Most Intriguing Idea: Contrasting Geralt’s ideals directly with chivalry
Best Design Decision: Colors! Colors everywhere!
Worst Design Decision: Grandmaster gear
If you notice nothing else about Blood and Wine, the final expansion for The Witcher 3, you will likely notice the colors. I had replayed the bulk of the main game before heading there and that experience really emphasized how washed-out the base game looks. Everything in the North seems ever so slightly gray, but nothing like that is happening in Toussaint. Beauclair is also the game’s best town, capturing to the fullest that Old World feeling of going around a corner and finding a delightful little square nobody but the locals seems to know about. This is definitely the most pleasant region of the game, and it suffers only a little from the game’s characteristic affliction of its regions being too large.
It’s a shame, then, that a lot of what happens here is pretty miserable. One of the biggest blunders is the “Grandmaster” Witcher gear upgrades that Geralt can find designs for. Unfortunately many of these require a major effort to find and a tremendous quantity of very expensive resources to craft. By the time one has gathered everything required, that gear will be too low-level (40, which is well beneath even the minimum level to finish the area’s main quest) to be relevant. I eventually made one set as a curiosity but it was not “worth it” in any sense, not even for the nigh-useless bonus applied for wearing multiple pieces. The alchemy system’s expansions are similarly pointless. None of the new monsters have any associated decoctions and the mutagen transmutation and dye-making allowed by the new formulae have no use. The additional “mutagens” added to the character page don’t do much to rescue the game’s worst system.
The quests, too, leave a lot to be desired. To its credit, Blood and Wine shows some dedication to giving the game’s isolated question marks more of a local story. From the “vintner contracts” for clearing would-be cellars, to the more detailed investigations that go with the “Big Feet to Fill” locations, to the epic fights at the Hanse bases and their associated peripheral sites, a significant proportion of these places now feel like a spot where something interesting is happening, not just a chest that fell out of the sky and a grave hag decided to guard. It is still not a good idea to try to frankenstein 13 or so of these story-lite encounters into a sidequest; I found that equally irritating here as when I encountered it in Saints Row IV.
The main questline in the region didn’t hold my attention at all. Its focus on vampires didn’t play into any of its potentially interesting ethical contrasts; the main game’s vampire-associated quest in Novigrad was more thematically interesting. The characters, with the exception of Regis, felt thinly conceived, and all were irritating gits though at least they were not as loathsome as the key players in Hearts of Stone. The quests also exerted a lot of control they didn’t do anything story-wise to deserve, especially in the back half where Geralt is whipped from one quest to another to another with no place for the player to opt out. A fun trip to a land of off-kilter recreations of fables aside, I didn’t find much to enjoy in these quests, and particularly disliked the final boss battle and its incredibly terrible checkpoint.
Still, I had a good bit of fun gallivanting about the region and beating knights at their own games. Anyone hungry to experience more of the life of a witcher will certainly not regret exploring Toussaint, but don’t get it expecting a miraculous reversal of the base game’s troubles.
Verdict: Cautiously recommended