The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

By Bob Case Posted Friday Nov 23, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 28 comments

Blood and Wine was the second the The Witcher 3’s two expansions, released in May of 2016, and it suffers, in my opinion, from Senioritis.

I don’t know how widespread the term is, but in the US, it refers to the condition suffered by high school seniors (who would usually be 17-18 years old) in the second semester of their final year. By then, all of their college applications have been sent off, so they don’t have to worry about grades (so long as they don’t flunk out entirely), they’re relieved to have the whole high school thing almost over with, and there’s little incentive for them to do anything but goof off.

By May of 2016, most of the Witcher 3 team has been working on the game for more than a decade, and the series for even longer than that. It’s hard to begrudge them a bit of carelessness now that the finish line is finally in sight, but the product does suffer a bit for it.

On the one hand, the expansion benefits from some of the same things Hearts of Stone did: the team is more familiar with the tools, they can take a bit more freedom with the story and setting, and they’ve learned how to get the best out of a somewhat limited combat system. On the other hand, the narrative is… I think “easily distracted” is the closest phrase I can find to describe it.

Toussaint: gorgeous, prosperous, charming, and free from war. Why doesn't everyone just move here?
Toussaint: gorgeous, prosperous, charming, and free from war. Why doesn't everyone just move here?

The main storyline’s opening sequence is a good example of this. You encounter a pair of Toussaintese (is that right?) knights who are looking for one Geralt, a Witcher, to help solve a series of mysterious killings in duchy’s capital of Beauclair. So the three of you travel to Toussaint in a cutscene. Shortly after arriving, you pass by a guy getting attacked by a giant, so you kill the giant. Upon arriving to the first crime scene, you find the body has been moved to a nearby villa, so you go to the villa, where you get attacked by a Bruxa (a Bruxa is a type of powerful witch (whoops, vampire, thanks to the comments) that I’m not entirely sure CDPR had to make naked). Then, you go to the capital, where you pass by a tournament where a knight is fighting a big, ornery, armored rodent-like thing called a Shaelmaar. The knight is soon in danger, so Geralt jumps into the arena and you fight that too.

(Note: below the jump are spoilers for the novels, a certain character in them in particular. Use caution if you haven’t read them yet.)

If you’re keeping count, that’s three boss fights in one quest. Usually, it’s CDPR’s habit to have such opponents have some sort of backstory or interesting introduction or twist to them. But here, they’re just… there. You’re introduced to them in one scene, and you’re fighting them in the next, and then you never see or hear from or about them again.

The fights themselves are entertaining enough. I especially liked the Bruxa, an opponent that required me to think on my feet and be less button mash-y and more Witcher-y than usual. I suspect that this sequence was designed as a playable demo to show the new expansion off to game journalists, which is fine, but I wish they’d untangled its various component parts from each other before putting them in the game proper.

The same can be said for the pacing. In one interesting quest hook, the killer’s next victim is dressed as a hare in an elaborate holiday masquerade at a swanky party at the palace. The environment here is lovingly crafted, with guests milling around a finely manicured garden, swapping amusing chatter with each other in gorgeous early-evening lighting. But most players probably won’t see most of it, because what would have been a more involved sequence in other parts of the game is a mad dash to a sequence of quest markers here. Then, later, the relatively routine act of finding out that a master vintner has been pawning off barrels of wine on the side takes 10-20 minutes of slowly walking around a wine cellar and tasting barrels to complete. For the first chunk of the expansion, I spent half of the time wishing the story would slow down and the other half wishing it would speed up.

To polish it all off, there’s a hiccup in the quality of the voice acting. Some of the line readings are odd in inflection or emotion or both, and to top it all off the developers never really settle on what exact accent people speak with in Toussaint. According to the wiki, the expansion had 14,000 lines of dialogue (by comparison, the not-exactly-taciturn Hearts of Stone had 6,000), so it may be that quality control slipped somewhere along the line.

