I'm not sure where else to post this, but I really wanted to write this. This will be a fairly protracted critique that I'm making solely because I need to get this off my chest. Feel free to debate my points, if you believe I'm mistaken. I also did the "Happily Ever After" ending, so I'll be basing my points on that canon. Also, I will not be referring to outside material to inform my reasoning. The critique is of what I observed in the expansion and that is all.
Blood & Wine was poorly written.
Alright, so I loved the Witcher 3 thoroughly and bought the expansions when they came out. Unfortunately, I never got the time to play them and ultimately lost interest in doing so until recently. Hearts of Stone I thought was beyond fantastic. Gaunter O'Dimm, Olgierd – both hugely compelling and interesting characters. So, I was hype to play Blood & Wine because I've heard it dubbed as the "good expansion," and if it was better than HoS then, like: yoooooo. And as far as the content it brings to the table? It is superior. It objectively adds more to the base game. But as for the story itself?
I was disappointed, to say the least. I'll divide this by character because my qualms are mostly with the motives of them, which range from confusing to outright bad. I'll start with the lowest hanging fruit and work my way up the grapevine.
Dettlaff van der Eretein: The Superhuman Toddler
Have you ever seen the movie "Chronicle"? Well, if not, I'll give a brief synopsis. Three teenagers encounter a mysterious object that endows them with superhuman abilities. The main character, a socially alienated young man named Andrew, ultimately wields his powers more violently in tandem with his deepening emotional instability – culminating in many deaths, including his own. When his cousin's attempts to reason with him are perceived as a ploy to manipulate and control him, Andrew threatens hundreds of lives in the midst of his anger, and his cousin is forced to kill him. Does that sound similar to any two characters from Blood & Wine?
Basically, my issue with Dettlaff is that he is entirely indefensible. Any opportunity for him to be shown as a compassionate and selfless person is utterly squandered. I don't think there's a single interaction in the expansion where he isn't threatening someone, or outright killing someone in cold blood. When it was revealed that he was being blackmailed into killing the knights, I was initially willing to accept that as a valid explanation. I mean, people have done far worse for far less in the Witcher universe. His wanting to murder the people who coerced him into killing someone who was, ostensibly, his friend (Louis de la Croix) makes complete sense. In fact, they make a point to demonstrate his contrition by having him slice off the hand that committed the murder. This was okay up until it was revealed that the blackmailer was, in fact, his ex-girlfriend, sister of Anna Henrietta, and unrepentant psychopath: Sylvia Anna. Then, any justification for his behavior goes out the window with his less than proportional response.
Yes, he was deceived, and yes, he has every right to hate Syanna for this and even want to kill her. But that's the issue. He does not stop there. He decides to raze Beauclair to the ground with an army of vampiric thrall, killing countless innocents for what? Because he feels angry? Sure, it's understandable, I guess? But it's impossible to justify, and yet Regis tries to do just that. The fact that the argument is even made makes Regis look completely naive or criminally complacent. But we're not on Regis yet.
Dettlaff is often described as a good person, but sensitive or sad. In fact, every character that knows him and has a conversation with him (off-screen, of course) will corroborate this. The only source of him being redeemable as an individual is "dude trust me." They premise the entire defense of him on this description but never make a real effort to substantiate that claim about his allegedly "benign" nature. Regis explains it as "vampires don't understand things like deception," but by agknowledging this, I think he contradicts that claim because if he understands deception, then he definitely can explain it to Dettlaff. You're telling me that nigh-immortal beings, especially ones that have lived amidst human society for that long have no notion of things like "lying" or "treachery"? It's a farfetched idea and honestly comes off as a lazy way to explain why Dettlaff was so easily manipulated by Syanna. And combined with his murderous tantrum, it portrays him as an emotionally unstable lunatic that is a danger to everyone around him, and makes his death more of a "Finally" moment instead of "Oh, this is sad, he has to kill his friend" moment. Regis claims that he is no Beast. But every attempt to contextualize his awful motives just goes further to prove that yes: he is an uncontrollable beast, and yes he should be put down.
