It has been a while since I played Witcher 3 and it was a joy to return. For a while I roamed through Velen, learning about combat and signs and the like that had laid dusty in my mind for many months. It didn’t take long to fall in love again, to travel familiar roads and be in awe of the sprawling masterpiece of the game. Then I decided to head into the final expansion for Witcher 3: Blood and Wine.
A landscape worth painting
Welcome to Toussaint, a land of virtuous knights, impressive castles, flavourful wines and picturesque landscapes. It is a land full of culture, refinement, pomp and ceremony, with colourful dresses to match the idyllic vistas. It is a breathtaking land that looks like something out of a fairy tale, the colour palette far too bright, almost out of place after the muddy Velen and the stark icelands of Skellige. But because this is the Witcher, nothing is as it seems at first glance and those vineyards are full of curses, monsters and deceit. There is no shortage of work here.
Sadly the land of Toussaint is marred by the corrupt, fat on the hard work of others and profiting through intrigue in the courts. The pompous ceremonies, the feasts and feats of virtue hide many who will do anything for the sake of appearances, yet will plot, scheme and adulterate while out of sight. A land of such passionate people, privy to inbibing much wine is a land full of dark, colourful curses too. Now a Beast is on the loose, an unseen monster that is killing knights and posing them in grisly and sometimes ridiculous poses. This is how your journey into a land full of blood and wine begins.
You need to have a fairly high level character to start this expansion (or you can have the game generate an appropriately levelled and geared character) and it reminds me in many ways of nearing the end of a pen and paper RPG. Your characters have far too much money and amazing gear already, so they start to long for other things, treasures not measured in coin. Prepare to finally, finally, have a soft bed to call your very own, a new way to become more powerful, craft or find equipment of near legendary power and tackle some complex curses and monsters so powerful many of them were hunted to (near) extinction at the height of the Witcher schools’ power.
A heartfelt farewell
This is a final goodbye to the Witcher 3, complete with wish-fulfillment and the same caliber of writing and finesse that has made the Witcher into the paragon of the open-world RPG. Quests that sound like crazy curses end up being about misfortune and monsters, while many monster hunts are in no way a clear-cut case, especially when dealing with sentient and emotional monsters, capable of logic and fury in equal measure. To call this an expansion feels like an insult to the massive game that you are playing. GoG says I have put some 30 more hours into the game exploring the wonderful fairy tale land of Toussaint. The writers did not falter at all, with even the most mundane of quests – the lowly treasure hunts – contain some of the most fascinating yarns, even when they are all just written text instead of voiced dialogue. One of them follows a Witcher who finds religion and renounces the Path. Your hunt for his Witcher gear diagrams will lead you to trace the steps of his pilgrimage, to follow along and read about the various changes and revelations he had while finally giving up the trappings of his trade. This is such a powerfully written story, yet it is merely a footnote in comparison to some of the intrigues and events that occur in Blood and Wine. It is as if some of the best writing has been saved for last.
There is a lot to see and do and if you like Gwent, get ready for a whole new faction of cards and a tournament. If you like crafting gear, prepare for a whole new tier of gear: grandmaster Witcher armour with 3 piece and 6 piece set bonuses that really make your favourite fighting style or signs shine. It is very much a case of just getting more Witcher 3, for those who just can’t help but want more of this amazing game. This is about meeting old friends, a contract with nobles and the signature storytelling that nothing is ever just black or white, with depth, nuance and tough choices that keeps you on your toes in conversations. You aren’t saving the world this time, you are travelling with a man considering hanging his swords up somewhere and trying something else.
If you are a hoarder of things, the inventory system has been improved since I last played, splitting items on the existing tabs into logical categories. I still take a while to find the right oil and decoction from the rather long list, but at least I am not filtering through everything that I can stick in my character’s mouth to find the potions I need. Things still get rather laggy when visiting shops and changing tabs and there is an awkward pause with some merchants, even if you hit skip to get through to shopping (sorry merchant, this is the umpteenth time I am bringing you a whole hanse’s armour and swords).
There are so many moments and revelations I want to share about this game, but maybe at another time. This game left me floored when I reached the end: I had to go and sit for a while in silence and ponder on what had happened, process the various blend of emotions and tackle the empty hole left by the departure from the game. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t feel like doing anything except savouring a final message, and I haven’t felt that way about a game in a long time.