So yes: Senioritis. However, CDPR’s strengths are also on display here. The story’s villains are revealed in a satisfying way, and they’re both well fleshed-out characters with backstories that add depth and context to their actions. (I want to note that between the two of them and their minions, they kill kind of a lot of people. The Witcher 3 devs always seem to expect me to be more forgiving than I am of that sort of thing.) The side content is interesting and well-made, up to their usual standards. Then there’s Corvo Bianco, the vineyard you get as a reward for your help, which you can upgrade and refurbish. I can’t comment on it objectively because upgrading things in games is my kryptonite.

There’s also Regis. Regis is a character from the novels, and it’s the first time we’ve seen him in the series. I might as well put another spoiler warning above this picture just to be safe, the spoilers are below it.

They got his look and costume right, right down to relatively small details from the books. Things like this show CDPR's appreciation for their source material.
They got his look and costume right, right down to relatively small details from the books. Things like this show CDPR's appreciation for their source material.

Regis is a vampire. But don’t worry – he’s a friendly one. In fact, his attitude towards blood is something like that of a recovering alcoholic’s towards alcohol: he abstains completely, knowing how dangerous it is. He’s also thoughtful and kind – like Dandelion, Zoltan, and others, his friendship with Geralt speaks well of Geralt. His character is faithfully recreated here, and I was glad to see him. There’s one scene in particular where he and Geralt sit in a graveyard, passing a bottle of mandrake hooch (not the really hard stuff, though) back and forth and just talking. It doesn’t advance the story or reveal any deep secrets, but it does pleasantly characterize both of them. It’s the sort of scene that the Witcher 3 developers have made look easy again and again, but almost no other developer has gotten the hang of.

It’s also worth nothing that by the end of the books, Regis was capital-D Dead. A jerkface sorcerer by the name of Vilgefortz melted him into a column to the point where he wasn’t much more than a red stain and a pile of rocks. Now, in the source material it’s known that vampires have extraordinary regeneration abilities, but this guy was so thoroughly killed to death in Lady of the Lake that everyone involved doesn’t much consider the possibility that he might return.

But now he’s back, his miraculous recovery explained away by a bit of vampire hocus-pocus. I can’t complain too much, as the character is a fan favorite (and a favorite of mine as well), but it gives the impression that the developers are getting a bit impatient with the restrictions of the source material. After three games and so many years, you can hardly blame them. The good way of interpreting this is that they’ve been chomping at the bit to try something different, and they’ll come out of the Cyberpunk starting gate in full lather.

So that’s Blood and Wine. When reading the criticisms above, keep in mind that I hold this game and its expansions to a higher standard than most, and things that are the biggest problems here would barely make the top ten in many well-regarded RPGs. The whole series gets wrapped up in the next entry, where I submit my final and legally binding judgment, as well as my hopes and worries going forward.

 

 


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28 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

  1. Axebird says:

    Minor nitpick: Bruxae are vampires, not witches.

    1. Addie says:

      Yep, vampires. Looks and sounds a lot like ‘bruja’ (witch in Spanish), though, so I can see where he’d go wrong.

      1. Adrian Burt says:

        Guys like Bob Case raise a point: should people writing opinion pieces on the Internet have any obligation to do basic research on the stuff they’re writing about. Like before writing something like “Bruxae are witches” should he have checked the Witcher wiki to make sure they are witches?

    2. C__ says:

      as anyone who played Vampire: The Masquerade knows :)

  2. trevalyan says:

    You missed a boss fight, Bob. Which is understandable- I’m given to understand that he’s very hard to beat. You may have thought he was unbeatable. Nonetheless, to me it’s more like three Contract level encounters and one boss fight.

    I LOVED Toussaint. There is just as much moral gravity and seriousness here, but few of the needlessly dark elements of modern fantasy. For instance, you have to be following the story pretty closely to even see an allusion to rape. It’s a better society than the one Geralt comes from, and by a long way. The sidequest quality is amazing- I was laughing out loud during the Roach quest. In short, I think its weaknesses are very minor, and its strengths considerable enough to make it one of the best parts of the entire series. Better than Hearts of Stone, and I thought that was one of the best DLCs ever. To get them free with Wild Hunt at 60% off retail is the reason CDPR’s children will play in the ruins of Bioware Studios.

