As a games critic, you spend an awful lot of time chewing through new releases and trying (and mostly failing) to stay on deadline. Every now and again, however, you’ll be given something to review that you want to savour like a delicious meal, deadlines be damned. The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine is a perfect example of this.
CD Projekt Red are becoming known for their unwillingness to release paid DLC that is anything less than an entire game’s worth of extra content. Blood and Wine is so content-rich that it could easily be considered a stand-alone game if it wanted.
If you completed the Wild Hunt campaign, you can jump into Blood and Wine after loading your previous save. It’s for higher level characters though and the game recommends you be at least Level 30 before attempting it. Alternatively, you can just roll a brand new Geralt and jump straight into the expansion from the main menu — fresh stat build, no waiting. CD Projekt Red aren’t kidding around with that level recommendation by the way. Every enemy and monster in the expansion is pretty high level and if you go in below 30, you’re going to have an uphill battle on your hands.
Blood and Wine is set in a beautiful and substantial new location called Toussaint, an area that goes defiantly against established, grimy world of The Witcher 3. Toussaint bursts with Tuscan architecture, its rolling hills and vibrant colours recalling the golden age fairy tales of Disney Animation. It’s so gorgeous and for the full effect, you should take the time to ride around Velen’s swamplands or Skellige’s craggy shoreline again before starting the quest. The difference in the art design will give you whiplash in the best possible way.
Something is rotten in the state of Toussaint, however. There is a monster on the loose and it has been murdering their valuable knights. Sounds like a job for a Witcher, and Geralt of Rivia is on the case, unraveling the mystery and discovering that, as usual, there is something much more sinister and Machiavellian going on.
One of Blood and Wine‘s big successes is its diving and twisting narrative that has you questioning you every move and decision. As in Wild Hunt, your decisions will have an affect on the rest of the world around you. The stakes somehow feel higher here — the people of Toussaint are big on propriety, and are prone to throwing the kind of tantrums of which only the very spoiled and wealthy are capable.
Outside of the lengthy main questline, Blood and Wine also features myriad side quests. One of this expansion’s greatest successes lies in the fact that they all feel important, there’s very little filler here. Again, CD Projekt Red clearly takes the idea of paid DLC very seriously and have worked hard to make every minute of this expansion worth both your time and money. Every part of it has something bigger on its mind — one side quest saw Geralt waylaid at a bank as he attempted to navigate the bureaucracy, the sort of monster he can’t just hit with his silver sword until it goes away.
One thing you’ll run into more often in Toussaint are bosses. They’re in greater supply than Wild Hunt and the previous expansion Hearts of Stone. In terms of combat, there isn’t a huge difference between the base game and the expansion, however there is a new mutation system to supply further abilities and buffs. You could argue that some of these unlocks are a bit overpowered (Freeze in the Telekinesis tree is ridiculously easy to exploit), but they take a lot of work to unlock so it kind of comes out in the wash. There are bosses towards the end of the main quest that are overpowered to the point of being able to wipe you in two hits — as a player, this will either annoy the hell out of you or bring a Dark Souls-loving smile to your face.
CD Projekt Red have kept working on The Witcher 3 since its release, and the many significant patches have created a game that is somehow even better and more refined than it was on release. The HUD changes alone are a vast improvement on how it functioned at launch and smart changes just like this are found throughout the game now. It’s rare to see a developer commit to “getting it right” the way CDPR have here.
With Blood and Wine, CD Projekt Red are not only bidding farewell to Geralt of Rivia, they’ve worked hard to give him a send-off that’s worth your money and your time. If only more developers and publishers treated the concept of DLC with the level of care and cognizance that CD Projekt Red have, the industry would be far better for it. This is a beautiful way to say goodbye to one of gaming’s most beloved heroes and we look forward to seeing whatever CD Projekt Red has in store for us next.
Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: It’s more Witcher 3; Incredible value for money; Toussaint is incredible; Loads of new content
Lowlights: There really aren’t any. This is about as good as it gets.
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Systems: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Release Date: May 31, 2016
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.