One of the first articles I ever wrote on this blog was my personal review of the Witcher 3. At the time, I thought it was a masterpiece - easy 10/10 material, and a game with one of the most intriguing, well-written stories I've ever seen.
But that was over a year ago now, and I only recently picked the game up again - along with its DLC, "Hearts of Stone" and "Blood and Wine".
In the interest of organizing my thoughts in a more coherent manner, I'll start by reminiscing about the core game itself. I'll go over things I only noticed during my most recent playthrough, decisions I made differently after having read a few of the Witcher books, among other things.
After that, I'll delve into the DLC, and talk about why I think the Witcher 3 DLC should set the standard that all other game development companies strive to achieve.
Let's get right into things!
The Witcher 3 Is A Masterpiece
If you've never played the Witcher 3 before, stop reading and go pick it up - trust me, if you're even remotely interested in RPGs, it will blow your mind. You won't regret it. Just make sure you have a gaming PC that can handle the graphical load!
If you have played it before, read on!
I'm not going to get into details about the story, or write a full review here - this section will merely be me going over some of my favorite aspects of the game that I've only come to truly appreciate in recent playthroughs.
First things first, let's talk about the game itself, and CD Projekt Red's approach to game development. After having come back to the game months and months later, all the free DLC previously advertised for the game has been released - all 14 of them. That means I got to enjoy the game in all of its glory, with alternate outfits for main characters, more contracts and missions, as well as more free Witcher gear sets. It's awesome.
Real Choice And Consequence
One thing I've always loved about the Witcher 3 is its emphasis on character development and quality writing. Very, very few RPGs nail these aspects as well as the Witcher 3 - in fact, I'd go so far as to say none have in recent years. That's how amazing the story is to me.
The choices you make have real, direct consequences on the game world. As stated in a loading screen tip, your decisions can affect not only individual characters, but entire communities (And even countries, in the case of the Skellige Isles and your hand in choosing the next leader). This level of choice and consequence is almost unmatched in any other game - especially in the ever-notorious Telltale games, where you're railroaded the entire time.
After having read the books, I've found enjoyment in making decisions that would align with what Geralt would actually do - getting involved against his better judgement (A frequent occurrence in the books, no matter what spiel he spouts about remaining neutral), not refusing payment for completed jobs, and complete and total loyalty towards Yen and Ciri. Reading the books gave me more information on various characters in the game world, which served to immerse me more than ever before.
I've also come to truly appreciate the emphasis on brutal, hardcore combat the Witcher 3 displays. Witchers are not invincible. They are not gods (or even demigods, for that matter).
They are merely humans - albeit enhanced, mutated ones. Without proper preparation, even a lowly pack of drowners or nekkers can take down Geralt - and that happened frequently in my latest playthrough, running through the game on Death March.
In my efforts to align my Geralt with the Geralt of the books, I also placed more of an emphasis on preparing for battles. Whereas alchemy was something I barely touched previously (Though I made sure I had the basic versions of each potion, bomb, and oil), I made it one of my top priorities in my latest playthrough. Getting the right oils for each monster, the right potions to keep me alive and give me an edge - it all felt very Witcher-y.
Witchers excel at killing monsters not just due to their enhanced reflexes and extensive training, but also due to their ability to imbibe potions that would kill ordinary men and women. For Witchers, it gives them the edge they need to survive against monsters that will absolutely kill them otherwise - such as Bruxa and higher vampires (Though Bruxa were a bit of a cakewalk in the game itself).
Yes, these monsters are deadly even to Witchers - just look at the "Night To Remember" trailer. If it hadn't been for the Black Blood potion Geralt drank prior to entering the barn, he would have died. Orianna was kicking his behind prior to biting him, and even after defeating her he collapses.
Let's Talk DLC
So, I've covered the main game itself (And some of my main observations and thoughts), but what about the DLC? Is it worth buying? Does it stay true to the Witcher name?
The Witcher 3 paid DLC is some of the most worthwhile content I've ever played in my life. I did not regret buying it at all, and that's saying something. Most DLC I've purchased in the past has been utter garbage in terms of value.
Hearts of Stone
Let's start by talking about the first DLC released for the game - Hearts of Stone. Cheaper and significantly shorter than Blood and Wine, Hearts of Stone is overall a less ambititous piece of content than B&W. Instead of adding an entirely new zone, it merely adds new NPCs, quests, and stories to uncover in already existing areas.
The main story of Hearts of Stone is brilliant, dark, and challenging. The bosses are truly difficult (And require strategy), and the story itself is well-written and intriguing. You sympathize with the characters, and feel completely engrossed in their fates. You want to help (Or hinder) them - this is all thanks to excellent character development.
Though I loved the expansion, it was very short, and lacking pretty heavily in side quests. The main quests were all super interesting and fun to play through, but I just feel like there was potential for more content on the side as well. Maybe that's just me, though.
Blood & Wine
Whereas Hearts of Stone was openly dark and gritty, Blood & Wine is quite the opposite. There's plenty of goofy quests, NPCs, and areas as a whole. The region of Toussaint just feels more lighthearted in general.
Knights ride about, touting chivalric values and saving fair maidens. Characters speak in an goofy, over-the-top (And overly formal) manner. Parties happen all the time, and blooming flowers, gorgeous fields and sprawling vineyards cover the landscape.
Heck, if you didn't touch most of the main story (And certain side quests), and merely rode around picking up contracts and doing miscellanious quests, you might assume that's ALL Blood & Wine was - a breath of fresh air from the otherwise dark nature of the Witcher 3.
However, underneath the happy exterior is a far darker, far grittier story than what Hearts of Stone offered. Blood & Wine's story places an emphasis on vampires, treachery, and even a bit of political intrigue here and there.
Geralt's job is to uncover the mystery behind a string of killings happening in the city, related to the 5 chivalric values Toussaint knights hold dear. You learn very early on that the victims of these murders are being killed to represent the chivalric values they themselves lack.
Story aside, simply having an entirely new zone to explore is fantastic. New armor sets, new weapons, and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore - that's what Blood & Wine offers.
Honestly, if you had to choose between one DLC or the other, I'd say go with Blood & Wine. However, I consider both DLCs essential for any true Witcher fan, so it's worth it to get both down the line - budget permitting.
Hopefully this rambling post has served to give you some of the reasons I believe the Witcher 3 is a masterpiece - and hopefully it'll convince you to go back and give the game another playthrough, or even check the books out.
The Witcher 3 is a perfect example of what an RPG can - and, arguably, should - be. It's the standard that every other RPG with a similar setting and style of gameplay should strive for. It doesn't offer the sandbox freedom of a game like Skyrim, but it offers choices with meaningful consequences, and a world that is as believable as it is gorgeous.
If you haven't yet played the Witcher series, I recommend starting with 2 (The first game is pretty clunky, and you can get most of the story from the books), and then moving on to 3. The games are frequently on sale on Amazon and Steam, so feel free to check them out below.
If you want to give the books a shot, I recommend starting with The Last Wish - the first book released in the series. It's a collection of short stories detailing Geralt's various adventures.
What do YOU think of the Witcher franchise? Do you feel similarly about the Witcher 3, or did you hate it?
Let me know in the comments!