    PS: A certain “beggar’s” offscreen cameo in the wight quest came as a chilling but awesome moment, too…

  3. trevalyan says:

    It only occurred to me after I started playing again, but a few of the monsters were callbacks to the original game. Barghests were stupid but fondly missed glow puppies, archaespores vicious hellflowers…

    As for the centipedes: may they be damned to the blackest corners of the netherhells that Caleb Menge, Dethmold, and the Professor are burning in for eternity.

  4. It’s possible that this expansion suffers a bit in quality because the majority of the development team had been split off to begin preliminary work on Cyberpunk. The B Team may not have had the experience or resources to produce the same level of quality as the original game.

    When I worked at Bioware people got shuffled around all the time, to the point that I once joked that our desks got more mileage than our cars from being moved so often.

  5. T-rex says:

    Sorry, but Sapkowski said that Regis didn’t die after what happened to him in The lady of the lake. He was almost killed, but not entierly. So that was actually canon that he showed up in the game(and I suspected he would show up at one point or another). I know it’s hard to keep track of all information about what is canon or not, especially when that isn’t translated from polish, so I don’t blame you for overlooking that.

    1. camycamera says:

      Source? When Sapkowski say that he was still alive?

      Also, the games technically aren’t “canon” anyway, at least, Sapkowski thinks not. We can imagine that they are though, or at least bits of them (I would hand-wave a lot of the stuff that happens in W1 though, it was obviously just a fan-fic as someone going straight into it after reading the books).

      1. camycamera says:

        Never mind, saw your other comment.

  6. JakeyKakey says:

    I’m a bit disappointed you didn’t go further in-depth with Blood and Wine. I personally consider the haunted spoon mansion to be the highlight of the series.

    1. T-rex says:

      Yeah, that quest is great. I always prefer when Geralt is lifting a curse of someone rather than just killing a monster and calling it a day. I think there was somewhere in the books when he says that he kills a monster only when it’s necessary and if he can “cure” a person off a curse, he’ll do everything to help them, because his job is solving problems, not just killing monsters. It’s a shame that this wasn’t more prevalent in the games than it was in the books.

  7. Mr. Wolf says:

    Toussaint: land of love and wine; Toussaint: land of philanderers and drunks.

    I feel that for B&W, they were intentionally going for a completely different tone. Chivalric romance meets gothic horror. It reminded me more than a little of Witcher 1’s act 4, which had a similar idyllic-but-threatened feel to it, and also took it’s story cues not from the Witcher world, or from a single external story, but by combining different genres.

    1. Coming Second says:

      Great shout. I loved W1’s Act 4, maybe the highlight of the whole game.

  8. Redrock says:

    Regis’s ressurection is, for me, another example of how The Witcher series is borderline fanfiction sometimes. Not in a bad way, per se. But there’s a certaijn fanfiction-y psychology that emerges from time to time. Like, we really like that character from the book, so let’s bring him back with barely a handwave. Also, let’s make a really bad and tortured and dark vampire that can transform into a giant heart thingy, because Sapkowski’s restraint with them always bothered us. Again, not really a criticism. Just something I notice more and more.

    1. JakeyKakey says:

      High vampires are explicitly acknowledged to be outright unkillable other than by the hand of another high vampire, though.

      I think the only handwave is that Dettlaff was using his own blood + vampire abilities to regenerate Regis at a far faster rate than ordinarily possible. Book Regis would have been on a timeout for many decades which made him functionally dead for the purpose of the story, while Dettlaff managed to get him back in little under ten years with what’s implied to be considerable personal effort.

      IMO that’s fine for a retcon, the only thing that’s really missing is an aditional bit of worldbuilding expanding on the idea that vampires can in fact bring each other back relatively quickly, but don’t really do so due to their perception of time and tendency to be solitary assholes. Being an ageless immortal unkillable being with huge wealth and infleunce, one probably has better things to do than to strongly devote a decade of one’s time to bring back another vampire at a marginally faster rate.

