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Blood and Wine and Awesome!

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    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Blood and Wine and Awesome!

    It’s been more than a year since the release of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and just over six months since the release of its first, excellent expansion pack – Hearts of Stone and to tidy up Geralt’s journey in the Witcher III and end his story (for the time being at least), the final DLC pack for CD Projeckt Red’s epic open world RPG has arrived. Entitled Blood and Wine, the new content explores the expansive new southern realm of Toussaint and pits players against a series of new and dangerous challenges against the vibrant backdrop of a realm unperturbed by the ravages of war.

    Players who have completed the Witcher III: Wild Hunt‘s main story will have the new story quest to kick off the DLC added to their quest log as soon as they load up the game with the content installed. Those who haven’t completed the game, will be able to pick up the quest from a notice board after the ‘Poet Under Pressure’ quest towards the end of your first visit to Novigrad. For players who want to dive straight into the new content without loading a pre-existing file, the game will give the option to create a fresh save with Geralt already at the recommended level for starting the expansion content directly from the main menu.

    After picking up the DLC starting quest from one of the notice boards in Velen, players meet a pair of envoys with a personal summons from the Duchess of Toussaint. It turns out that there is a murderous serial killing beast on the loose and to that end, they need a Witcher’s help tracking it down. In the true Witcher tradition, the narrative boasts top-notch dialogue and an interesting story with real decisions and consequences that constantly deals in shades of grey as opposed to good and bad and right and wrong. With its numerous plot twists and memorable characters, enemies and quests Blood and Wine’s story easily outshines the previous expansion and whilst significantly shorter, still finds itself on par with the Wild Hunt’s central tale.

    The majority of the new content takes place in the new region of Toussaint and the map is quite a significant slice of real estate that is somewhat reminiscent of Novigrad and its surrounds in the base game. It features the central, castle city of Beauclair and plenty of outlying towns, vineyards, ruins, castles, caves and lakes to explore. Toussaint itself remains untouched by the wars in the northern kingdoms featured in the main game and as such it provides a beautiful, vibrant region presenting a glimpse of what the Witcher’s world might look like when it hasn’t been pillaged and burnt to within an inch of its life by invading armies. After all of the doom and gloom of the Wild Hunt, it’s a nice change of pace.

    Blood and Wine features a story that will take between 15-20 hours to reach its conclusion which is a healthy run time for most retail titles, let alone an expansion pack. To add to said value for money, Blood and Wine also features diverging questlines and multiple endings, ultimately meaning players will need to play the DLC through multiple times in order to experience everything it has to offer. To further supplement the DLC’s story, the new content also features scores of side-quests and optional content to explore and partake in. There are more than 40 secondary quests with their own unique stories, quite a few new treasure/scavenger hunts with some fancy new gear on offer and several new Witcher Contracts which have you investigating strange goings on before tracking down and usually killing the beast responsible.

    The expansion also offers a bit of a shake up to character development. The main culprit in this regard is the introduction of Mutations. After completing a side-quest available early on in the new
    adventure, Mutations will be unlocked for use. Accessible via the character panel players will then be able to invest ability points along with Greater Mutagens into unlocking various Mutations which provide powerful passive bonuses. Only one Mutation can be active at a time, but by unlocking additional Mutations in the background players can also increase their number of ability slots by an additional four, allowing Geralt to further expand his available arsenal of moves and bonuses.

    In addition to the new region to explore and the Mutations, the DLC also features a vast overhaul to the game’s menu system. The inventory, quest longs, maps – pretty much all of the menus have been tweaked to make them sharper and easier to read, better organised and more to the point. These of course have also been implemented in a patch alongside the expansion, so even those without Blood and Wine can reap the benefits of a much overdue improvement.

    Whilst most of the core game’s technical issues in the Xbox One version have been resolved (I didn’t encounter any frame rate drops or texture pop-ins whatsoever in the expansion), there are still a few hangovers and lingering gripes associated with assets brought across from the core game. These mostly fall into two categories – those about Roach, Geralt’s trusty steed, who whilst improved, still loves to get stuck on things consistently just to annoy you and those regarding the game’s lengthy loading times, which can be irritating during tricky sections or enemy encounters where players will need to reload often. Neither of these are particularly game breaking, but can serve to generate frustration at times.

    Ultimately, there is very little to dislike about Blood and Wine, other than that it spells the end of the planned downloadable content for Geralt’s final adventure. For the price of a standard DLC pack, CD Projeckt Red has delivered what most publishers would be happy to release as a full retail game. In addition to its length, Blood and Wine also delivers quality on par with the main game and delivered several fixes to improve the core gameplay and menu systems.

    Blood and Wine is an excellent expansion that effortlessly encapsulates everything that is great about The Witcher III: Wild Hunt on a smaller scale (if you consider 30 hours small). Complete with entertaining combat, multiple questlines with diverging outcomes, masses of detailed and interesting secondary quests and an enormous new world to explore, the game is a glorious reminder of how great The Witcher III has been both at and since launch. If this happens to be Geralt’s final send off from CD Projeckt Red, it is one hell of a way to go.

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