The Winters' Expansion includes Shadows of Rose, the first piece of story DLC for Resident Evil Village, which picks up 16 years after that game concluded and introduces Ethan Winters' teenage daughter, Rose, as a playable character. Rose has unique powers at her disposal that make her feel distinct from the many other protagonists in Resident Evil's long history, but it's the shift to a third-person perspective--along with changes in pacing, style, and tone--that set Shadows of Rose apart from Village's main campaign. It's more comparable to the recent Resident Evil remakes than either of Ethan Winters' misadventures, but for as much as I adore those games, I'm hopeful this switch isn't indicative of the series' future.
Shadows of Rose begins with the discovery that Rose's powers have blighted her formative years. The narrative is light on details regarding how her powers manifest, but sweating a white substance is enough reason for spiteful classmates to mercilessly bully her for being "different." Rose just wants to be a normal kid and rid herself of these debilitating abilities, so when she's offered the chance to find a cure she jumps at it with little hesitation. However, attaining said cure requires her to enter the consciousness of the Megamycete. This fungal root is not only responsible for the Mold and Rose's powers, but any humans who made physical contact with it have had their memories absorbed and stored within. This conceit allows for some fun surprises and also lets Capcom revisit iconic locations from Village's story, albeit with a few key differences.
The first locale you're dropped back into is Castle Dimitrescu. The resident Lady of the house is absent this time around, but the castle walls are now inhabited by a villainous version of Ethan's merchant ally, The Duke, who gleefully dispatches his own creatures to snuff Rose out. These grotesque monstrosities are similar in design to the Molded from Resident Evil 7, except they have a nasty habit of sucking Rose's face off whenever they get ahold of her. To combat these Face Eaters, Rose is aided by an unseen entity called Michael who can only communicate by conjuring written words that appear floating in mid-air and on various surfaces. Michael manifests a pistol early on, and he'll provide you with ammunition and healing items from time to time, as well as providing hints on where to go next. His presence is more crucial to the story than the moment-to-moment gameplay, but the floating words add a fun wrinkle to chase scenes as it feels like you're being guided by an omniscient being.
Despite Michael's aid, killing a Face Eater quickly burns through your finite pistol ammo, even if your headshot aim is true. The shambling eyesores soak up bullets, and although accurate hits slow them down, fighting a Face Eater never feels particularly satisfying, due in part to the fact they all share the same canned death animation. The delightful pop that so often accompanies fatal headshots in Village's main campaign is notably absent, so combat has a tame aura that wasn't present before.
Fortunately, one of your first tasks is to awaken a power that lets Rose focus on an enemy and freeze them in place for a few seconds. Using this ability is limited just like your ammo, but it gives you the chance to unload some lead on an easy target or use the opportunity to run away, adding a slim layer of strategy to some encounters. Freezing enemies isn't the most exciting of powers, but it gives you a rare advantage over your foes and livens up the stale combat a tad. Being able to halt the Face Eaters' progress is also key because the slow, deliberate pacing of Ethan's trip to Castle Dimitrescu has been replaced by a chaotic dash through the castle's halls. The layout is identical in both cases, but familiar paths have now been altered by the presence of undulating pools of black Mold that funnel you down specific routes. This makes navigating much more linear than before, but Shadows of Rose's frantic pacing makes the castle feel somewhat fresh again.
However, much of the DLC doesn’t offer a lot to get excited about beyond this. There's some light puzzle-solving in other locations, a few jump scares, and any interesting themes in Rose’s story are only ever explored on the surface level. Resident Evil is known for being campy and over-the-top in regard to its storytelling, so this shouldn't be surprising, but it's still disappointing that it doesn't delve deeper into some of the subjects it briefly alludes to. In a similar vein, a lot of what is there is never really explained, and the story feels very rushed, which could be a byproduct of its brief three-hour playtime. Mostly, Shadows of Rose is just forgettable.
Despite its short length, it's also a shame that Rose's powers don't evolve until a final boss battle that drags on for far too long. The second half of the DLC is mostly devoid of combat, so they don't have a chance to, but the earlier sections could've been improved by introducing a few more wrinkles to Rose's repertoire, especially since her arsenal consists of a decidedly weak pistol and shotgun combo. Some situations call for stealth but sneaking around is complicated by a frustrating element of trial and error. Trying to position yourself behind cover and keep track of enemies with the third-person camera is a tad cumbersome, mainly because the controls aren't quite fluid enough. This was never an issue when hiding from Lady Dimitrescu, so it comes across as one of the few areas where the over-the-shoulder perspective feels detrimental.
Aside from Shadows of Rose, the Winters' Expansion also adds a third-person mode to Village's main campaign. It works well for the most part, although it is a bit jarring when cutscenes and certain animations transition back to first-person. I would still recommend the original perspective for those playing Village for the first time, but third-person offers a significant deviation for those wanting a different kind of atmosphere when revisiting the game again.
The other new additions concern The Mercenaries mode, which adds a couple of new stages and a few more characters to its score-based, time-attack action. Chris Redfield is unlocked from the very start and comes equipped with a different arsenal of firearms than Ethan. The most notable difference between the two, however, is Chris's boulder-punching fists. Get close enough to an enemy and you can land a pair of devastating punches that explode heads in a shower of blood. Kill enough enemies and you'll fill up Chris's Onslaught Gauge, which, when filled, lets you deal more damage, move faster, and utilize a Target Locator to unleash an explosive blast from the heavens.
Karl Heisenberg and his massive hammer is one of the other new playable characters, diversifying the roster further with a slow but powerful melee build. Smashing enemies into a pulp with his signature makeshift weapon is always a good time, but you can also use his electromagnetic powers to gather debris and launch it as a deadly shrapnel projectile. You can also do the same with a sawblade as though you're visiting Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm, and even summon one of his hulking robot zombies to rush any nearby lycans.
However, the best of the new characters is, of course, Lady Dimitrescu herself. The gigantic mistress of Castle Dimitrescu slices through enemies with her grisly talons, unleashes a swarm of bugs to devour her foes, and even crushes enemies by throwing vanity tables at them. Similarly to Chris, she has a Thrill Meter that can be filled to deal more damage and increase her movement speed. She can also summon her daughters to help out in a pinch. Each of the new characters adds more variety to The Mercenaries with their distinctive playstyles and transforms it into a mode that's worth sinking your teeth into.
Shadows of Rose might be the most notable part of the Winters' Expansion, but it's The Mercenaries that provides the most bang for your buck. Rose's tale is an uneven and brief continuation of the Winters family story. It successfully makes familiar locations feel fresh again but doesn't do quite enough with Rose's powers to elevate its action or make the experience feel worthwhile. The switch back to a third-person perspective is noteworthy, and its inclusion as an optional way to play Resident Evil Village is a boon for those thinking of replaying the game. The new additions to The Mercenaries make the Winters' Expansion worth it, though, and while Shadows of Rose has its moments, it doesn't pack enough engaging material into its short timeframe to wholly recommend returning to the eponymous village.