    2. T-rex says:

      But Sapkowski said he didn’t die in The Lady of the Lake…

      https://sapkowskipl.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/nieustajacy-wywiad-zony/

      Dlaczego? Dlaczego takie misterne postacie s? zabijane od
      r?ki? ?mier? jest im zadawana wr?cz hurtowo. Czy to dlatego ?e trzeba si?
      by?o pozby? nadmiaru bohaterów? Rozumiem ?e to jest czasem konieczne, ale
      mo?na by?o wymy?li? jaki? bardziej finezyjny sposób ni? zwyk?a potyczka
      i, w paru przypadkach, g?upota jakiej nikt z czytelników raczej by si?
      nie spodziewa?. Najbardziej bolej? jednak nad Cahirem, który wreszcie
      spotkawszy Ciri umiera.
      Nie wspominam tu o, Regisie bo chytry bydlak
      pewnie si? zreinkarnuje, w ko?cu odci?cie g?owy a roztopienie to tylko
      ró?nica paru eonów.

      He’s talking about killing off characters, and why it had to be done, and what characters he didn’t like to let go the most. When Regis is mentioned he says that he probably will regenerate because there’s only difference of a couple of eons between beheading and melting(i know he said it jokingly but that’s still kind of holds). All CDPR did was taking source material they were provided and expanding on how vampires work. So, Regis being alive isn’t that far fetched.

      I’m sorry about question marks but well, there’s not much you can do about it I guess, polish has too many characters.

      1. Fung says:

        The text you quoted is part of the question, not the answer.

        The answer is below that and states that while there were versions where Regis didn’t die, in the end he decided to kill him to show his sacrifice (and use up the villain’s magic power):

        Wzgledem Regisa, przyznaje, bylo trudniej, i wersje, w których wampir
        przezywa, istnialy. Zrezygnowalem z nich jednak – tym niemniej nie tylko
        za chybione, ale za wrecz krzywdzace uwazam posadzanie mnie o, jak Pan
        pisze, „znudzenie sie bohaterem” czy „pozbywanie sie nadmiaru”. Wampir
        ginie, bo poswieca sie – ratuje Geralta i Yennefer – by go zabic,
        Vilgefortz musi powaznie „wystrzelac sie” z czarnoksieskiej mocy.

        Sounds pretty dead to me.

        1. Furo says:

          There’s a hint in the last book that Regis might not be dead.

          When Ciri sends Geralt and Yen off to Avalon, there’re ghostly figures in the mist who help them – the three dead members of Geralt’s adventuring party. That is, all of them, except Regis.

    3. camycamera says:

      I think W3 (and 2) is the “good” sort of fan-fiction that (mostly) respects the source material and (since these are sequels) actually tries to do some stuff a little differently and moves the series forward, instead of just retelling the same story.

      Which is what W1 did. That game’s story is just bad fanfiction in my opinion. It’s just a bad repeat of the novels, with Alvin being a bad stand-in for Ciri, and Azar Javed being a bad stand-in for Vilgefortz (and even repeating one exact quote from him because the writers thought that quote was so cool).

      It has its own original stuff in the story to be fair, but everyone says Chapter 4 of that game is the best chapter, and that’s because it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the story.

      Plus what they did to Foltest’s daughter was just screwed up and bad. No wonder she doesn’t appear in another game afterwards. They sweep the fact that she married Radovid under the rug, too.

      1. trevalyan says:

        I think Adda’s presence would tend to complicate the sequels, unless you pulled a Leiliana, but she would demand far more screen time if she was alive and important. On the whole I would take marks off the series for the mistakes it made in the main plot with Anna and especially Radovid… but under the circumstances of modern Western RPGs, it’s like pointing out background flaws in the Mona Lisa.

        Besides, given Adda’s wilful nature and former cravings for human flesh, one could see her making Radovid a -worse- person. As far as that’s possible. Probably for the best that she didn’t have a larger role.

      2. Coming Second says:

        What makes Schrodinger’s Adda particularly weird is that the opening segment of W2 was all about Foltest trying to claim a niece and nephew of his from a rebel lord in order to protect his own succession. You’d think Adda being alive or dead would have a fairly large impact on his thinking there.

