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Witcher 3: Blood and Wine review - The end that surpassed the beginning


Clear night skies with stars that shimmer on still lakes. Rolling green hills cutting into azure heavens. The sound of aphids and crickets and birds made invisible by lush green forests. And silence, but for horses' hooves.

It's the type of scenario so many of us yearn for, as a means of escape from the hardcore of adult working life. We conjure this image of lazy villages and lazy inhabitants, where time doesn’t so much crawl as reluctantly press forward. This is the land of Toussaint, the entire new region in Witcher 3’s latest expansion, Blood and Wine: an amalgam of summertime Southern France and parts of Italy. Even names and accents are so French you can gain health by eating onions.


Where we are now

Continuing with the wonderful - and underappreciated - Geralt of Rivia, players are thrust into the Disney palaces, princesses and politics of courts and knights and ancient beings. Somehow, CD Projekt Red have fashioned a terrifying, beautiful story that far surpasses the main game's. While not as perfect as the large questline A Family Affair from the main campaign, it takes Geralt through such a wide variety of locations, navigating a world of incredibly personalities, it's hard to believe this is “merely” an expansion. Most games at full price don't come close.

It already spoke to the team's talents that they could continue creating quality with Hearts of Stone, the previous smaller expansion - which took place in the main game's map. Like that expansion, we have new mechanics. I must warn you this will only make sense and enthuse those who've played The Witcher 3. In Blood and Wine, Geralt can manipulate his Witcher mutagen powers. We also gain access to an entirely new class of Witcher gear - from the Manticore School - as well as Grandmaster Armour. These won't mean much to you if you've not played the main game, but they make a world of difference to experienced players.

Indeed, I highly recommend playing Blood And Wine only after completing the main quest. CD Projekt Red helpfully allows you to play completely fresh game  directly into Blood and Wine, with a preloaded and levelled up Geralt. For me, it seemed that to fully appreciate the wonder of Blood and Wine, you should play it AFTER your main quest. Geralt even referenced my specific ending, in conversation. (Also there's a nod to one of Hearts of Stone's main characters.)


Bloody fresh

Blood and Wine offers so much that's fresh and builds on everything that made The Witcher 3 special. Introducing new creatures that require new tactics; new kinds of quests that sees you, for example, clearing large forts and best of all, your own home.

Initially I was put off the idea of Geralt, the ever-wandering Witcher, settling down. Yet it fits. Your home starts off charmingly dilapidated but, with coin investment, improves. Not only visually: you gain bonuses depending on what you've installed.I loved the feeling of having a place to call my own. Further, it gets used in some quests to help the lost and downtrodden - because Geralt is kind, noble and gentle above all else.


My favourite theme of Blood and Wine, not really present in the main game, was sympathy for monsters. Here, there are a lot of opportunities only sometimes hinted at before, where Geralt views monsters not by species membership but action. He only kills monsters that harm others - but he does this to other humans, too. (There's a famous line from the main game Geralt gets teased about. When he's confronted by a bloodthirsty mob, he draws his sword. When someone cries “What are you doing?”, he replied “Killing monsters.” #badass)

The writing is stronger than ever here, as we see Geralt navigating his decisions of helping those others would see killed. You are often given the choice to help or kill - and neither feels forced or preferred. Yet playing the sympathy card felt rewarding & Geralt as caring and kind felt right. I desperately want to talk specifics - especially about a quest involving a haunted house and spoons which so beautifully illustrated this - but I won't spoil the surprise.

A lot of the game’s issues remain - though The Witcher of 2015 is light-years away from The Witcher of today. So much has been fixed. It runs beautifully on PS4 and remains one of the most stunning games to date. But, Geralt is still difficult at times to move. Merchants are still annoying in having to enter dialogue, navigate and wait each time. And loading times on PS4 are still one of the main reasons not to die.

Women, as is now expected in this series, are treated as both mere objects and yet the most powerful of leaders. Indeed, Geralt and the main army take their orders without question from a woman. She's smart, resourceful and capable. Other women you meet take on strange men in fights and mock Geralt for thinking they could not. Yet the game still shows naked or scantily women (and almost no such treatment for men) and still fridges them (has them go through trauma as motivation for a male character's actions). It's notable particularly because this is one of the few games which DOES and CAN treat women’s sexuality in a mature way, as belonging to women. The sorceresses, like Yen, are clear signs of this (the game even gives her pants!). It's thus disappointing, rather than infuriating, because I know this is a team that can do rounded female characters who don't have to exist to be saved or taken to bed.

None of it is game breaking for me, though it can be frustrating.


A Remarkable End

Blood and Wine is a stunning end to a stunning game. I've been playing The Witcher 3 basically none-stop since last year and I'm nowhere near complete. The game's writing and sense of humour still beats strong: I laugh out loud almost every time I play due to Geralt’s snark or terrible Dad jokes, NPCs’ hilarious dialogue and the various silly quests (find a state's magic testicles! Pose for a painting! Fail to beat a ten year old in a game of wits!). Blood and Wine on its own would be remarkable and, indeed, a Game of the Year contender. That it's “merely” an expansion says a lot about CD Projekt Red and the quality of their creations.

Tauriq: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

"offers so much that's fresh and builds on everything that made The Witcher 3 special"

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