Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Witcher 3: Blood And Wine review – the last witcher hunter

The final DLC expansion for The Witcher 3 has a whole new region to explore, a vineyard to manage, and a vampire to destroy…

No matter what else may change in the world of video games the one constant of the modern era has been the inessential-ness of almost all DLC. The fact that pre-ordering a season pass has become commonplace, before you have any idea of what it might include, must stand as one of the great triumphs of 21st century marketing. But occasionally there are exceptions. Sometimes developers do put in a real effort, and create something that is genuinely unmissable if you’re already a fan of the game. Blood And Wine is one of those exceptions.

The irony here is that The Witcher 3 is already so massive that it’s probably the last game in the world that actually needed any kind of expansion. But last year’s Hearts Of Stone was already very good, and this second and final expansion is equally impressive.

Surprisingly for an expansion, the first thing that strikes you about Blood And Wine is just how impossibly good the graphics are. The Witcher 3 always looked amazing, on both PC and consoles, but the art design and use of colour in Blood And Wine is exemplary. The entire adventure, in a new region called Toussaint, looks like some fantasy picture postcard come to life, with gorgeously detailed landscapes that mix the imagery of real world southern France with one part J.R.R. Tolkien and another part Lewis Carroll.

From an artistic standpoint, if not a technical one, Blood And Wine looks even better than the main game. But it’s also tonally distinct, with much more emphasis on humour – even as you deal with the main threat of a particularly unpleasant vampire.

As Geralt you get to oversee your own estate in the area, which you’re given quite a bit of control over – including overseeing your winery and drinking its contents. It’s implied that this is where Geralt will retire and end his days, the estate and the outcome of some of the other quests his reward for dealing with The Wild Hunt in the main game. It’s not unheard of for role-playing games to provide their own lengthy epilogue, but like most this can tend towards the self-indulgent.

A significant issue is the humour, which is often considerably less barbed or subtle than the main game. The camp, pseudo-chivalrous knights of Toussaint are a lot of fun but there’s also in-jokes aplenty about everything from DLC and CD Projekt themselves to Fawlty Towers. As you might imagine, that’s difficult to pull off in a fantasy setting and the hit rate is not particularly high. But there’s also the problem that by being set in a new region most of the characters are also new, and few of them are as interesting as those in the main game.

It’s telling that the best missions are the most serious ones, which are in turn closest in tone to the original. And that’s not something we’re comfortable in admitting, as we’re always urging DLC to try something new. Not all of the more whimsical missions are duds though, and there’s a particularly good one where you’re making more peaceful use of your tracking skills by helping a budding naturalist. Or another where you’re questing for a statue’s lost testicles.



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