*Minimal spoilers for the Blood and Wine DLC*
Once again, I ready myself to earnestly write about the Witcher franchise in some capacity. I won’t pretend I’ve been a long time fan of the adaptations of Andrzej Sapkowski’s acclaimed Witcher novels, but I’ve since played through the entire series after beating the Witcher 3 for the first time last year.
However since properly discovering all that the franchise has to offer, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t immediately become one of my favourite fantasy sagas of all time, as the Witcher rivals Tolkien’s Middle Earth series for character depth and rich lore.
And so it’s with a certain sadness that I begin to write what will probably be my final piece on the Witcher series for quite a few years. Developer CD Projekt claims it still has no further plans for the Witcher series, and the Blood and Wine Expansion therefore acts as a swan song to not only the franchise as a whole, but also the esteemed career of Geralt of Rivia, monster slayer for hire.
I could never, in a million years have pictured myself having any strong emotional attachment to the man stripped of all emotions through Witcher mutations. Coming in to the Witcher 3 Geralt seemed like merely a vessel through which the player would insert their own personality into the game, however since this, he’s become so much more than a middle man.
Geralt has held the fate of entire kingdoms in his mitts, often making choices that directly affect the lives of those both around him, and far away from him. He’s dabbled in politics, slain many a monster, and attempted to romance just about every sorceress from Kovir to Toussaint.
But there’s a man within this machine. One with a heart, true feelings, and a retirement plan in mind, as CD Projekt address throughout Blood and Wine. The entire expansion acts as an epilogue to the character of Geralt and the story told in the Witcher 3, and properly lays to rest some of the key characters around our Witcher.
Bearing this in mind, it’s incredibly hard not to see Blood and Wine as the end of the road for the entire Witcher franchise. CD Projekt make it abundantly clear in the final camera shot of the expansion the direction in which they intend to go from here, and so one could argue that Blood and Wine is a farewell letter from CD Projekt, to the loyal fans that have stuck with the Witcher series for a decade now.
And if it truly is farewell, then Blood and Wine is one hell of a note to go out on. I won’t dare spoil the plot of the expansion, but I will reveal that it contains more than a handful of truly compelling characters, and perhaps the best-written villain that the entire series has seen to date.
Almost from the moment that the story starts out, with Geralt being fetched by knights from within the Northern Realms, there’s a deeply unsettling mystery afoot in Toussaint. The pacing of the first half of the plot only heightens this tension, however this driving force is almost entire dissipated in the third quarter by a monumental event that snowballs from an idle threat to all out chaos, which somewhat upsets the core, dark themes that Blood and Wine aims to address.
Nonetheless, the characters remain steadfast in lending support to the story, as each of the aforementioned handful has a key role to play throughout Blood and Wine. There’s old faces that readers of the Witcher novels will be excited to see adapted for the games, and there are entirely new characters that even our storied protagonist hasn’t encountered so far.
CD Projekt have also given an entire overhaul to the UI of the Witcher 3 through this expansion. Gone are the cumbersome, dreary tropes through overburdened inventory menus, and even the HUD of the game is entirely revamped into a more streamlined experience.
As with the overall theme of Blood and Wine, the changing of the UI signifies CD Projekt stepping away from the game, but not before perfecting the experience for players for years to come. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Witcher 3 will be revisited by many players for years to come, no matter the direction that the franchise takes from here, and CD Projekt have ensured the long term enjoyment of the game through these intricate changes.
While the combat hasn’t been revamped in the same way that the UI has, the developer has placed some fantastic boss encounters within the expansion. The previous expansion, Hearts of Stone, saw CD Projekt introduce many awe-inspiring boss fights after receiving criticism for the lack of them throughout the base game. Blood and Wine follows this example, demonstrating once again just how closely CD Projekt listen to and respect their steadfast fans.
Speaking of Hearts of Stone, I dubbed it ‘the greatest expansion of all time’ when it released back in October of last year, and I’d be hard-pressed not to dub Blood and Wine with a similar honour.
The final expansion gives a finality to the story of Geralt of Rivia, and also the characters that have surrounded him for a decade now. Blood and Wine gives us an intriguing story, a detailed cast of supporting characters, a handful of new boss fights and intricate changes to the way the base game functioned.
CD Projekt have undoubtedly secured the Witcher 3 as one of the greatest games of all time with Blood and Wine, in my mind. This could realistically be dubbed ‘the Witcher 3.5’, and it’d have more than enough content to be sold as a full priced, triple A release, especially given the current climate within the video game industry.
But CD Projekt go all-out in service of the player with Blood and Wine. They create a better swan song here to Geralt than Naughty Dog did with Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4 (yeah, I said it), and give the closure that the series arguably needed, especially if this is goodbye for the Witcher franchise for good.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m somewhat saddened to see Geralt of Rivia ride off into the sunset for good, but if this is the note on which he’s ending his adventures for good, then I couldn’t ask for anything more.