The Bold and the Beautiful
Geralt of Rivia is not primarily known for his humor, nor is The Witcher series itself. Yet a wicked jocularity has always coursed through The Witcher 3 and its predecessors. The residents of this unforgiving world must find pleasure wherever they can, even if only from a sly wisecrack or a groan-worthy pun. In The Witcher 3's final expansion, Blood and Wine, humor no longer lurks in the shadows: it steps into the glowing sun, winking and nudging you towards the next quest with surprising anachronism and self-aggrandizement.
Imagine my surprise, for instance, when I overheard a vineyard laborer singing Simon and Garfunkel, or when Geralt made plain reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Yet The Witcher 3's ability to surprise should, well, not be so surprising; after all, developer CD Projekt Red has consistently proven its ability to rethink and recontextualize returning ideas and themes to say something new about this world and its inhabitants.
I can't say whether the humor is entirely successful; I'm not yet finished with Blood and Wine, which I'd estimate to be about the length of The Witcher 2, judging from the pace of level progression. I've actually found the jokes distracting from time to time; blatant references to the real world have a habit of yanking you out of the fantasy. And yet I couldn't stay cross for long, not when the payoffs were so memorable. The Jesus joke marked the beginning of a magical side-quest that more suggests a tale from Camelot than one from Nazareth or Galilee. Elsewhere, the game's breaking of the fourth wall had me rolling my eyes at first, only to make me joyful over the insight I'd gained later on. I may never think of Roach the same way again.
Humor may take a prominent role, but Blood and Wine is still tumultuous, both in and out of its primary tale. Again, your choices have meaningful and often unpredictable consequences, such as a quest involving a cursed creature and a house full of spoons. It's been a day since I completed that quest, yet I'm still thinking about the truth I found there and the punishment its primary character endured. Was it rightful punishment? I'm not sure, but I've spent a good bit of time contemplating it--and contemplating whether my "good" choice was the right one.
I do miss the old gang, however. Blood and Wine has a dearth of sorceresses and dwarfs, though no shortage of horrific creatures to slay, and certainly no shortage of quests to take. Things can get a bit repetitive if you dally on one quest-line for too long. Solving problems across a couple of vineyards becomes a monotonous cycle of fighting the same monsters in different areas, though this is clearly an exception to the rule. Fortunately, even unexciting quests can yield welcome rewards, one of which is the deed to your own upgradable vineyard and estate. Don't expect Fallout 4 levels of customization; Blood and Wine is more similar to Far Cry: Primal in this regard, presenting a series of automated improvements that cost a certain amount of cash.
Blood and Wine also introduces a supplementary mutations system as a quest reward for a characteristically melancholy storyline. It's a smart mechanic, opening up new possibilities once you've no reason to spend skill points on upgrades you either won't use or have no slot for. You'll certainly be glad for the passive improvements during the tougher encounters, which are, as a rule, much more taxing than before, sometimes exhaustively so. Be prepared to rethink your strategy when living statues pepper the ground with magical traps, or when giant centipedes emerge from the earth to surround you. And don't forget to save from time to time: Blood and Wine's checkpoints don't always work in your favor.
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Blood and Wine is outrageously beautiful. Its new region, Toussaint, takes the air of the French countryside, though its skies are bluer, its foliage more lush, and its rolling hills more impressive. It's as close to high fantasy this dark fantasy series has gotten, and is all the better for it, as if The Witcher 2's elven rose garden had been expanded to continental proportions. Every rose has its thorns, however; dank caves harbor terrible beasts, and cemeteries shelter the most horrid of Toussaint's residents.
The creepiest accordion tunes you've ever heard serve to underline the horror. This is not a surprise, given The Witcher 3's consistently excellent audio, notwithstanding a few too many glitches where Geralt speaks over himself when you activate multiple triggers at once. There's more to say about The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, of course, and I will have a full review for you once I've finished. For now, however, I can confirm what you likely guessed: Blood and Wine is quite good, quite big, and quite likely to make you glad to return to one of video games' most engaging worlds.