fear, confusion, and eventual disgust at your wild antics. Its such a small detail, but hearing the festivalgoers call you a charlatan for ruining their chance at winning (behind your back, naturally) is one of those story elements that go a long way towards getting me invested into a world, and Blood and Wine is full of them!

I won't discuss any of the plot relevant characters, for obvious reasons, but I will say that Geralt is one of my favorite protagonists of all time, something that I've become even more certain about after Blood and Wine. He's calm and collected while hunting down dangerous monsters, slightly snarky when dealing with boring politicians, and completely relaxed and friendly around his old mates, all things that make a real person... well, a real person. At this point I feel like I truly know Geralt, like we've been friends for an eternity, and that is something very few games have managed to successfully pull off. Unfortunatly, that also means that the sting of him "leaving" the Witcher series after this is even greater, but at least he had a fitting and satisfying conclusion.

Geralt from The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

Having such an expressive face goes a long way as well

All of this is further enhanced by not just great writing, but also voice acting. There are some characters that sound completely ridiculous and their attempts at the French accent are about as effective as my own, but as a general rule every single character is enjoyable to listen to, and most importantly, perfectly capable of conveying the gravity of the situation. A lot of care has gone into making the nobility sound different from the lowly peasants, the traders from the town drunks, the fishermen from the noble knights, and so forth. I would say that the effort was well worth it given how cohesive the world feels, and how easy it is to understand its social structure.

If I would to level one complaint against the writing and voice acting it would be the fact that some lines repeat far too often, an issue that slowly starts getting on your nerves when you spend a lot of time around cities. Hearing the same woman ask "What is they call you? Geralt?" every single time I pass by her doesn't get any more exciting the more I hear it. I'm fully aware this is an incredibly minor issue, but its a pet peeve of mine and it keeps happening in every single open world game, so I'm going to keep pointing it out until it goes away... which ironically makes me just as annoying as the woman I mentioned earlier.

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine features some beautiful locations, and annoying NPCs

Forget monsters, the real threat are the townspeople!

Diversions aside, if you're looking for straight-up content you will find plenty of it in Blood and Wine. I have no idea how it compares to the actual Witcher 3 map, but the "small" duchy of Toussaint is actually quite massive! There are numerous quest hubs scattered across the map, plenty of unique and interesting locations to visit, and yes, even more Gwent to lose your mind over.

Despite collecting all of the cards in the original Witcher 3 zones I'm still not certain why I keep playing Gwent, but there is something strangely captivating about this easily exploitable card game. Whatever the reason may be, I was delighted to discover that there are not only a whole bunch of new Gwent cards to collect, but also an entire tournament to test your skills against! The pre-built character I was using had a terrible deck, so I unfortunately didn't get far, but if Gwent is your passion you now have a whole new array of innkeepers to humiliate.

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine features an entire new Gwent deck - Skellige

Oh no... I'm playing Gwent again! Send help!

As for the side-quests, they are just as good as the ones found in The Witcher 3, by which I mean that even the smallest and seemingly mundane tasks usually results in some sort of funny anecdote, or at least an intriguing story. There are still some quests that are the equivalent of "go to place and kill thing", but they are expertly masked through the use of storytelling, compelling characters, and a touch of mystery. While I cannot give you an a concrete example, I can say that these are some of the most enjoyable sidequests I've seen in a very long time. One of the earliest ones you'll encounter still resides fresh in my mind, and if you get the chance to play Blood and Wine I fully recommend you scour the first few areas thoroughly, it is well worth the "trouble".

The sidequests were definitely a high point for me, both in terms of storytelling and actual gameplay, but I have to admit I'm disappointed CDPR hasn't innovated in terms of mechanics. You can boil down every single quest into a couple of categories, as if its an MMO, with some requiring you to slay monsters, others to escort NPCs, and the "most exciting" among them being the quests that require you to use your "Witcher vision" to run around and search for bright red spots in a bright red field... This was one of my main issues with The Witcher 3, and sadly it returns with Blood and Wine as well, but on the positive side, its at best a minor annoyance given that everything surrounding them is so well done.

If you ever get tired of bathing in monster gore, however, you can always retire to your private vineyard/morgue, and no, its better if you don't know. The vineyard serves as your base of operations in Toussaint, and as a place where you can return after a harrowing mission in order to resupply, rest, and spend your hard earned money on various upgrades. Its nothing major, just simple things such as more stamina for Roach, more health when you rest at your own bed, easy access to crafting tables, and so forth. What I appreciate the most about the vineyard, besides it looking gorgeous at all times, is the Majordomo that somehow always manages to perfectly thread the line between being an uptight douchebag and an honest, well-meaning gentleman with an excellent sense of humor. Odds are you won't spend too many hours tending to your estate, but its most certainly a welcome addition as it gives you plenty of opportunities to unwind, enjoy the scenery, and productively spend all of those Crowns that keep weighing down your pack.

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine features an upgradeable vineyard

It needs a bit of work, but this place can really shine!

Unfortunately for Geralt, he was not invited to Toussaint in order to experience its rich history, delightful wine and equally delightful ladies. No, there is a job that needs to be done, a job that requires copious amounts of weaponry, potions, and explosive devices. In this regard Blood and Wine differs little from the base game, though I have to admit that even on normal difficulty it presented quite the challenge for me. This might be due to the pre-build character you get being weaker than a sack of potatoes, but it certainly made my journey a rather interesting one since I couldn't just charge into two dozen bandits, spam the quick attack, and somehow get out alive.

Out of all the enemy types I have to give special mention to the bosses and mini-bosses as they have been greatly improved from their previous itterations. No longer will they simply charge at you in predictable patterns, each time giving you enough time to whack them over the head before repeating the whole song and dance. The ones in Blood and Wine have far more variety in their moveset, their attacks do significant damage if you ever get caught off guard, and best of all, most of them have some sort of trick you can figure out in order to simplify the fight. Even though it sounds like cheating its a remarkably good idea as it rewards players that do their research, prepare their potions, and oil up their swords in anticipation of a hard battle... in other words, it rewards players for thinking like a Witcher!

The one new addition to the combat is the new mutagen system, that while exciting on first glance doesn't really offer much to the overall gameplay. What it does allow you, however, is to spend all of those extra talent points into something actually productive, rather than leveling another set of weapon enhancements you will never, ever touch. My favorite example of this new system is the mutation that boosts the power of your AARD sign, so instead of simply knocking people flat on their ass, it just outright kills them. A perfect tool for the lazy Witcher!

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine has some vampires for you to contend with

Closing Thoughts

Blood and Wine is one of the best expansions I've played in recent years, and these are words I don't use lightly. It features all of the elements that made the Witcher 3 so great, with slight additions from the previous games, and a good helping of fan-service in order to give Geralt the send off he truly deserves. In many ways Blood and Wine is a victory lap for the entire Witcher series, a celebration of everything that makes them so enjoyable for so many, and if this is to be the end of Geralts story, it is one I am content with.

There is a slight problem to all of this, however, and it comes from the fact that Blood and Wine shares the very same faults as The Witcher 3. In other words, if you couldn't stomach the slightly clunky combat and movement that seems to trail the Witcher games, I'm afraid you won't find much respite here either. For those of you that don't mind such issues and prefer to focus on the story and characters, you will find more than enough to occupy your time in Blood and Wine, just make sure to explore!