Sylvia "Syanna" Anna: The Storybook Villain
I think Syanna is the next easiest character to dissect. Simply because she, somehow, has even less solid motives than Dettlaff. Being born under a total eclipse, Syanna faced distrust and scorn from a very young age. Eventually, resulting in her banishment once she was prescribed with the "Curse of the Black Sun". On the way out, the entourage of knights and later victims of Dettlaff's brief tenure as a serial killer before his evolution into a mass-murderer, were less than chivalrous, as Syanna describes. Ramon denied her food, Crespi beat her, Milton "took out his frustrations on her" (what this actually means, I'm not sure is specified), and de la Croix basically just insulted her repeatedly. And honestly? I don't care that they died. Her wanting revenge for that humiliation makes sense. It's how it was conducted that didn't.
They were meant to represent degradation of the Five Chivalric virtues. This is a theme that is mentioned, but is abandoned in lieu of a less metaphorical theme: "how upset do you need to be before you can justify first-degree murder?" Honestly, I'm not sure how Milton was a coward, while I'm touching on the subject. When you first encounter him in Velen, he's about to square up to a whole gang of bandits. When you first arrive in Toussaint, he squares up to a giant (cyclops?) before promptly squaring up to a boulder monster. In fact, most the explanations on how these knights are fallen are so easy to miss or so vague, that I'm confused why they bothered with it at all. They should've mandated quests, like the side-quest for Belgaard vineyard, to provide evidence to the player that these assertations are well-founded. Instead, you mostly get a few lines of dialogue and the tried & true "Dude, trust me." This is a crucial oversight, because I think it's mentioned that the plan depended on these flaws being clear. Like, if Anna was killed, it'd seem like she was just killed for her sins instead of the victim of a vindictive plot. But that explanation also is shaky, in my opinion.
Regardless of how the public perceived her death, what was Syanna's plan for afterward? It's clear she coveted the Duchy. She even remarks that stealing the wine and the Heart of Toussaint was "reclaiming her birthright." On top of her saying that she was due the throne, being the elder sister. She wouldn't get the throne, because she was still banished, and the only person who could grant amnesty would be dead. But she claims her real beef with Anna was because she didn't defend her, and afterward didn't look for her. However, Anna contradicts this claim in their final piece of dialogue, saying she did look for Syanna and that "You didn't want to be found." Syanna's response is to look away, implying that this accusation is, at least partly, true. Meaning that she could've received amnesty, could've returned home, and even could've prosecuted the knights that wronged her through a legal channel. Anna demonstrates that she's willing to supercede any other authority for her sister, and has a demonstrated propensity for cruel and unusual punishment. So, what exactly was the issue?
The only thing I can think of is that Syanna is just a literal psychopath that would rather harm people herself than have people harmed on her behalf. Dettlaff she openly, and consistently claims, was a tool – a weapon to be wielded. Throughout The Land of a Thousand Fables, she's cruel to everyone she encounters and I'm expected to sympathize with her? Never once does she apologize, concede to any wrongdoing, and holds absolutely braindead grudges. And Geralt even chides her on this in her prison tower saying "When are you just going to get over the past?" Yes, she suffered. But then developed a new life as a bandit chief, consolidated a powerbase, and used that to exact revenge – killing so many innocents as collateral. Once again, another person that is probably better off dead. Speaking of being responsible for killing innocents.
Anna Henrietta: Her Unenlightened Ladyship
The prior two characters were where most my grievances lay, but it wouldn't be a complete critique without two more essential players. Their critiques will be less harsh, as their flaws are less jarring to me. First on the chopping block: Her Enlightened Ladyship, Duchess of Toussaint and a dangerous egomaniac. Anna has proven to be impulsive, headstrong, and a demonstrably proactive leader. And honestly? I loved that about her character, at first. In fact, I didn't even view it as a character flaw up until the Night of Long Fangs. She was not afraid to get her hands dirty, overseeing portions of the contract on the Beast herself. I honestly that there'd be a plot point about her being kidnapped or killed, as a result. The turmoil that would cause the duchy was an afterthought for me, because it never came to pass and unless I play the ending where she does, in fact, die, it never will.
