“For us this was always the last journey for Geralt and we wanted to do something a bit bigger and fancier for this.” With these words from Jamie Berry, a senior animator at CD Projekt RED, I was welcomed into the Witcher 3’s final expansion, Blood and Wine. The long running series and fan-favourite monster hunter Geralt are both finding their finale in this expansion, being sent off with quite a luxurious bang.
Set in the new region of Toussaint the expansion offers around twenty hours of content. I sampled the first few hours at a preview session, fighting a multitude of bosses and exploring fancy castle grounds. I also chatted to Jamie Berry, who provided some insight on the evolution of this finale and the fan input that went into the development process.
After receiving summons from two nights of Toussaint wanting to hire Geralt for his Witcher skills, you venture to this far off land. The story takes no time to kick off, throwing you into three distinctly different bosses within the first hour. I was much faster engaged with the story than I was with the core Witcher game due to the style of the story. Part Sherlock Holmes, part fairytale and garnished with the signature Witcher flair, a simple murder investigation quickly becomes more complex, with a cool gothic horror hook.
While the expansion feels like a smoother version of Witcher 3, the world you begin to explore is quite different. Toussaint is influenced by medieval France, from the vineyards to the architecture and costumes. “A lot of the design was taking the opposite of what we had for The Witcher 3, then expanding from there,” Jamie said. “We really wanted to have that different kind of culture for the landscape.”
But why this new location? “After playing Witcher 3 people had the expansion pack Hearts of Stone and a lot of people thought it was a shame there wasn’t more of a new landmass,” Jamie noted. “People had already been in that original world for hundreds of hours, so it was just something we needed to do to make things a bit more fresh for people.”
“People had already been in that original world for hundreds of hours, so it was just something we needed to do to make things a bit more fresh for people.”
This certainly shows when you play Blood and Wine. It feels like its own unique piece of the Witcher world, a piece that was never touched by the conflict that ravaged Temeria and beyond. It was welcoming to have bright colours, lush trimmed gardens and shiny towers to look at while roaming the quite vast new area. “We did this to show a more fairytale land where the war hasn’t really reached and there’s a very different lifestyle and culture,” Jamie finished.
As this is the last we’ll be seeing Geralt for quite a while, the developers have chosen to give him a place to settle in Blood and Wine. Corvo Bianco, a Toussaint vineyard, is given to the player early on in the expansion, serving as a home base for the Witcher. It reminded me a lot of the villa in Assassin’s Creed 2 – a place to show off your weapons and armor and upgrade in valuable ways as you progress.
“It was important for us to not make it purely cosmetic,” Jamie noted. “Everything you do in the vineyard has benefits for Geralt – you’re able to get buffs, crafting resources and tools there.”
A large amount of fan questions developers received were about the series’ many companions. “People kept asking where Ciri, Yennefer and Triss were,” laughed Jamie. The Corvo Bianco vineyard is a part of the answer – “If you make the guest room it becomes a place where these people may potentially come visit you.” This expansion has closure at its core, giving you the opportunity to find out how the many character stories have progressed.
This expansion has closure at its core, giving you the opportunity to find out how the many character stories have progressed.
Another big addition in Blood and Wine is a new mutagen system, allowing you to make your Geralt more powerful than ever. After progressing through the story you’ll be able to pursue some lost research and unlock a handful of strong combat and sign bonuses. While I didn’t get much of a chance to play around with these, what I saw adds a new system of customisation for players. It helps you to shape your Witcher to your own playstyle even more than before.
All this content is available for a level thirty four or higher character, creating an interesting challenge for storytelling in the game. “We’re trying to continue the story of Geralt through these expansions, and it needs to be something fairly seamless,” said Jamie. “It’s very complicated because there’s so many threads that need to be tied up and there’s a lot of possible outcomes when you throw something like this into the mix.”
I came out of my few hours with Blood and Wine with quite a positive outlook. It’s a different and intriguing expansion that shows the passion of the development team. The fixes, like a re-done user interface, all make the game smoother to play than ever before, and I’m quite excited to continue the game’s story to its final conclusion.
The development team is happy with this final adventure for Geralt too: “I honestly believe that every game and expansion we’ve done have improved upon the last,” said Jamie. “A lot of that is taking feedback from the community.”
The relationship the team has with their fans has helped make The Witcher 3 a great success and they’re the reason for the closure and tweaks of Blood and Wine. “They literally change the design of the game with their feedback,” closed Jamie. “I think that’s very important to the people at CD Projekt RED – we take that stuff really seriously.”
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine expansion packs arrives on May 31st, 2016.