By William Haderlie / June 11th, 2016
|Title||The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Blood and Wine Expansion Pack|
|Developer||CD Projekt RED|
|Publisher||CD Projekt RED|
|Release Date||May 31, 2016|
|Genre||Open World RPG|
|Age Rating||ESRB M for Mature|
The time has finally come to close out the content for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and, if CD Projekt RED is to be believed, to close out The Witcher video game series as a whole. To say that we enjoyed The Witcher 3 would be quite an understatement, and we also thought that the first expansion was a true gem as well. And that wasn’t the only reviewer that has been singing the praises of this game. It won many game of the year awards all across the industry, and it was also my personal pick for not only game of the year, but game of this console generation thus far. So with that degree of praise leading in, was this final expansion able to stick the landing? Spoiler alert… hell yes, it was able to.
One of the few criticisms of Hearts of Stone was that it all takes place in the same areas that you’ve already been. They added very little to the world. While I mostly disagreed with that criticism, it certainly can’t be laid at the feet of the 2nd expansion. You will have a very short quest that will get you in touch with the knights from the Duchy of Toussaint, one of which Geralt knows from his past. And it quickly becomes apparent that he also personally knows the Duchess, ruler of this kingdom. She’s not the largest fan of Dandelion, though, but that’s not exactly uncommon in this world. So after that short quest you agree to hear the Duchess out and decide whether to accept the job. So off you ride to Toussaint, leaving the regions you have been in previously completely behind.
Immediately upon arrival you will notice two things right off. The first is that Toussaint is absolutely gorgeous, both aesthetically and as a feat of game design, and the second is that there are a lot of new monster types to be found. Your first encounter when you arrive is a new type of giant, and overall I ended up fighting more new monsters than old monsters during the entirety of my time there. So they really do a good job of making sure you feel like you are in a whole different part of the world. For as much as The Witcher 3 main game makes you feel like you are in Poland, Germany, and Scandinavia, this new area very much felt like the Brittany or Burgundy regions of France. That feeling was definitely reinforced with some of the fairy tale elements of this main story and side quests, Brittany being a major source of many of them.
Another aspect of Toussaint both awed and excited me right away, and that was the size of the region map. Hearts of Stone was a meaty expansion with a lot to do, and Blood and Wine is more like a whole extra game. I knew right away that the 30 hour developer estimate was actually on the conservative side, and I was not disappointed in that. I almost spent as much time in Toussaint as I did with the entirety of The Witcher 2. And that is not just down to the sheer size of its land mass, but it is also to do with the amount and variety of all the side quests. The main story quest for this area is long and wonderful, but there are just as many side quests here as there were in Velen. Not only were there just as many, but they actually improved the overall quality of them, which is crazy to even say, because the main game already did quests and sidequests better than any other developer has done in an open world RPG. Well, people, CD Projekt RED is only getting better.
Take, for example, the above character. He’s quite as unbalanced as he looks there. He’s very wealthy and very eccentric as well. But if you humor him, you will learn the reasons for his behavior and those reasons gave me quite the lump in the throat. I ended up being very happy that I helped him. But in this expansion, there is often more than one reason to do quests, and not just in this instance. For this instance, not only do you get the reward and the personal feels, but by showing compassion you can also prove that you have that virtue to the Lady of the Lake. If you show all 5 knightly virtues, then she will give you an amazing prize, and given her name, I’m sure many of you can imagine what that is. In fact, the Lady of the Lake was one of my favorite sequences in gaming in years. This quest chain is only one example. I could tell you about the woodsman and the tree, or I could tell you about the cow that fell out of the sky, or any number of wonderful stories from this beautiful and magical land.
But let’s not sell the main story short. The story of Hearts of Stone was really good, but this story was even better in my opinion. You learn a ton of new lore about Vampires especially, which should be no surprise given the expansion title. That being said, much like the rest of The Witcher 3, it is often what humans do to each other that is more horrible than any monsters. And beneath all the beauty and wineries of Toussaint there are truly some issues brewing. The Duchess is not the only person from Geralt’s past that he will be meeting here during his investigation into what is causing the grisly murders that you were summoned to solve. And even when you discover who it is, is that killer working alone, and is that killer even justified for their actions? Rest assured, not only does the main story have huge twists and turns, but it has some thoughtful social commentary and also some amazing fantasy sequences that I would have never expected in a game like this. Should you choose to take your relationship with one of the main female characters to a sexual conclusion, even that sequence is full of fantasy and magic. And there is even a bit of social commentary, maybe even push back on some previous controversies there as well, and also elsewhere in this new land.
If you are looking for love, though, you don’t have to wait until the end of the main story to find it. The main city of Toussaint is Beauclair, and it is a fully functioning large metro almost the same size as Novigrad in Velen. And as such, there is a brothel near the port. So you will have the option to make use of three new professional women. One of them also has a rather hilarious opening speech to Geralt. The city also has quite a few artisans and craftsmen and even a large bank to change your money over at. So there is really no major reason you will have for traveling back to the main game worlds once you are here, unless you have quests remaining there. And that is made more-so with the addition of a Grandmaster level crafter. He can craft any weapons and armor in the game at any level, including the new Grandmaster recipes.
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