The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine – Preview
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is one of those games that tends to stick with you for one reason or another, regardless of whether you feel good about it or not. At a time where the gaming landscape has hit peak open-world, The Witcher 3 distanced itself from much of the crowd thanks to its rich, lore-driven world – one which succeeds greatly in making its vast array of characters and factions seem grounded despite the overt presence of high fantasy throughout.
It wasn’t without criticism, of course, falling prey to not just the usual standard of open-world ‘jank’ that we often see from games with so many moving parts. Overly clunky inventory management, movement and combat controls that lack finesse, and a horse that doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going were atop the list of things the community asked to be looked at. CD Projekt Red have already completed and released a number of significant free updates which have already addressed a host of these issues, including a complete re-work of the control system in response to user feedback.
They are now in the final throes of preparing their latest, and final, paid expansion pack which brings with it not only a horse load of new story and story content but an entirely new region to explore alongside a raft of further free updates for the vanilla version as well. Titled Blood & Wine, it’s not due for release until the end of June, but thanks to Bandai-Namco Australia and CD Projekt Red flying a couple of their top devs to Sydney, along with a near-final build of the game, Player2.net.au was invited along to play through the first few hours of the PC version of Blood and Wine, as well have a chat about some of the newer features that have been packed in to make this the most comprehensive update to The Witcher 3 yet.
Blood and Wine tells the story of how Geralt is summoned to the land of Toussaint by Lady Grace Anna Henrietta to investigate a series of high-profile murders. These aren’t just any old murders, though, but seemingly the fault of a creature capable of causing some serious damage. Being as much a fan of payment as the next Witcher, Geralt accepts the contract, and things escalate from there.
Diving back into The Witcher 3 after some time away isn’t exactly the simplest of things to do, as I discovered from the moment I took the controller in my hand. Upon loading the pre-prepared game, I was instantly visually transported back to into the burnt-out battlefields of Velen. Geralt and Roach were on the road to Novigrad, riding through a small village. We were prompted to stop and inspect the towns noticeboard, so I stopped the horse and hit a button to hop off it’s back, but before I could say no, Geralt had drawn one of his weapons and started slashing at the air, frightening the locals.
“Ahh. A triumphant return to the fold for Geralt of Rivia” I thought to myself as I watched the poor fellow attempt to gather himself whilst the idiot pulling his puppet strings fumbled with the controls. I did, eventually, regain some confidence in navigating the world after rushing off the beaten path to find some Ghouls to go to work on, though I was never fully comfortable throughout any of my playthrough. Combat still misses the flow it lacked from the beginning, which is, to date, my biggest disappointment with the game as a whole – it often feels more like Geralt is trying to hack down a tree rather than utilise a more dextrous and sophisticated approach to dispatching monsters and bandits alike.
Regardless, we pushed on with our task at hand. After stopping and reading the notice left for us on the noticeboard, we made our way to where we were summoned to meet with two knights, sent in the charge of Lady Henrietta. After formal introductions and a brief chit chat that was rudely interrupted by raiders, whom we gladly taught some manners, the scene cuts away to black and we are on our way to Toussaint.
Toussaint is an immediately striking parcel of land, untouched by the scourge of war. It’s far more colorful and vibrant than Velen or Skellige. Greenery flows across the land like the ocean drapes over the rocks and it’s hard not to get a little distracted from the discussion going on between Geralt and the others, which is again interrupted, but this time by a large monster who appears to be attacking a small settlement and a lone soldier. Thankfully, Geralt is there to help handle the situation.
From here, things start to open up – Geralt is introduced to the bodies of those murdered, as well as anyone who may have seen what went down and who may have caused it. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that this is gearing up to be a big, complex narrative, with intertwining paths and stories already appearing to take shape.
A big narrative isn’t all you should expect from Blood and Wine. You are given access to a vineyard, which also doubles as your main hub, that you can modify and play around in. You can also dye your armor (Geralt looks amazing in pink) and even put your unused weapons and armor on display inside the vineyards homestead. The level cap has also been upped from level 60 to 100 to accommodate those of you who can’t get enough Witcher-ing action. Most importantly, though, the overall inventory has been further cleaned up and refined, bringing with it an actual sense of function and purpose – something the vanilla version of the game sorely missed. Thankfully, you won’t need the Blood and Wine expansion to get the updated inventory as this will roll out in a free update for all Witcher 3 owners when Blood and Wine is released.
These are just some of a whole host of other features and improvements that CD Projekt Red have worked hard to put into place based on user feedback. Whilst they couldn’t confirm a concrete release date during our meeting, it has since come to light that their aim, at least internally, is to get it out before the end of May on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Regardless, Blood and Wine seems worth the wait, however long it ends up being.
* The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine will be released on the 31st of May. You can check out the latest trailer below.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.