Want some more of The Witcher 3? If you’re anything like us, CD Projekt RED’s fantasy epic was your Game of 2015.
Sure, that’s partly because it took months to finish, but there was so much to love about Geralt of Rivia’s latest adventure that we were still itching for more when its closing credits rolled. That’s why The Witcher 3’s DLC has been such a revelation. Whereas last year’s superb Hearts of Stone fleshed out and put new spins on existing settings, Blood & Wine gives you a whole new area to explore that lifts the series to even greater heights than ever before.
Raise a glass
Blood & Wine (B&W) is set in a Toussaint, a delirious reimagining of the south of France. It’s hyper-colourful, lush, and full of chivalry and fairy tales - heroic and beastly. You’d only want to holiday here with an axe to hand.
Don’t worry if you never quite finished The Witcher 3’s main quest though. You have the option to start the expansion with a level 35 Geralt so there’s nothing stopping your sightseeing. Speaking of which, the capital city of Beauclaire and the towering elven palace that overlooks it are gorgeous and a joy to explore. While the paved streets could feel a little more alive with the local population - at times it feels like everyone is having a siesta without you - interacting with those around you is a total blast.
Nowhere is this more hilariously exemplified than with B&W’s first of the boxing side-quests. In the core game, these are bare-knuckled, brutal affairs, but in Beauclaire, before you can put ‘em up, your opponent throws a string of rhyming insults at you. You have a dialogue choice. One of the choices also rhymes. And then you realise. You’re not actually going to box - you’re having a rap battle. Twists on its own formula like this are what put the The Witcher 3's DLC so far ahead of the curve, and Toussaint is full of them.
Move over, Sherlock
As should be expected by now, the actual quests are brilliant. Geralt is just too killer to deal with filler. Things kick off with a great murder mystery - elderly knights are being killed and left in bizarre positions. It’s a bit traditional, but it plunges you quickly into the lore and intrigue of the region.
The story is self-contained and, but there’s a dense concentration of references that you’ll need to be a long-time series fan to really appreciate. In fact, about an hour in I met a character named Regis with great mutton chops. His past exploits with Geralt sounded so awesome they made us desperate to dive into the actual novels for the first time.
Nearly all of the quests allow for subtle, diverging paths to take and choices to make, all of which stick to the series’ trademark moral grey area. One particular highlight deals with puzzling out a hundred year curse (involving lots of spoons) through detective work and ends - if you don’t have an itchy sword finger - in one of the most touching/gruesome moments of the whole game as you get a chance to unravel it.
Gotta snatch ‘em all
Then, there are the totally new features. The most obvious (aside from Toussaint itself) is a new Skellige deck for the addictive, collectible card mini-game Gwent. It introduces some new mechanics (such as harmless cards that transform into powerhouses on the second turn) and more great card art. For the Gwentophiles, it’s an easy sell. The card-averse won’t be disappointed either, as Geralt finally gets on the property ladder, enjoys some new mutations, and can play dress up with dyes for his armour.
As for the added mutations, they’re more of a slow burner allowing you scope to further specialise your favourite abilities with some powerful new modifiers. That means a damage boost that scales massively with multiple enemies, helping you take out the biggest threat, but that leaves you exhausted after you kill a few of them. They don’t fundamentally change combat - no tactical espionage action here thank you - but each ability opens up fun new strategies.
A place in the sun
That said, Geralt’s fixer-upper opportunity is probably more appealing to most of us than his superhuman strength. Early on, you’re gifted a slightly crumbly vineyard as your base of operations in Toussaint, and it comes with your very own majordomo (a certain Barnabas-Basil Fawlty no less).
He gives you a great sight-seeing tour (great goose animations) and will take care of renovations, ordering in armour repair tables and the like. For a price, naturally. It’s the little touches - such as a weapons rack to display your favourite swords and the way it ties into the main quest - that make it such a satisfying summer house.
’Cos I slay
When you’re not unleashing your DIY skills, you’ll likely be wailing on Toussaint’s monstrous inhabitants with a tidal wave of steel weaponry and luminous concoctions. In fact, two particularly tricky creatures pop up within B&W’s first 15 minutes or so.
The new and updated beast designs are some of the best in the series, and all fit in wonderfully with the region’s obsession with pageantry basically showing off. As soon as you arrive you’re treated to a team-fight against a huge giant, mutated from a knight who broke his vows. It’s so like The Witcher to give even the mini-tutorial monster fight a great backstory that instantly introduces you to the customs (and curses) of the new area.
The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine Verdict
With over 20 hours of gameplay for The Witcher aficionados to delve into and up to 5-10 more if you dally with the side quests, B&W is a DLC generous package. Even at double the price of HoS, it’s undoubtedly worth £16 of your hard-earned cash and is by far the more essential of the two. It's a big, bold and bright end to the gloomy but brilliant game and a new benchmark for expansion packs everywhere.