        Whether you chose Shani, Triss, or spurned them both was also a significant sideplot of the first game. In the second game your choice is basically ignored and you’re landed with Triss regardless, a gratuitous eyeful of her being one of the first things we see. These are the type of things that would have Bioware fans up in arms about.

  9. BlueHorus says:

    On the accents: I completely agree. Sometimes they did just let the ball drop and goofed around.
    There was one NPC who worked outside Geralt’s villa in the vineyard – every time I arrived or left home, I was treated to him bellowing:

    ‘A man who! Will not drink his red! Is a man whose wife! Is like to knock his head!’

    In…some…kind of accent. I think they were going for ‘drunken frenchman’ by way of ‘drill sergeant’.
    …not that it was bad. I quite liked that guy.

    1. SupahEwok says:

      I don’t think it was so much that they couldn’t choose an accent, but that Toussaint was a blend of France and Italy, so the accents used ranged from all over.

    2. Dude says:

      The accent they used for the royalty was very distinctly DANISH. I think the mood they were going for was that classic European blend where the royal family and significant portions of the nobility might be distinctly not locals.

      The peasantry as a result had a mix between a french accent and the Danish one of their noble class. It’s similar to the Swiss and Belgian accents that are a mix of French and German, but instead a mix of Danish and French. When you think of it this way not only are the accents consistent with the more Western and North European style but are actually a bit more creative.

      But I can definitely see how it would be confusing to people who are less familiar with the accent landscapes in Europe. People forget that countries like Belgium have significant French AND German speaking mixed populations and most speak English to boot so those are some heavily variable accents depending on what town you live in.

      The developers said they specifically wanted avoid the stereotypical french accent (the same way they swapped the Scaninavian accent for Welsh in Skelliger).

  10. Raglan says:

    Its remarkable how poeple can look at the same thing so differently. For me what you have said about blood and wine is how i felt about heart of stone. The slow bits (party where you show the dead brother a good time) were too slow and the fast bits too fast. Whereas i loved everything about blood and stone, especially the tourney and the home. Developing the villa was very enjoyable (though in fairness that is the sort of thing i enjoy) and the party you mention above was perfect. I took my time enjoyed the atmosphere and proceeded to the markers when i felt ready.
    I think what i found most satisfying about blood and wine is how different everything felt it really made the area feel more vibrant and alive

  11. Joe says:

    In one of the Noclip videos, the voice director said that the Toussaint accent is Danish. Anna is played by Myanna Buring, who will also be in the series, though as a different character. He didn’t go with French or Italian because they were such a cliche, but many people thought they were a bad attempt at same.

    I’m not big on upgrading my property either. Only enough to get the bonuses I wanted. Maybe I’ll do it next time, just for the achievement. But god, that majordomo was annoying when I went for the tour. Slowly walking, slowly talking. Get on with it, will you?

    Funny you talk about Regis as a recovering alcoholic. The Discworld vampires have the same vibe. They have to be addicted to something. One is addicted to coffee, IIRC. Frankly, I can relate to that. :) Wonder if Discworld was an inspiration.

  12. camycamera says:

    I found the main story of B&W to be a bit weak and obviously unfinished towards the end, and the villains a little weak too.

    Like there’s a part where Anna gets really angry at Geralt and Regis and says to give them 3 days to find the killer or something. And then there’s a fade to black, and suddenly it’s 3 days later. Uh… What? Was there meant to be a quest there that got cut or something?

    I thought there would be more vampire conspiracy stuff, but you only get to see something like that if you go for the obviously “bad” route to see the Unseen Elder, which Regis specifically tells Geralt to NOT do. So that’s lame.

    Instead, it was a kinda lame estranged lover who manipulates a vampire into killing other people because she was mad at her sister, even though none of this would of ever happened if she had just gone and talked to sister like an adult in the first place, which is what Geralt basically tells her to do in the good ending anyway. I hate it when the main villain only does bad things because they’re just completely arrogant and idiotic for not doing the adult thing and talking it out.

    The side content is all great though, and Regis is a great character. I read the books after I beat all of W3, so I only have a retrospective look back on him, but he seems just like he was in the books, and it’s great.

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