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We have put together a round-up of previews, interviews and general info concerning Blood and Wine, the last planned piece of content for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a full 30+ hours expansion, according to the developers. Kotaku's Nathan Greyson only played a tenth of the expansion by those estimations, but he certainly seems to have high hopes:
It's funny. The Witcher 3 got buried beneath an avalanche of Props and Kudos for its writing, but for a lot of people, I feel like drama took center stage. Truth is, The Witcher 3's always been funny, but Blood and Wine turns the chuckle-0-meter from (sensiblechuckle.gif) to (RAUCOUSGUFFAW.MP4.) The tone shift stems largely from the setting, which is just over-the-top enough. Toussaint is full of knights-errant who dream of becoming heroes. They hold tournaments and feasts. They think they can flippantly do a Witcher's job in order to, say, win the heart of the woman they've been pining for from afar (hint: that part doesn't end well for the knight in question, Guillame). They speak in prose as purple as their bumps and bruises, saying things like, (Trickery? In war, yes, and what is love if not a battle?) As you might expect, Geralt's cat-like eye-rolling reflexes get put to excellent use. It's like he strolled into a storybook, and he takes sarcastic swipes at other characters' naivete every chance he gets. Sometimes, actions speak louder than grumpy one-liners. During a desperate chase to stop a killer before he reaches his next victim, Geralt is forced to take part in a ceremonial scavenger hunt. When someone else nabs one of the clues, he interrupts the ensuing big traditional presentation, grabs the clue, smashes it to the ground, and takes the scroll he needs. Everyone else looks on in shocked horror. The scene's timing and acting made me laugh out loud.
Eurogamer went all-in with a new preview that includes a new video:
The vineyard, Corvo Bianco, is gifted early on and comprises a main house and outbuildings. Some people mill about there, uttering and grunting the kind of wonderful nonsense NPCs do in The Witcher 3. The vineyard is rundown, the sort of project I used to long to one day take on while watching TV show A Place in the Sun, and doing it up requires coin. It's 1000 gold each for a grindstone and armour table, and a further 5000 gold for a general restoration - and that's not the end of it. Once you splash the cash it becomes a place of luxury, where you can display entire armour sets, weapons and even hang paintings. It seems completely at odds with Geralt's nomadic and gruff character, but as a swansong for CD Projekt Red and The Witcher (at least for now) it's entirely appropriate - a putting up of the feet if you like.
Mutations, on the other hand, are a sorely needed new progression mechanic, particularly aimed at New Game Plus players. Mutations layer on top of the advancement system already there, unlocking new slots for skills (at last!) as well as granting powerful abilities of their own. There are 12 Mutations unlocked by spending both ability points and mutagens.
There's one called Adrenaline Rush which is a kind of berserker mode. It boosts attack power and Sign intensity by 30 per cent for every opponent in the battle - but only for the first 30 seconds. Later it decreases attack power and Sign intensity by 15 per cent for every opponent.
And some words from the developers, who explained that this will be the game's last bit of new content and that it will be both prettier and better optimized than the main game:
"Generally it is a graphics upgrade from the base game," senior environment artist Len de Gracia told me. "We have employed methods that we did not implement in the base game. You can literally bring your camera up to a wall now and the textures would be crisp - at least in most cases.
"80, 85, probably even 90 per cent of the assets - in terms of environment that you find in this game - are brand new. You can just look at the market stalls right now: you would never see the same market stalls in the base game. For the longest time we were like, 'I want this, I want that,' and finally we got this chance - we got this room to incorporate other people. We have probably 20 times the amount of vegetables we used to!
"We just wanted to show that we can actually push it to the limit this time."
If Blood and Wine is even more visually impressive than base Witcher 3, what does that mean for consoles - that they're in for a rough time?
"No, actually," Len de Gracia replied. "We also got really organised. It's like a fresh development. Blood and Wine we literally started from scratch. The mistakes we went through, in terms of perhaps optimisation before, we have covered them.
"For example: before, each and every prop had its own texture; this might require another draw-call or so. It impacts performance. But this time around we know we're going to group these things together so you have them representing same texture now, so we're loading less but maximising the quality at the same time."
There's an entertaining friction between Geralt's personality and the Toussaint's lavish customs. It's a classic fish-out-of-water story told well. From Blood and Wine's opening moments, Geralt must wrestle with the florid language of the Duchess' protectors. Events conspire to force Geralt into a sunset festival at the Duchess' gorgeous castle. The guests scoff and laugh at his boorishness. Even the taverns of Toussaint are different. In one, the bartender is outraged when Geralt asks him for local gossip. On the way out, a man at a nearby table mutters to himself, (A well-composed pÃ¢tÃ©, I must admit!) We're not in Velen anymore, Toto.
Blood and Wine is a fine showcase for a team at the peak of their abilities. Characterisation is swift and vivid, and the laid-back tone contrasts well with the grim intensity of Velen and the lonely, beautiful crags of Skellige. In less than an hour I'm enjoying the company of the honourable duo, Palmerin and Milton. The Duchess is a no-nonsense problem-solving machine. Knight Guillant constantly performs daring deeds to impress a lady at court, but is completely useless at it. It's a brilliant balance of comedy, high-fantasy fun and darkened by sudden moments of violence.
I don't want to give any details that might spoil the plot, but the opening hours include a vineyard massacre and the discovery of a severed hand that is still alive. For all the merriment and sunshine of the new area, this is still The Witcher, where the monsters often have complex motivations. Tertiary characters are explored in greater detail in Blood and Wine's sidequests, which seem to be comparable in depth to The Witcher 3's chunky asides.
A charming as it all is, however, this expansion should be called "Geralt Ruins Everyone's Good Time." Within moments of arriving in this new and fanciful land, it was clear that all of it's whimsy was to be viewed with a hearty dose of Geralt's patented cynicism. One quest I went on had me chasing down a unicorn, which turned out to be just a horse with a rock strapped to its head. The aforementioned Errant Knights? They all seem more concerned with the amount of feathers on their helmets than actually protecting villagers from beasts and giants - who, it's worth pointing out, also have their own feathery helmets. Blood and Wine delights in satirizing the traditional tropes of fantasy worlds and classic fairy tales, and I'm looking forward to seeing what twisted avenues the rest of the expansion will take us down.
Finally, GameSpot has a video look at the expansion.