Blood and Wine could be boxed, sold as a sort-of-sequel to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and no one would really question it. Once again, CD Projekt Red has gone above and beyond expectations; this final expansion not only serves as a fitting end to Geralt's gigantic tale, but it also manages to pack in so much quality content that it puts the efforts of many retail releases to shame.
Much like the previous add-on, Hearts of Stone, Blood and Wine boasts a story that's separate from the main game – except this time, Geralt's whisked away to the sunny land of Toussaint, which is basically his world's equivalent of central Europe. Naturally, this means that you get a whole new map to explore, chocked full of secrets, side quests, and gorgeous locations.
Indeed, Toussaint itself is arguably the star of this expansion. After toiling through the war-torn Northern Realms in the main release, this land of plenty makes for a delightful change of pace. It's all about prancing nobles, extravagant architecture, masquerade balls, knightly tournaments, and wine-soaked summer evenings on the porch of your vineyard's manor. In short, as far as The Witcher's world goes, it's the de facto holiday destination.
Or, at least, it will be, once Geralt's sorted out its problems. As is usually the case, our grizzled hero is here to mop up monsters. By request of the duchess herself – a well developed character with a terribly confusing accent – Geralt's tasked with getting to the bottom of a string of gruesome murders. The core quests that follow do a fantastic job of showing the contrast between Toussaint's love for pleasurable activities and its dark, twisted underbelly – the horrors of which are slowly revealing themselves.
The main set of quests will take you around ten or so hours to get through, but by focusing solely on the critical path, you'll be missing out on much of what makes Blood and Wine so good. A slew of wonderfully written side quests once again keep things interesting outside of the central plot, and although much of the map is covered in your standard miscellaneous fodder, it's almost immediately apparent that the developer has wheeled out some of its best ideas to help bring a suitable close Geralt's adventures.
Speaking of which, Blood and Wine ends up being a great way for the silver haired warrior to sign off; a fitting conclusion to an already engrossing tale. There are multiple endings to uncover depending on the choices that you make during the main story, but despite your best efforts to influence events, it can still be difficult to tell where things are going – there are just that many twists and turns.
The expansion offers up a compelling narrative, then, but for our money, it's not quite on par with Hearts of Stone's devilishly dark plot. That said, it's still light years ahead of the guff that most open world titles call a story, and it's got some incredibly endearing characters propping it up, to boot.
Narrative praise aside, Blood and Wine gets a lot right in the gameplay department, too. Toussaint is a joy to explore because it feels so dense yet so vast, while in terms of combat, you can expect challenging clashes against fresh types of foes. The newly introduced adversaries will keep you on your toes, but it's the boss fights that form the most enjoyable stints of action, with Geralt facing off against some truly monstrous opponents.
As hinted, the expansion can be tough at times, especially when it throws up an unfamiliar enemy or two, so you'll probably want to make use of the new mutation system, which allows for another layer of customisation when it comes to your preferred fighting style. Mutations essentially let you power up Geralt in specific ways, and many of them grant you very effective boons when equipped, assuming that you play to their strengths. The mutation system adds more to the game than Hearts of Stone's runewright did, giving you more reason than ever to experiment and carve out your own style of play.
Last but not least, we'd better go over how the expansion runs on PlayStation 4. As fans will know, Wild Hunt got off to a slightly rocky start, with frame rate issues cropping up following the title's launch last year. Fortunately, the Polish studio appears to have things well under control here, as we struggled to notice any real dips in performance during our 35 hour adventure – even when proceedings became particularly hectic.
CD Projekt Red has released three masterpieces within the space of a year. Alongside Hearts of Stone, Blood and Wine ensures that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is, without question, the role-playing game to beat going forward. Toussaint provides a gorgeous new location that's a joy to explore, and the sun-soaked land houses enough engrossing content to put many fully priced retail releases to shame. Geralt's last hurrah is a pleasure to experience; a fitting end to a stunning achievement.