09 June, 2016

Review – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine

Toussaint; a land of zest and verve. The land of fine wine, gaudy fables, and chivalrous knights of the realm. But also of urbane blood, spiteful curses, and the immortal hunters of the night. Will it too prove to be the land of happy endings?



Blood and Wine


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt certainly had its geographic diversities; some fleeting and magical in origin, others solidified and steeped in palpable culture, namely Skellige. From White Orchard to Crookback Bog to Novigrad, the mainland changed, but ultimately remained a vaguely Germanic, or eastern European realm. Skellige though was entirely apart, and big enough that it didn’t feel out of place, rather the domain of people quite their own. Toussaint is very similar to Skellige in its possession of a strong sense of cultural identity, with uniquely flavourful geography and inhabitants. Although, it is fairy tale-tinged medieval France, and thus nothing at all like the hard, earthly realm of the Norse island dwellers.

So colourful is that first panning shot of Toussaint, it is almost cloying. Almost, then a giant appears as if from nowhere and you’re reminded you’re still playing the Witcher. Every land has its monsters, human or otherwise.

Review – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine toussaint

For reasons potentially righteous, the Duchy of Toussaint is suffering bloody murders by the claws of the Beast of Beauclair – Beauclair being the painterly capital city. And so Geralt is summoned. Vampire involvement is apparent almost immediately, but of course nothing in The Witcher is so straight edged, nor morally easy to define. The main narrative is, like the best of The Witcher 3’s writing, a decidedly human story.

Blood and Wine is a far more cohesive tale than the Hearts of Stone – the first and only other expansion.  More importantly it is precisely as long as it need be. It feels edited, crafted, a work of narrative art, rather than a product videogame design goals. Unlike so many stories, The Witcher 3’s main narrative for example, Blood and Wine does not feel designed to provide value, rather to convey itself as effectively as possible. The result is one of those truly rare, fully realised experiences, which I suspect I will not easily forget.

Review – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine murder

Now, that isn’t to say Blood and Wine is small or contained, it’s really isn’t. Toussaint is a whole new open world area, with its own stories and secrets. The main quest isn’t short either, though it doesn’t waste time. As in The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, you reach a point where the story splits, branching in two, each path paved with unique content; locations, characters, and quests. The ending is not an either or, of course, there are multiple factors and choices to be made along the way, some more explicit than others.

In the distilled form of Blood and Wine, the Witcher’s sublime dialog and characterisations do not only bloom as greatly as they did in The Witcher 3’s finest hours, but they do not waver. Moreover, they are frequently enhanced by technically and cinematically impressive framing and direction. Most profound however, is its repeated and consistently confident exploration of innate sexism and male entitlement.

Review – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine castle

Though not strictly part of the Blood and Wine expansion, I must acknowledge the free updates the game has received over the last year. Specifically, the improvements to performance, and increased graphical and gameplay options. Much of my time with the original release was a dizzying slog. Playing on the PlayStation 4, the merciless melange of erratic framerate, unwieldy movement, and blur effects ensured almost all of my play sessions resulted in nausea, physical sickness. I’m happy to say that was not the case when I returned to Blood and Wine.

Review – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine 5/5 greatWhether portraying the macabre or fanciful, Blood and Wine does so whole heartedly, and to great narrative effective. Though large in scope, it does not overreach itself. With regards to the main narrative, I never felt as though I wasting time on menial tasks, or ancillary dialogue meant to lengthen the experience. Surprising and delightful, in both joyous and bloody forms, Blood and Wine is more than just a strong send off for The Witcher 3; it’s an embodiment of the game’s storytelling prowess, its qualities refined to their purest state.

  

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