The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Blood & Wine (XOne) - ReviewChris Matulich , posted on 17 June 2016 / 5,855 Views
With so much recognition and so many awards won, The Witcher III is easily considered to be one of this generation's best RPG titles, even though the generation is barely two and a half years old. It comes as no surprise then that its first expansion, Heart of Stone, continued in the same vein with great stories and characters, yet failed to have the same impact as the standalone game solely due to not introducing a new area.
Blood & Wine seeks to rectify this, sweeping away Geralt to the land of Toussaint, where traditions are deeply embedded in society, knights errant roam the colorful rolling hills looking to engage in chivalrous deeds, and the wine flows freely. Though Heart of Stone felt a bit more like DLC than an expansion, Blood & Wine feels almost like an entirely new game, and what better way to send off Geralt than a grand adventure through a fantastical land.
Geralt is whisked off to the land of Toussaint by a couple of knights errant in service to the ruling Duchess. After listening to the two knights’ request - delivered with the utmost flamboyance and tradition - Geralt accepts a contract to look for the “Beast of Toussaint”, a monster terrorizing the populace just north of Nilfgaard. Yet, as Geralt arrives and begins to investigate the murders, it's clear to him that he's not dealing with some lesser spectre or mindless wyvern, but something sentient with ties to his past.
Blood & Wine may be the most enjoyable storyline that The Witcher III has to offer; it feels more intimate while still managing to be a grandiose adventure. Old friends and characters from previous games and the novels appear, giving more history to our famed Witcher and adding to his already robust personality. While I loved the overarching story of Ciri and the Wild Hunt, it was easy to get lost in any of the superb side quests and contracts, such that sometimes the main story would take a back seat in The Witcher III. Even though Toussaint is just as large as Velen or Skellige, it never becomes overwhelming, and CD Projekt Red delivers another fantastic voyage through the life of the Witcher Geralt of Rivia.
While the combat is generally the same, some improvements to the gameplay have been made to help streamline the experience. Geralt’s inventory has been reorganized, so that it is now easier to navigate and flows more naturally. The map has received a bit of an overhaul as well and you can now create multiple custom markers in order to remember where certain merchants are located. These and other improvements will definitely be welcomed by most The Witcher III players, and are especially handy in Blood & Wine since there's so much to explore and loot.
The biggest improvement to gameplay sees advancement in Geralt’s mutations, where ability points can be spent to get more unique abilities, like critical hits with signs or triggering cinematic kills after counter-attacks. With these new mutations you can also attach other abilities from the skill tree, increasing the ability slots Geralt can use up to 16. However, the color of the advanced mutation determines which abilities can be equipped, with red for combat, blue for signs, and green for potions or herbal abilities. Yellow mutations can have a mix of abilities equipped, but cost many more ability points to acquire.
While the first 3 or 4 mutations cost 2 ability points apiece, the more powerful mutations cost 5, meaning that even if you've reached a respectably high level you'll still need to progress Geralt. In many RPGs where DLC or expansions are released as end game content, leveling takes a back seat or just becomes unnecessary. However, Blood & Wine keeps level progression prominent, as you'll need to make use of the further mutations in order to take on the new, challenging enemies, and making a monster explode with a simple Aard sign is just one of the most beautiful things I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a game. This can also be a bit of a double edged sword, though, as towards the last quarter of the expansion an omnipotent feeling can make the game much less challenging even on harder difficulties.
On top of the new mutations, Blood & Wine introduces some new mechanics as well. Though it's just an aesthetic change, you can now dye the four pieces of armor that you can equip, allowing for more personalization of Geralt. Dyes can be found or crafted, as long as you find the recipe, and there are at least 10 different colors to choose from. Another Gwent deck has been added as well - the Skellige faction, with a whole new set of cards to find and compete for. A new set of Witcher equipment from the extremely rare Manticore school can also be found, including Grandmaster versions for the other five Witcher schools.
Where Velen and Skellige showed a gritty and realistic land filled with thieves, monsters, and other deranged individuals, Toussaint paints a much more storybook fantasy. Knights are armored with vibrant emblems and adornments, declaring their love for fair maidens and defeating monsters as a proof of romance. Vineyards of bright reds and whites carpet the landscape and Elven ruins splatter the countryside. Toussaint truly is beautiful to behold, and the juxtaposition between Toussaint and Velen and Skellige gives Blood & Wine even more of a unique feeling, as it doesn’t merely feel a new map, but an entirely new land.
There’s an old saying for open world RPGs: as big as an ocean, as shallow as a puddle. Many games fall victim to this practice, with one of the most famous being Skyrim. Yet, this was never an issue with The Witcher III, and Blood & Wine is certainly no different. From the new content, to the new species of enemies, to the sprawling, vibrantly colorful world of Toussaint, Blood & Wine is the exemplar of DLC with over 30 hours of new content. Even calling it DLC is an insult - it is nothing short of a full-blooded expansion. CD Projekt Red certainly has struck pure gold once again - I just wish there was another one coming down the road.
This review is based on a digital copy of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Blood & Wine for the XOne, provided by the publisher.