The level of quality CD Projekt RED was able to achieve with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was simply astounding, as I said in that review. Their ability to keep that quality consistent with the 30+ hours of more content in Hearts of Stone and now Blood and Wine is a true feat. Where Hearts of Stone was able to give you a great, focused storyline, with some other small additions to be sure, Blood and Wine offers more of that original Witcher 3 experience with plenty of sidequests to do, places to explore, characters to meet, and more.
The entirety of Blood and Wine takes place in Toussaint, which was heavily inspired by Southern France in the middle ages. There are knights everywhere, seemingly just as many vineyards, and downright gorgeous vistas to behold. Toussaint may very well be the most beautiful region in the entire game. It's untouched by war, so you do not see too many rundown buildings or shacks. People there are mostly wealthy and carefree, which is reflected in the architecture, clothes of the people, and gaudy armor the knights wear. You surely get a taste of it in the sidequests too, as you learn what is at stake for your quest giver, or what they care about.
More than just the look, Toussaint is a decidedly much different culture than anywhere else you spend your time in any of the Witcher games. Just as the culture and beliefs of Skellige were realized well within its people and various themes throughout its quests, the same holds true here. Toussaint is your fairy tale land of knights who uphold chivalry, honor, compassion, and more. That permeates everywhere, and anytime Geralt acts outside of that belief system, or questions it, people get angry very quickly with him.
While subjective, Toussaint is surely the most fun region I've spent my time in throughout The Witcher 3. It's all fresh and new, with plenty of odd drama and humor mixed in, all the while you get to see the romanticized knighthood right before your eyes.
Blood and Wine gives you a reasonable amount of options to personalize both Geralt and make some physical, lasting changes in Toussaint. There are a few weapons and armor tailored specifically to Geralt himself, you can dye your Witcher armor, and you can even do a bit to dress up Roach if you want. You're even gifted your own vineyard in the game where you can decorate Geralt's manor with paintings, suits of armor you choose to display, and many, many weapon racks. So, if you come across a weapon or piece of armor that you enjoy the look of, hold onto it so you can display it later.
Those are minor fun and don't really have much more to them than what I explained above, but what you can affect in Toussaint at large is a little more significant. There are areas to repopulate that were abandoned, and you have some say in how that is done in some cases—most function the same as before, though many do open up some dialogue with an NPC about why the area was abandoned in the first place. How Geralt physically affects the world has been a part of the game since the beginning, but it just seems more jam-packed in Blood and Wine, from helping the construction of a huge statue to storming massive bandit strongholds, and more.
In the end, Toussaint is a fun place to explore, where you can do it your way and leave at least a small imprint in your relatively short amount of time there.
Combat has remained the same; the only new addition is the Mutations. This is a new thing to sink some ability points into that give unique mechanics and modifiers. They're based around the skill trees you have—combat, Sign, and alchemy—and take Greater Mutagens of the corresponding color to unlock, as well as the ability points. For example, one you can unlock gives Signs the ability to crit, and another increases sword damage based on how much Toxicity you have at any given moment. These open up some new playstyles to explore, such as using the crossbow as your primary weapon as one of the mutations significantly buffs it.
The only other thing to mention combat-wise are the numerous monsters added this expansion. Being in a whole new area brings with it a whole slew of new monsters. Of course, there are plenty you'll already be familiar with, but many more you aren't. If you remember this cool cinematic, you can finally experience that fight for yourself in-game! You will also have near as much difficulty fighting them yourself as Geralt had in that cinematic. All of the new monsters continue the trend of playing very differently from one another, so you'll have to spend a minute or two figuring out how to fight just about each one.
One thing Blood and Wine does, possibly better than the base game, are the boss fights. They are difficult, take place in really cool areas to create an even more epic feeling, and there are plenty of them. In the first hour or two, you'll go through about four or five of them. Also, the final boss fight in Blood and Wine is much better than the base game—Eredin was a bit of a letdown.
The final thing to mention is the writing. CD Projekt RED's perfect characterizations continue in Blood and Wine, particularly for the many new characters you'll be interacting with regularly. Overall, the main plot, while very intriguing, feels a bit rushed. It's not too incredibly long, and jumping from one event to the next quickly will sometimes leave you a bit confused. With that said, what's there is largely great.
Geralt comes to investigate the murders of several knights by some Beast. That's what initially brings him there, a simple contract, but it, of course, gets a whole lot more complicated. You'll find yourself wrestling with the idea of whether or not the Beast is a bad guy—maybe you should consider him a possible friend? That is how I felt for many of the characters throughout the main story, as it slowly muddles who is and is not a villain and who you should consider the "main villain." In the end, it's up for you to decide. The grayness I talked about in the review of the original game is here in full force, as who and what is good or bad is left for you to philosophize.
Those of you curious about where Geralt ends up at the end of Blood and Wine—there's nothing special. He doesn't give up on being a Witcher and retire, nor does he have any other such sudden realization. This is just another tale in Geralt's life.
Of course, there are many neat sidequests to be found as well. I can remember fondly, already, plenty of great moments I experienced throughout Blood and Wine. Some are bittersweet—of course, the grayness of whether what you just did was right—some full of triumph, and several that can end in failure. You can certainly make the obviously wrong choices in Blood and Wine, leaving Geralt just to sit there and admit that he screwed up. In one case I chose the wrong path to save a lady's spirit who was stuck in a tree; instead of freeing her, she was ripped out and turned into a wraith, forcing me to kill her.
Toussaint is a land deeply beholden to its Five Principle Virtues—generosity, wisdom, compassion, honor, and valor—and those Five Principles will show up quite a bit in the secondary quests, as well as the main quest line. Many of the sidequests may seem like separate things, but those Five Principles both hold them together thematically and play a significant role in one the cooler sidequests you can experience—one book readers will enjoy quite a bit. Ultimately, sidequests are treated as they have been throughout it all so far with cool moments, stories, and characters.
It's sad to see the likely end of CD Projekt RED's Witcher series. Not being able to look forward to more content in the stunningly detailed world of the Witcher 3 is certainly tragic for any fan out there. I've never liked this saying, nor given it much merit, but this is the first time I truly understand when people say they're jealous of others experiencing some book, game, movie, etc. for the first time. Blood and Wine did wonders to add to that feeling and is a more than adequate send-off for the series. As CD Projekt RED showed how to do an open-world RPG by establishing Wild Hunt, they've shown how expansions and DLC should be handled as well.
Obviously, if you liked the base game, and Hearts of Stone, you'll really enjoy Blood and Wine.
The reviewer was provided a copy of Blood and Wine, and it was reviewed on the PC with a controller.