The Witcher 3 is considered a masterpiece by many, including Analog Addiction. However, in Blood and Wine, the final expansion for the game, developer CD Projekt Red is still dedicated to improving and refining the game.
“For us making the expansion is really something where we want to look at all areas of the game and then try to just improve everything that we can really,” says Jamie Bury, lead animator for The Witcher 3, “It’s one of the reasons we went through and did things like upgrading the user interface for the game – we had a lot of feedback about this stuff, where things may be a little bit clunky or confusing, and we just wanted to improve this stuff.”
Most of the changes are subtle, like separating weapons and armour in your inventory, or moving the position of your items in the quick menu, but going back and playing the base game highlights the benefit of the changes.
It’s not just minor changes coming to The Witcher 3’s final expansion, players will also be able to explore a new area called Toussaint, which rivals No Man’s Land or Novigrad in size. Geralt describes it best when he first arrives in Toussaint: it’s like something out of a fairytale. While there’s a certain beauty in The Witcher 3’s depiction of misery and war-torn landscapes, Toussaint is picturesque with its lush green grass, mountainous terrain, grand castles and established townships. That contrast was of great importance to the developer.
“We wanted to have this contrast with the new area so you can kind of see the difference. This is going to a place that isn’t under the threat of war constantly, the people there can lead pretty good lives. They just have a different living experience to the characters of The Witcher 3 base game,” says Bury.
Geralt is brought to the land of Toussaint after being summoned by Duchess Anna Henrietta to deal with a monster problem. The first two hours of the story see Geralt trying to track down the monster in what becomes a medieval murder-mystery. Thanks to the strong writing and performances that The Witcher 3 is known for, I was captivated the whole time. Time flies when playing The Witcher 3, and Blood and Wine appears to be no different. This is more of the same, and that’s fantastic.
I very much enjoyed the structure of the first couple of hours too. The story missions have a nice balance between dialogue and combat. In this case, combat largely involves four ‘boss’ battles. I was playing on the easiest difficulty because we were told the other difficulties had not been balanced properly yet, but the bosses were still very challenging. There was a giant with a swinging attack and a smash attack, a vampire-type monster which couldn’t be hit while invisible, a giant rock-crab monster called a shaehmaar which was only vulnerable when it was flipped on its back, and finally a different vampire who attacked very quickly and could dash around the room. Each boss required a different strategy to defeat, and Bury ensured me “you’ve not seen the best ones yet.”
It’s not just a new story that players will get to experience in Blood and Wine, new gameplay elements are also being implemented. Progressing through the story, Geralt will eventually be given a vineyard to stay in. While it looks run down when you first get it, you’ll be able to spend gold to upgrade the interior and exterior. While improving the vineyard cosmetically, the upgrades also give Geralt convenient access to plants for alchemy, a grindstone and anvil to get buffs, (finally) a bed for Geralt to sleep in, a stable for Roach, and – most importantly – access to the new mutation system (after you’ve completed the associated quest).
The mutation system is linked to character development, with players using skill points to unlock powerful mutations for Geralt. There are mutations for each of the three branches: combat, signs and alchemy. As an example of how powerful some of the mutations are, one of the mutations upgrades the Aard blast to freeze enemies, allowing Geralt to more easily fight large groups of enemies. You can only have one mutation active at any given time, but the more you unlock the more extra ability slots you unlock (up to a maximum of four). The twist is that each ability you place in these slots must match the colour of the active mutation – in this case blue. I chose to equip four Aard based abilities to improve my Aard skill. It makes Geralt feel like true threat, which is great fun.
“We’ve raised the level cap from 60 to 100, and because of raising this level cap we just wanted to give you a few more tools to play with if you’re a high level player, but it also just adds so much more variety to the kind of build you can make for Geralt. We have the new mutation stuff and an extra four slots for that so it kind of vastly changes the combat based on how you’ll be able to make the builds now; it’s just a lot more toys to play with,” says Bury, who recommended I try out the Aard mutation because it was his favourite.
If you’re yet to finish The Witcher 3, but still want to experience Blood and Wine, the game can be played as a stand-alone experience, starting Geralt at the recommended level of 34, or you can use your save from the main game if you’re a high enough level.
For Bury, it’s emotional working on Blood and Wine because he knows it’s the last time he’s going to work with Geralt. “It’s tough. If this was any other project I worked on it would normally be like okay we’ve been on this for years I’m desperate to move on to something else, but it’s really not with The Witcher. It’s kind of a bitter sweet thing. I’m looking forward to moving on to the new challenges, but I love the games.”
Throughout my short time with Blood and Wine, CD Projekt Red continuously mentioned fan feedback and how much they appreciated the fans when talking about their reasons for making certain changes and adding gameplay elements. Blood and Wine is looking like more Witcher 3, and then some. It’s great to see CD Projekt Red’s desire to add new systems and refinements to an already amazing experience. Blood and Wine will be Geralt of Rivia’s final outing, and it’s shaping up to be a fantastic experience.