"An awesome conclusion to one of the best games I've experienced."
With a deep sigh, I muttered under my breath some meaningless platitude about how all good things must come to an end while staring blankly at nothing in particular. After a couple hundred hours, I was finally finished with my extended tour of the lands featured in Witcher 3, capping things off by journeying to the region of Toussaint for that game's second expansion, Blood and Wine.
By the standards of the Witcher-verse, which includes such sights as war-torn countries, extreme poverty and megalomaniacal rulers, Toussaint is downright heavenly. Sure, there are trifling concerns such as monsters, bandits and the threat of a vampire apocalypse, but things are still far more idyllic than in Velen or Skellige. The landscape is beautiful, with massive vineyards covering the majority of the small nation, ensuring that bottles of fine wine can be downed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks. The knights tend to be noble, constantly yammering about chivalric virtues while taking part in all forms of pageantry; while the region's duchess is quite the rarity in these games, actually caring more about the well-being of her subjects than power-consolidating schemes.
And they have a big problem. A high-level Geralt who's likely completed all his main-game quests and possibly those featured in first expansion Hearts of Stone can visit a small community near the city of Oxenfurt to run into a pair of Toussaint's knights. Assist them in fighting off a collection of bandits and you'll be allowed to tag along with them to their land, which has been terrorized by a brutal serial killer known as the Beast of Beauclair. As his quarry has consisted solely of older knights and his kills have been quite vicious, the duchess is very eager to bring in a trained monster-killing expert. So eager that, just by virtue of showing up and agreeing to help, Geralt is given custody of a somewhat dilapidated vineyard previously owned by one of the casualties.
Unlike Hearts of Stone, which took place in a decent-sized portion of the base game's Velen/Novigrad map, Blood and Wine gives players an entirely new region to explore. While not as large as either Velen or Skellige, it still is vast enough to contain a large number of quests and points of interest. There is one large city, a few smaller towns and a number of vineyards, as well as bandit lairs, monster caves and various ruins sprinkling the landscape.
With a new land come new challenges. Some of those bandit lairs are called "hanses" and provide more challenging battles where bandits can summon additional scofflaws to provide assistance via signal fires. Among the new points of interest are vineyard infestations, where you have to clear out monsters from one of those locations to ensure production doesn't fall off due to workers being savaged, as well as opportunities to clear out subterranean locations so merchants can use them to store their wine. You also can fork over lots of money to rebuild your new vineyard. And if, like me, you have more history with The Witcher than just this game, you'll have plenty of nostalgic moments.
If you played the first game, you'll recognize all the "new" monsters present in this expansion. as they were among the foes plaguing him in that game. If, like me, you found a lot of your previous Witcher 3 adventuring to be a bit light on challenge due to out-leveling the opposition, you'll also realize that Blood and Wine has definitely taken off the kid gloves, particularly where vampires are concerned. Fleders and Garkains are physical powerhouses capable of devastating jump attacks. Their female counterparts, Bruxas and Alps, are even more deadly because they're just as strong, but a lot trickier with their ability to turn invisible and butcher you with combos while you're flailing about in a blind panic, hoping one of your sword swings actually connects and buys you a bit of time.
Throughout the entirety of Witcher 3, you will gain formulas for massive amounts of potions, bombs and oils designed to supplement Geralt's natural abilities. For most of the game, I ignored virtually all of that stuff unless it was plot-mandated, only making sure to keep a few White Raffards in stock for times when I needed to restore a lot of health in a hurry. That…was not a winning strategy against vampires. It led to me suffering a few deaths before I got into the habit of coating my sword with the anti-vampire oil and quaffing the potion that poisons Geralt's blood to the degree that attempts to drain him will damage his assailant. And even then, I had to be wary when confronting these foes, as they are quite capable of punishing sloppy play.
For those who've read the Witcher books, there is more nostalgia beyond the bestiary, as a lot of characters in Toussaint played some sort of role in that literature. Most important is the return of Geralt's vampiric friend, Regis. While I never read any of that source material, a quick online search told me that Regis was essentially killed in one of those books. However, he's a greater vampire and the only thing that can truly kill a greater vampire is another one. However, a greater vampire also can give life back to a near-dead one, as Regis discovered when the one known as Dettlaff saved him from his fate.
And Dettlaff is quite important to the plot, as he is the Beast of Beauclair. It really doesn't take Geralt long to track him down and, after doing so, it also won't take long for you to realize it was quite fortunate that Regis was in the area and able to calm his vampiric savior down enough to prevent our hero from being added to the body count. As Regis explains to Geralt, Dettlaff isn't a bad person. Sure, he's antisocial and has a skewed sense of morality that doesn't necessarily match up with that of the average human, but if he's killing knights, there must be a good reason. After pledging Geralt to at least hear Dettlaff out and only use violence as a last result against the being who is responsible for him walking the earth again, Regis teams up with Geralt to figure out their course of action. And, you know what? Regis is right. The duo quickly discovers that Dettlaff took a human lover, who abruptly disappeared…until a bandit sent him a ransom note, ordering him to kill various targets if he ever wanted to see the woman alive again. And so begins a quest that should decisively show anyone that stringing along an extremely powerful, nearly immortal being that doesn't comprehend the notions of manipulation and betrayal the same way a human would is possibly the worst idea a person could have.
So, with how I've spent my last couple reviews gushing about the main game and most aspects of Hearts of Stone, it hopefully shouldn't be much of surprise when I say that Blood and Wine was a great way to cap off my time spent controlling Geralt, even if I locked myself out of this expansion's best ending due to making ONE DAMN MISTAKE in choosing dialogue options. There are cool locations to explore, with a highlight being a land based on classic fairytales where Geralt will have to interact with a sentient wolf, three (ferocious) little pigs and a vicious giant in a cloud realm at the top of a beanstalk. The side-quests are fun and occasionally heartwarming, as when you help a nobleman use a primitive camera to take pictures of various animals so that his crippled daughter can see the sights of the wild. By completing missions in ways that exhibit all five great chivalric virtues, you can obtain a very useful silver sword. And by doing one particular optional quest, you can improve Geralt's mutations to unlock even more abilities, such as being able to raise your attack power in battles simply by hitting enemies while not letting them damage you in return.
Man, it's hard to put into words just how much I loved Witcher 3, other than to say that if my journey through the PlayStation 4 library leads me to a game I consider superior to it, I will be amazed. Usually when I'm playing a really long game that has DLC attached to it, I'll find myself reaching a point where I'm just ready to move onto something else, so I start rushing from plot point to plot point and cease to enjoy exploring the world for new secrets. Not here. By the time I started Blood and Wine, I was still captivated by this game and nothing I did in Toussaint detracted from that vibe. I had an awesome new land to explore, complete with its own residents, monsters and quests, and that's what I was looking for. All I wanted was something to extend my time with this game that also lived up to the standards set by my previous Witcher 3 experiences, and it succeeded in that to the degree that my only regret was the knowledge that CD Projekt Red only made two expansions. Man, I sure could have gone for a few more adventures with Geralt and his friends...
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 04, 2020)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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