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The Witcher 3: Blood And Wine [2016 -- CD Projekt RED] {DLC}

Started by Starfox, May 16, 2023, 06:09 PM

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Originally published June 28, 2016

Note: The following is a review of a DownLoaded Content (or DLC) for the game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Here it is finally, the second and last story DLC for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Two story DLC for a AAA game may not seem that much when some other developers intend to drown us under a gazillion of meaningless DLC. However, Blood And Wine alone adds roughly a third of the vanilla game worth of new content to what is already a vast game starting with a region that is three quarters of the biggest region from the vanilla game, a sizable main story as well as a number of side quests, new armors, weapons and even a whole new branch of mutations adding to Geralt's abilities that one can unlock via a side quest and even the possibility to dye armors (but only the different witcher sets) with diverse colors ranging from pink to pure black.

The setting for the story (and the new area name) is Toussaint. It seems that AAA medieval RPGs must absolutely have a French inspired region somewhere (remember Orlais and Dragon Age) and Toussaint fits the bill for the Witcher 3. However Toussaint itself was not created by CD Projekt RED (even though they are fully responsible for the translation into 3D graphics in game), it existed long before The Witcher became a game. Toussaint was first revealed during the adventures of Geralt prior to the first Witcher game, while he and his band of merry men (and women) made a stop there on their way to rescue Ciri (back then that was already an issue). It's in Toussaint that Geralt had a brief adventure with the Nilfgaardian sorceress Fringilla Vigo (who herself can be encountered though very succinctly -- because she and Geralt didn't part in the best of terms -- in the Witcher 3). Compared to the vanilla game the visuals of Toussaint almost evoke a land of fairy tales... with an overflowing river of wine. Though existent, storms are very rare and never very long. One stumbles into a vineyard every 100 meters and Geralt will even have the occasion to gain one (given by the ruler of Toussaint, the Duchess Anna Henrietta early in the story as part of the reward for hunting the beast). Of course there's also a lot of names with a French consonance like Sansretour valley, Beauclair, La Blessure river and even some funny ones like the Mère Lachaiselongue cemetery (obviously a pun based on the real Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris). Vineyard names themselves are a mix between French, Italian and Spanish.

The DLC begins with a posting (available on any notice board of the Novigrad / Velen area) in which Geralt and the Duchy of Toussaint are both mentioned by name. This fact alone suffices to interest our dear Witcher who decides to pay a visit to the location where the Duchy envoys are waiting for him. There he finds two old acquaintances (from before the games), Palmerin de Launfal and Milton de Peyrac-Peyran both knights-errant in the service of Duchess Anna Henrietta. After eliminating bandits as a matter of honor protecting the locals (they are knights-errant after all) they escort Geralt to Toussaint and give him a couple of hints to begin with his mission. Note that the DLC may be played after finishing a certain quest part way in the vanilla game but it seriously requires a level 32+ character (which is about Geralt's level at the end of the vanilla game).

Blood and Wine (B&W hereafter) introduces the player to Anna Henrietta (Annarietta for those close to her, like Dandelion was at some point) and her sometimes quite flaring temper -- it is her that initially call upon Geralt to come and deal with the grave danger threatening Toussaint. Her temper is not just for show mind you and she doesn't hesitate to put her life on the line or to rip off her dress so it's easier to mount a horse when time is of the essence. The DLC also introduces another character from the Witcher universe that those of you who never read the books will only know at first by his Witcher 3 Gwent card: Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzief-Godefroy that everyone calls Regis for the sake of simplicity. Regis is a higher vampire and one of Geralt's best friends. I won't tell you where this unlikely friendship stemmed from (CD Projekt put enough info in the DLC to pull you up to speed should you need it) but what gets Geralt -- and the players who read the books -- stumped when meeting Regis again in Toussaint is that the vampire was supposed to be dead years ago -- in fact Geralt witnessed his demise with his own eyes. But then again, Geralt was supposed to be dead too at one point and a higher vampire has regenerative powers that far surpass those of a mere Witcher to the point that the only thing that can really definitely kill a higher vampire is another higher vampire.

Regis will be a pivotal element to insure Geralt's success in his mission for the Duchy: discovering and eliminating the "beast" who kill people left and right with utter savagery. Without revealing anything more of the plot, I'll say that this is quite the journey, a journey that can depending on some of the player choices end like a fairy tale or in quite a very dark mood. Unlike the vanilla game in which 3 main endings are possible (good, neutral and very bad), B&W, as the previous DLC Heart Of Stone only includes a very good and very bad ending. Unlike Heart Of Stone however the switch between the endings doesn't consist in a single choice at the end of the story but rather an addition of choices (like in the vanilla game).

