The Witcher 3 was, for a lot of people, one of the most surprising hits of the year. And developer CD Projekt RED supported that game with lots of free downloaded content (DLC). Then they released Hearts of Stone, a very good supplemental adventure that you had to pay for, but it was more than worth it.
Now we have the next, and possibility final DLC for Witcher 3, Blood and Wine. In addition to the normal new areas, monsters and quests, Blood and Wine goes beyond with some new mechanics that were never part of the core game, like being able to dye clothing, new mutation-based powers for high-level witchers, a brand new faction for Gwent, and the ability to outfit your very own home and vineyard. All of this is a welcome addition to an already great game. One could argue that the developers saved the best Witcher 3 content for last, but it’s probably more accurate to think that they learned as they went along, and are now truly perfecting their craft.
You’ve probably read a bit about the duchy of Toussaint in some of those books throughout the game. It all sounded like a fairy tale, with noble knights and beautiful ladies. Well, apparently Toussaint is real, because that is where Blood and Wine is set. And beautiful does not just describe the ladies. It seems like every turn in the road that you and Roach travel reveals some picturesque villa, vineyard or sweeping vista seemingly made for postcards. To me, it seems like Witcher 3 got some sort of a graphical upgrade with this DLC too. Perhaps the new world is just more colorful than before, but it certainly seems like a graphical uptick.
The duchy is also an interesting place politically. Ruled by a duchess that everyone universally seems to love, it is actually populated by wandering knights, called knights errant, who are sort of like freelance witchers in a way. They go about their business righting wrongs and all that, and then later can claim a prize from the treasury. Geralt is also eligible for those rewards, especially after researching your genealogy and being named an actual knight too. So whenever you do good inside Toussaint, be sure to check in with the royal clerk and he may drop some coin and lots of thanks on you as a bonus.
Toussaint is totally untouched by the war raging (or depending on where you are in the story, recently concluded) in the North, and its people all seem to be employed in the many farms and vineyards or towns and villages that dot the countryside. Gone are the hovels and ugly peasants found in much of the rest of the world. It’s obvious that the folks here are well-cared for and well fed compared to most everyone else. Toussaint is also technically a vassal state to Nilfgaard, but the Emperor is the duchess’s uncle, really seems to love her like everyone else, and lets the land self-rule, with only a small embassy in the capital city to watch over things.
But all is not well in Toussaint. A monster is stalking the streets at night, killing those of noble birth, even if they are surrounded by guests or guards, and then vanishing without a trace. The knights may be noble and chivalrous, but they are no monster hunters. Thus, a few are sent to find Geralt and bring him into the duchy. Thus begins your main quest with all the twists and turns and very strong storyline that players have come to expect from a Witcher game.
In addition to the entirely new area to explore, which just happens to be packed with side quests, there are also lots of new elements in the game which to play with. Very early in the adventure, you will even be awarded your very own vineyard, complete with a manor house. This can act as your base of operations during your travels, but it does not come totally free of problems. Geralt must decide which areas to fix up in his run-down fiefdom, which requires spending a lot of money to try and get the house and the grounds back up to par. However, each fix will provide advantages like a wet stone, local herb garden, or even things like a bed that gives you a well-rested bonus XP boost for a while after you use it.
Character bonuses for those at high levels have also been added. If you are like me and all of the slots you use for skills were maxed out, leveling was really pointless. But now there are special witcher mutations that can be earned and even stacked to give even more advantages. These add things like toxic blood that damages opponents that hit you, more deadly swords or crossbow powers, or putting a special effect like freezing into some of your signs. These new mutations all cost more than one experience level each, plus the corresponding high-level mutation of the right color, so it’s quite difficult to max these new mutation levels out – giving explorer types reason to peek into every dark corner they come across.
Witcher armor has also been given a new grandmaster level for wolf, cat, bear and griffin armor, which requires the scavenger hunt quests to find all the diagrams. A new manticore medium armor set has also been added to the game, and it too tops out at grandmaster. In addition to the new high-level armor, players can now make or find dyes to color their armor however they want. Unfortunately, the new dyes only work on witcher armor, which was a little disappointing. I was wearing a set of the Arabic-themed light armor from the Hearts of Stone expansion and could not dye it. But coloring the witcher armor is at least pretty cool, and really changes the way it looks, especially if you look at like, a black and then a pink set coloration.
Even Gwent, everyone’s favorite card game and now the subject of the new free-to-play Gwent standalone game, gets an upgrade with the brand new Skellige deck. I have to say, I really hated this new deck at first. It seemed really overpowered when I played it, but then underpowered when I tried to build out something that worked for me – which you need to do to play in a grand tournament in which you are required to play as Skellige. The trick is that you have to play everyone else in Toussaint who has a Skellige deck to get their cards, which are thankfully marked as part of a quest.
Then I found success by concentrating on one aspect of the Skellige strength, like cards which called others to battle with them, or berserkers which turn into beasts when exposed to other cards. If you are really lucky you might be able to pull all the right cards (the AI opponents certainly seem to be) but I think you would end up with too many cards in your Skellige deck if you tried to do it all and thus end up with junk hands. Instead, I paired my new deck down to a couple good tricks and did okay with it, though it’s never going to be my favorite by any stretch. Still, it was nice to see Gwent expanded. Oh, and your majordomo back at your vineyard will play you for free to test out deck configurations, and he has access to good decks from all factions which he will play at your request. Very helpful indeed.
Blood and Wine really takes the best of the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt series and puts it all into one place, then adds in a bunch of new stuff that is equally fun and impressive. I kind of found myself almost wishing that the entire game was as good as this DLC, but then again, there is always Witcher 4 to look forward to, perhaps? Blood and Wine lets the Witcher 3 series go out with a really satisfying bang. It’s more than worthy of one of the best RPGs to come out in years – and might make you sorry when it finally ends.