Needless to say, Geralt finds Toussaint's commitment to honour and courage in the face of common sense deeply amusing. But he is never mocking or derogatory toward the cultural norms of Toussaint. Indeed, he seems rather fond of the entirely earnest views of knights like Peyrac-Peyran, even when they boldly declare they’ll turn monsters into 'pâté' or use ridiculous exclamations like 'Botch my bum!' Certain quests even see Geralt getting directly involved in the gilded proceedings, dressing up in ostentatious plate armour and fighting melees to the cheers of a packed arena.
This lighter emphasis extends beyond theme into the story itself. In the early game at least, there's a powerful sense of camaraderie between Geralt and his close acquaintances. Many of the side-quests also embrace the Witcher’s more playful, comical side. One requires you to retrieve the stolen genitals of a statue, while another sees the game step over into a full-blown fairytale parody.
Importantly though, the silliness never descends into farce and the lighter tone never strays into schmaltz. The range of emotions demonstrated in The Witcher 3 is shown again here with arguably even greater nuance. There may be more colour to Toussaint’s world and worldview, but the grit and grime is still there, hidden beneath the all the plumage and polish of those dashing knights and glamorous duchesses. Geralt’s quest sees him attempting to unravel dark and terrible curses, wherein the humble spoon becomes an object of terror, dealing with a trio of treacherous brothers who all seem determined to knife one-another in the back. The main quest too ventures into some shockingly dark territory, a tangled knot of treachery and betrayal that can all too easily unravel into terrible bloodshed depending upon your decisions.
Blood and Wine also ramps up the combat challenge, providing some of the most difficult fights in the series to date. The enemy roster introduces a mixture of new monsters like the Shaelmaar, alongside the return of several creatures from the very first Witcher game, only given a makeover with eight years of experience poured into them. Barghests, ghost dogs that were one of the weakest enemies in the entire series, are now fearsome spectral hounds that pop in and out of existence as they fight, leaving dazzling ghostly trails of light as they leap for Geralt’s throat. Similarly, vicious Archespore plants writhe and hiss like snakes as they attack, before burying themselves in the ground, leaving deadly bulb-bombs in their wake. These redesigned creatures are a testament to how far CDProjekt has come as a developer.
There’s plenty else to do in Blood and Wine, including whole new sets of Grandmaster Witcher armour to collect, dozens of caves and ruins and bandit camps to explore, and a house of Geralt’s own which you can upgrade and stock with souvenirs from the Witcher’s escapades. There’s even a new 'mutagen' system that expands the range of available character upgrades, although I think its requirements are a little too demanding. Unless you hunt every nook and cranny of Toussaint for the requisite items, you’re unlikely to get the most out of it.
If I had one other complaint about Blood and Wine, it’s that while the expansion certainly isn’t short of content as a whole, I would have liked a couple more Witcher contracts. During my playtime I only encountered two on the noticeboards, and possibly a third while exploring. There may be more out there but if so they’re pretty well hidden away. Tracking and dealing with monsters was always the most enjoyable side activity of Wild Hunt, and I would have happily exchanged a few of those question marks on the map for one or two extra contracts.
Still, I really can’t recommend Blood and Wine highly enough. It’s the work of a developer at the absolute height of its powers, a satisfying conclusion to the series, and a warm farewell to Geralt, the man who made CDProjekt’s name. Nobody is more deserving of a rest. But despite having been in his company for hundreds upon hundreds of hours, I sincerely hope the Witcher doesn’t stay away for too long.