Stepping into Blood and Wine for the first time, something amazing happened – I got the same incredible feeling of wonder and discovery that I hadn’t felt since I originally booted up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Around every corner there was a strange new monster to fight, or ruin to explore. Brand new quests and interesting new characters kept me entertained, while the colourful region of Toussaint constantly surprised me in dozens of little ways.
This second (and final) expansion pack is nothing less than a masterclass in how videogames should deliver paid post-game content. Blood and Wine keeps everything that made the base game great, but throws in plenty that we’ve never seen before.
After a brief prologue in familiar territory, we’re whisked off to Toussaint, and the difference is immediately striking. We’re a million miles away from the rainy war torn wastes of Velen, or the snowy peaks of Skellige.
Toussaint is a sun drenched land full of green fields and deep blue rivers, mad knights and twisted fairytale monsters. The Witcher 3 is far from an ugly game – but Blood and Wine literally outshines anything else you’ve seen in Geralt’s world.
I spent my first two or three hours in the new region with the map and quests turned off, and just let myself get lost. I acknowledge that this isn’t the way everyone will want to play, but I wholeheartedly recommend trying it.
Aimlessly exploring Toussaint was easily the most fun I’ve had in a single player game for a long time, and a testament to the richness of this extra region that CD Projekt RED has created.
To discuss the plot too much would take away from it, so I’ll steer clear. I will say that you can expect plenty of twists and turns, though this is a much more light-hearted, even self-parodying affair than anything we’ve seen before in the world of Witcher, perhaps befitting the brighter locale.
Oh, and anybody worried about diving into Blood and Wine because they haven’t finished the main game shouldn’t be. The expansion has absolutely no relation to any story quests from the base game – though it’s recommended you reach level 34 before paying Toussaint a visit (64 if you play New Game+ like me).
However, anyone keen to simply try the expansion alone can start a new game that focuses on only on the Blood and Wine quest lines and gives Geralt the appropriate level and gear to proceed.
And make no mistake, Blood and Wine is difficult – For my money, harder than anything from the main game or Hearts of Stone expansion.
I tried both my New Game+ save file and a Blood and Wine only save file, and while the former was obviously much more of a challenge, the latter still proved taxing – especially when fighting monsters I’d not run into before.
After developing an almost boring routine with the beasts in Skellige and Velen, it was amazing to suddenly have to rethink my strategy with all these exotic new enemies. Of course Drowners are still the same wherever you go. Annoying little fuckers.
Thankfully, there are new systems introduced into combat to make sure you have the best chance of taking on the fiends of Toussaint.
One of the most welcome new additions allows you to modify signs (your magic) with new mutations.
For example, you can alter the Aard sign so that it freezes enemies. They’re hardly game changing, but a cool new something extra for anyone who feels like they’ve taken their own character build to the limit.
Another neat yet entirely disposable system lets Geralt purchase his very own vineyard, which can then be upgraded and decorated accordingly.
If you’d rather be out slaying monsters and taking names, then you never have to bother with this part of the game – but it’s pretty nice to have the option, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in upgrading your home away from home with a stable for the ever faithful Roach, as well as stations for your weapons and armour.
On the subject of armour, there are of course a fair few new bits of gear waiting for you to seek out and find. There’s even a new system that lets you dye your armour certain colours. Absolutely useless, maybe – but another nice touch all the same.
If you didn’t enjoy The Witcher 3, then Blood and Wine obviously isn’t for you. Roach can still be a right pain in the arse to control, some will find the process of tracking then killing enemies repetitive.
Personally, I still despise trying to position myself to open chests while floating underwater. Seriously, it shouldn’t be so hard.
Nothing in Blood and Wine changes the game on a fundamental level, but that’s not the point. This isn’t Witcher 3.5, it’s a distillation of everything (most of us) have come to love about one of the most critically lauded games of the past decade.
Essentially, if you just wanted some more Witcher fun before CD Projekt move on to other things, this is it. This is your last chance. It’s Geralt’s final mission, and I don’t think there could be a more fitting finale.
You might be disappointed that it doesn’t feel more “final”. The fact is that this probably the most low stakes Witcher adventure imaginable – I guess that could rub you up the wrong way, especially if it’s truly the last time we see Geralt of Rivia.
If you enjoyed The Witcher 3, then I honestly can’t recommend this expansion highly enough.
I still haven’t seen and done everything in Toussaint, and I plan to savour every last second of my time here – If this is truly the end, CD Projekt has pulled out all the stops to round off a truly incredible game with one last joyful adventure.