I’ve never become invested in DLC. Some of it has annoyed me, and the infamous Elder Scrolls IV “Horse Armour Pack” serves as a keystone reminder of overpriced content. However, even when added content has decent value, such as in Bioshock Infinite and Arkham City, I still haven’t succumbed to the investment. Maybe I should have, but something stopped me; I think I felt that their stories were finished, and I wanted to explore something new and exciting. However, despite my typical promiscuity, one year on, I can’t wait to settle down with The Witcher 3’s latest DLC, Blood and Wine.
I’ve poured a magnificent amount of time into the world of Geralt of Rivia, and don’t use the word “magnificent” lightly. Over a year ago, I wrote about gaming addiction, making slight references to how I became hooked to Minecraft, and late last year I began working robotically through the monotonous side missions in Metal Gear Solid V. In comparison, I have only ever felt a thorough amount of joy wandering the stunning world of The Witcher 3. I gave it high praise in my review, it was my game of the year for 2015, and has now established itself one of my favourite games of all time.
What’s woven deftly here is a breakaway from the shallowness that’s pulled me out of open world titles like Skyrim and MGSV. Skyrim offered interesting stories and a wonderful world, but had too simple a formula for much of its gameplay: take quest, skip dialogue, hit something, profit. MGSV involved (in many of its side missions) freeing a prisoner/capturing a skilled soldier for no reason other than to improve your base; its gameplay was excellent, but the motivation was non-existent, and thus the tasks became boring. In comparison, no matter how many quests I’ve taken in The Witcher 3, I haven’t grown tired of the game.
Though its gameplay is intricate and wonderful to explore, and I could talk about Gwent strategies for days, it is the world that has seduced me. The landscape, the inhabitants, the story, the environment, the intermingling and complementing of these elements has created an experience that can keep my fickle mind focused. Beginning with the surface, The Witcher 3 has outstanding graphics, and uses them to great effect. It’s people feel real, NPCs and Geralt have faces that are etched delicately with emotions. The world feels truly alive with rich, beautiful colours intermingling with dark bloody ones. The sun will rise gloriously as you speed majestically past hung corpses; rain will patter on the sea as you fight a beautiful, vicious siren.
The juxtaposition aptly reflects the world that’s filled with waltzing layers of darkness and light. All the areas you wander through are filled with varying forms of strife, and with people simply trying to live. While obviously not reflecting an accurate society, The Witcher 3’s fantasy setting shows a realism that’s lost in many games and forms of media. They just don’t always win, the evil don’t always lose, and often times the lines between the two are hazy. People kill to survive, for revenge, and out of ignorance, but not simply because they are villains; in fact, they are quite often victims.
If you were a bystander, the game would be a beautiful play, or perhaps, more accurately, a collection of novels. But no, you are the participant, and that’s what makes every struggle all the more entrancing. You are pulled into minor disagreements, broken families, racial discrimination, and all out wars. While you may have to fight and kill, it is your decisions in dialogue that will have a larger effect on events. Of course, the decisions are never black and white, your lover will flee, friends will die, nations will rise or crumple, all on the cusp of a few words. These moments are so poignant that they can leave you cursing in regret, overcome with happiness, and you’ll probably remember them above even the most epic of battles.
What’s truly astounding is that even the most minor of quests can evoke these strong emotions. A simple contract, such as slaying a beast, can be satisfying purely for the thanks you get from a civilian. It’s the facial animations, the voices, that make even the most basic of NPCs seem grateful. Take into consideration the cruelty of the world, and helping people to survive can feel all the more rewarding. In fact, many a time I’ve turned down gold as a quest reward, for, as soppy as it sounds, I hope to show the character that there is good in the world. That’s a feeling no other game has given me, and it’s the reason why I didn’t hesitate for a second when I shelled out for the Expansion Pass.
Even way back when I preordered the added content, I knew it was a worthwhile investment, for it was clear from the beginning that the developers, CD Projeckt Red, cared deeply for the title. Its box was brimming with appreciative touches, like a physical soundtrack and thank you note, that made me feel as though I’d bought the collector’s edition. Then piles of free updates, patches, and even stories were given to me. These weren’t just throwaways either, they all added something new. I even enjoyed mulling over which of the added haircuts Gerry should have; the boyband bad-boy look often won out.
Then I played Hearts of Stone. Its story was perhaps the best in the series. Olgierd von Everec and Gaunter o’Dim proved to be wonderfully complex characters, whose layers were revealed slowly in wonderful quests. Olgierd’s brother, Vlodimir, was a welcome dose of humour, and getting to control his witty and obnoxious dialogue at a wedding was a joy. In contrast Olgierd’s ex-wife, Iris, was the cut of a pityingly tragic gothic figure. Looking outside the story, the added gameplay was both challenging and inventive, with the eyeless caretaker on Iris’s grounds being both terrifying and challenging, and the addition of runes adding more depth to the already complex upgrade system. Needless to say, the DLC was well worth its price, and, if you need further convincing, you should check out our review.
So, will Blood and Wine live up to the core game, and to Hearts of Stone? It’s hard to tell. It’s promised to boast a huge play time of 20 hours, and brings Gerry to a beautiful, deceptive world, filled with knights, courts, kings, and queens. Trailers are now swarming across the internet, popping up before every video I watch on YouTube, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how my heart races when I hear the classic Witcher music. Even though I know little about the game, I’m confident that the tale I’ll be given will be beautifully told. This is because I trust CD Projeckt Red more than I’ve trusted any developer or publisher in a long time. You can read my full review for The Witcher 3 here, and should keep an eye out for our review of Blood and Wine.