GAMETECH: Witcher 3 still casts its spell

THEY say wine gets better with age. Maybe that’s why teenagers drink cider. The same, however, can’t be said about games. For the most part, games become quickly outdated, left behind by the industry’s obsession with improving on the past.

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine is one of those rare cases (of wine) where a game gets better with age. It’s the second expansion for one of 2015’s highest scoring releases, but it’s a far more fun and light-hearted version of the game, brighter and more colourful than what came before and, frankly, less of a slog. The Witcher 3 created an amazing world, but it often felt like a game trying to be a TV show (albeit a well-written one) instead of an experience written specifically for gaming. In Blood and Wine, the developers have a glint in their eye, adding some much-needed humour and self-reference to the series. Depending on your preferences, that’s either a welcome move or a disappointing divergence from the main game.

It’s a fitting change, considering Blood and Wine sees Geralt in ‘retirement’, finally recognised as a hero and taking on a quest in the province of Toussaint, where he also buys a vineyard and villa in which to live. Toussaint is another reason why Blood and Wine is an improvement over The Witcher 3 — if you’ve never been to the south of France on a perfect day, then Toussaint is the next best thing. It’s a stunning location of rolling hills and a picturesque castle sitting high on a mountainside. Many gamers are comparing it to a fairytale come to life, and that’s a fitting comparison.

In the world of The Witcher, however, fairies don’t grant wishes — unless you’ve a death wish, in which case they’ll happily eat your face off. Blood and Wine may have more levity, but its stays true to the series’ roots, a subversive and unpredictable take on fantasy, where nothing is ever quite what it seems. For such a colourful world, Blood and Wine deals in some very grey areas. Seemingly innocuous or benevolent decisions can have outcomes far removed from the initial intent. This lack of agency can be frustrating at times, especially if you want to play the hero, but The Witcher was never interested in pandering to tropes — this is a world where you accept certain outcomes are out of your hands.

As with Hearts of Stone, the previous expansion, you can buy Blood and Wine as a standalone experience, beginning the story at level 35. While there are improvements to the menu system and some cool new mutations for Geralt to employ, the combat remains largely the same. Unfortunately, while Blood and Wine improves upon The Witcher 3 is every other aspect, this is the area that needed it most. Combat is by far the weakest point of the series. The likelihood is you will find a repetitive system that works (roll, cast spell, attack) and stick with it, because the controls are just too clunky to explore other options. It stops The Witcher 3 from being an all-time classic.

Still, this isn’t blood and whine, it’s a chance to celebrate an expansion that treats gamers with respect — for €20, CD Projekt have produced a 30-hour addition to their main game that puts most full releases to shame. Geralt’s final adventure is his best yet, so let’s raise him a toast.

OVERWATCH A HIT

Toast is something you become quite quickly in Overwatch, Blizzard’s megahit shooter. But unlike most online shooters, even getting toasted brings a smile to your face. No wonder, then, that over 7 million players have logged on since the game’s release. It remains to be seen if those numbers drop as people get tired of the game’s limited launch modes, but Overwatch is likely to keep its status as one of 2016’s most popular games.

In fact, even visionary Elon Musk is playing the game. He tweeted ‘Highly recommend … if you like ultrafast team FPS action’. But will Overwatch get better with age? Blizzard have promised many free updates, so we’re betting it will.


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