The DLC introduces a number of novelties but another batch is introduced by the patch who went online a day or two before the DLC. This patch got some things extensively revised like the user interface for everything like map, character and equipment panel, inventory... etc. Books have now their own section within the glossary which allow player to sell them and still retain their content (until now you had to keep books if you wanted to read them again) -- the only reproach here would be the lack of alphabetical sorting for the books. Inventory is now organized vertically with clear sections for important things (like oils, potions, bombs... ) so players don't have to waste time searching what they are looking for. All in all the new system though not perfect works much better than the old one where everything was stored in the same place (food with oils, bombs and potions for example). Fonts size and colors have been adjusted to make everything easier to read (even though we somewhat loose the "old" feeling in favor of a "modern" one). Even the icons for bombs, potions, oils and mutagens have changed at least twice since the initial release of the game a bit more than one year ago. It's safe to say that this will be the last extensive overhaul of the interface.

As for the changes brought by the DLC itself, they add to rather than supersede existing features. From a gameplay point of view the most extensive change is the ability for Geralt to gain via a side quest a whole new tree of special and powerful mutations -- the four previous skill sheets remain untouched. Those mutations are very powerful. For example one adds 25% chance for the Aard sign to freeze Geralt's opponents instantly killing those who are both frozen and knockdown at the same time and grievously damaging others. Another allows Geralt to poison any opponent daring to injure him by an amount calculated on his current toxicity level. Yet another multiply the damage dealt by crossbows tenfold and increase the odd of a critical hit with the crossbow by 50% making of what was a gimmick weapon a valid choice for combat. The highest level mutations may trigger the absorption of a random decoction each time Geralt scores a critical, at no additional toxicity cost while also allowing Geralt to better see in the dark out of combat without using a Cat potion (the effect is the same but is only triggered by using the witcher sense and only in dark places). One of the highest level mutations called "Second Life" simply restores 100% of Geralt health on death allowing him to go for a second round (let's hope with more success) although this mutation can only be triggered once every three minutes so it doesn't become a God mode.

So what's the catch? Of course there is a catch! First, each mutation is inherently costly. You need a number of skill points and a number of greater mutagens to unlock each of them and high level mutations can only unlock if you have already unlocked low level mutations. Skill points are the hardest part of the equation as only one is granted with each level gained and one more for each power obelisk you activate in the world... in other words they are far to be infinite. As skill points also serve to develop your other skills, at some point you're going to have to make a choice between developing your normal skills or the new mutations. Although the player has some room for error has a new potion sold by some vendors is introduced that like the Potion of Clearance for normal skills allow to re-lock unlocked mutations in order to retrieve the skill points put in them (only the mutagens used are completely lost in the operation. The second catch is that only one mutation can be active at any time (even though you can unlock all of them). That bit is done to avoid turning Geralt into Superman.

The other main addition to the gameplay is the vineyard that Geralt comes to own. Corvo Bianco (this is the name) is initially in a very poor state. Fortunately, Anna Henrietta granted Geralt a Majordomo. Talking to him you can learn more about the estate and begin to restore it. That will cost money, a substantial amount. With that said, restoring Corvo Bianco to its fullest brings gameplay advantages, increasing for a limited time stats like vitality, Roach stamina, experience gained from killing monsters and even the number of charges of each bomb and potions. These boosts occur each time Geralt sleep in his own (upgraded) bed in the villa (one has to actually use the bed instead of going into meditation as usual). Corvo bianco also comes with a few stands allowing you to show armors and weapons and places on the wall where you can hang paintings. There's also a garden for herbs used in alchemy. Finally, it's also the place that will be shared by Geralt and his romance choice (if any) after the end of the DLC story and after Geralt chose a definitive companion in the main game.

Of course some may regard Corvo Bianco as the usual player house featured in other games but that is not entirely accurate (first there's only one with no one pushing you to build a gazillion of others all across the land -- yeah Bethesda, looking at you there). In the particular setting of The Witcher universe, Corvo Bianco serves a story purpose because normally a witcher doesn't have a home, too busy to go everywhere killing monsters to have one. So Corvo Bianco is kind of a retirement plan and I can think of worse places than Toussaint to retire to. Thus it seems that CD Projekt made a point of telling people that yes... the story arc of Geralt is truly over. He has a nice place to retire to and if he didn't screw it up he even has someone to retire with. That doesn't mean that The Witcher as a game series is done but it certainly feels like if CD Projekt had decided that Geralt was done. But with Ciri to take over... who knows what may happen in the franchise future?

The look and smile that Geralt gives directly to the player at the end of the DLC story may mean a lot of things including a "Well, it's over... or is it?"

In any case, Blood And Wine is a nice end to Geralt saga in general (that is for those who chose the best ending both for the vanilla game and the DLC). Geralt gets to meet an old friend he thought dead, resolves one of the biggest cases of his career as a monster slayer, win a tourney, has the weirdest sex scene (if you chose this path), a conversation with Roach -- if you can locate the hidden side quest -- and finally gains his little slice of Heaven on Earth.

Guess what it means!