The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine - Hands-On Impressions
The Witcher 3 gets new environments and Geralt a new set of abilities.
The second and last expansion pack for the critically acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been a long time in the making. The release date for Blood and Wine has now been firmly locked in for May 31 and the company opened its doors to the press at the end of April. Gamereactor was on site in Warsaw, Poland, to find out how the saga of Geralt of Rivia is going to end.
The Witcher gets a job offer delivered by a couple of honourable knights. Their homeland is ravaged by a mysterious wave of murders and based on the evidence found on the scenes, the culprit is not a human. After a brief negotiation Geralt travels to a land of vineyards, monsters, and twisted noble people called Toussaint. There a trail of blood leads to vampires, but as you might expect things are not the way they seem at first glance. There are lots of grey areas in the story and it's underlined by an eloquent old vampire named Regis, himself a very well known character from the novels.
Blood and Wine offers a whole new area inspired by southern France. This allowed the developers to design a different set of environments, plants, animals and monsters, and cities. The actual size of the map is not that expansive compared to the main game. On the other hand it's not so much about the size of the land, but rather what there is to do there.
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Graphically the game appears to look a lot better than how we remember it, but naturally they showed off the game on the best possible PC. What is certain is that facial modelling has been given a lot of attention. All the people you meet look distinctively different from one another. Music is of the same high quality and creates the sort of mood we've come to expect from CDPR, and the same goes for the voice acting.
According to the developers this is not so much the end of Geralt's story, but rather a new chapter and a new world to explore. Blood and Wine is impressive by the numbers. The expansion is said to contain 90 quests, 40 points of interest, and over 30 hours of gameplay. There are also 30 new weapons, 20 new monsters, over 100 pieces of armour, and the level cap for the New Game+ has been raised from 70 to 100. We only had a chance to see a three hour slice of Blood and Wine, but based on that it seems that the developers are not exaggerating.
The Witcher has always been a story-driven experience. In spite of this the amount of dialogue has been kept to a minimum. Situations are usually solved either via brute force or by using as little conversation as possible. This is about to change. There are more cutscenes and thus there's significantly more interaction with characters who you're required to talk to. A welcome change in our opinion. What's disappointing is the fact that Geralt's crime scene investigation is as boring as it always has been. The left trigger initiates witcher vision, and then you just press a button in the vicinity of objects that are glowing red. After that Geralt performs a short monologue, and the story continues.
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It was at this point that we noticed that the menus have changed once more. Browsing through your wares is now easier than ever, as previously browsing through your witcher concoctions was much more of a hassle. The way you use the map has also been modified, which makes it easier to assess your position. One of the biggest features in the main game, in terms of character development, was finding certain master smiths, who then crafted and updated various pieces of armour and weapons for you to use. This crafting feature has been expanded, which will make all the fashionistas out there very happy. A fun addition is the ability to dye your armour with various colours. We immediately changed the colour of our witcher armour to pink. Because even Geralt is pretty in pink...
Big changes are coming to character development. First up are four new slots for various mutations. There is also a sort of "mother of all mutations" at the centre of the development tree. On top of that there is another development tree inside that big mother of mutations. These new additions require a lot of experience points to be unlocked, so it's clearly designed for people who choose to play New Game+. The developers themselves were showing and teaching the press how to use the new character development options. Still, we didn't quite understand this new feature fully. It seems that the developers are aware that the new system is complicated. Luckily you're rarely in a hurry when playing The Witcher 3, so you have enough time to learn the ropes at your own pace while going through the Blood and Wine content.
Depending on your point of view it's either a good or a bad thing that the combat system has been left pretty much as it is. You still ought to use some oil on your silver sword when preparing to battle with monsters, and each fight still gets easier when using the appropriate witcher signs. And the information needed to properly prepare for these battles can still be found in the bestiary section of the menus.
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According to the developers themselves, special care has been made in order to make the boss fights varied and interesting. We faced one giant who was as big as a house, and a couple of vampires each with unique patterns of movement (at least from each another). This means that so far it looks like you'll need to use different tactics and adapt on the fly while fighting these hardened enemies. Aside from boss fights there is an interesting dynamic on how the environment will change according to Geralt's actions. For example clearing a big bandit camp will diminish the number of bandits you'll face in the vicinity, but instead the empty camp is then inhabited by monsters.
The final big news is that Geralt of Rivia is settling down in one place instead of being a lone wolf on the roam. At the beginning of Blood and Wine Geralt inherits a vineyard, which is in bad shape after years of negligence. This means that the professional monster slayer has no other choice but to hire some staff and start producing his own wine, titled Butcher of Blaviken. In practical terms this means that players now have a main base, one they can expand and dress up as their own. All of this requires a lot of money, but in exchange for that you can now store stuff that you have found while being on the road: weapons, armour, books, paintings, etc. Updating your base is supposed to give extra abilities and enhancements to Geralt when he sets out to do some witcher work. We were particularly thrilled about the idea of a private library, but at the same time it feels like this feature should have been in place from the very beginning, although perhaps this is just another way for the developers to encourage players to start a New Game+.
Blood and Wine seems to be exactly what it has been labelled as - a true old-fashioned expansion pack. It sets out to offer a new place to explore, and aside from that it expands on almost every game mechanic found in the main game. Having his own vineyard doesn't fit Geralt of Rivia's character in any shape or form, but in terms of gameplay it's a cool addition. Familiarising yourself with the new character development system with all the new mutation slots and development trees will take quite some time. It's also worth noting that taking full advantage of these new features requires you to start a New Game+, but it's not required to do so in order to play and enjoy Blood and Wine. This summer will be another summer with lots of Witcher adventures, and just a few glasses of the red stuff, whatever that may be.