When her sister returns, despite Syanna being responsible for the systematic murders of ducal knights, is overly defensive of her. Even when it's revealed that her culpability is well-known and French Revolution style mobs are allegedly prepared to storm the palace and lynch Syanna, ensuring at least some deaths or at least grievous injuries. On top of this, she dismisses Dettlaff's threats and directly places her duchy in danger because her personal relationship with her sister takes precedence over her responsibility to her people. However, I do think she's more justified in holding Syanna on trial for the murders than handing her to Dettlaff so he can conduct his own "trial" – wherein he is the judge, jury, and executioner. But mostly executioner. But, of course, where Dettlaff has already decided on her guilt, Anna is as passionately decided on the contrary. How do I know this? Well, even after claiming to have proof of Syanna's plot to assassinate Anna using Dettlaff, she refuses to believe it. She was going to absolve her of any wrongdoing and bring the mob down on the palace, because she literally cannot divorce her emotions from her obligations.
Also, calling Dettlaff's bluff didn't make any sense. She witnessed firsthand how absurdly powerful he is. The game demonstrates this by throwing the most enemies I've ever seen on screen. It makes the final battle with the Wild Hunt look like Wii Sport Boxing, and Dettlaff (along with Regis, granted) annihilate them so fast, I don't even get to swing my sword. Even without his army, he could easily slaughter half the city. Plus, she's already informed at this point that her guards physically cannot kill vampires. She is so offended by the threat against Beauclair, she is prepared to risk the entire city in order to preserve her pride. Of course, capitulating to Dettlaff's demands means Syanna would assuredly be killed and that isn't just in and of itself. But as duchess, you'd think that someone who is, in an impartial eye, absolutely guilty of crimes that were she anyone else, would warrant an immediate death sentence, would be a practical trade in exchange for the safety of her citizens. It just portrays her as selfish, irresponsible, and honestly? I don't think that "happy ending" would last much longer after that ending.
Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy: "Dude, Trust me."
I love Regis. I really do. Every conversation with him was interesting, and he was generally an interesting character. I feel like he was just sandwiched between all these awkwardly written characters and suffers as a result. When he's miles away from Dettlaff and is just a nontopical discussion with Geralt, he gives so much fascinating insight into what a vampire really is in the Witcher universe. But then there comes a point he simply can't explain something or just does so poorly.
And here is a point where I'll openly accept being torn apart for misunderstanding Witcher lore, because I'm going off only the context given in the B&W expansion. Like, for example. Only a vampire can kill a vampire. Geralt seems to know this, and yet this detail is consciously omitted from every vampire contract in the game. In Novigrad, Hubert (the Eternal Fire-worshipping Katakan from the Carnal Sins side-quest) is "killed" and his reign of terror is "stopped". I had a glitch, I think, where the "pamphlets of a concerned citizen" continued to spawn even after the quest was completed. My little headcanon is that he's still out there, doing his serial killing, despite the reign of terror being allegedly stopped. Also, when Regis first appears in the DLC, before that tidbit of information is provided, where Dettlaff literally puncturies his heart. There is a massive hole in his chest. You can see through it. And he's fine. Maybe you need to bite open the neck as a vampire to actually kill them? I don't know, that just bothers me a bit.
Of course, my biggest problems with Regis involves his relationship with Detlaff. I spoke of this before, so I'll try to avoid being redundant. He defends someone, he literally has no grounds to defend. He says "this bond is deeper than you humans can ever understand." You're right. I don't. It makes no sense. And only serves as a convenient explanation why you'd adamantly protect somebody that quite clearly poses a threat to anyone that accidentally makes him mildly upset. That seems to be a favorite catchphrase of him, too. Like, when you need a sample of his blood while agitated: "this thirst is worse than anything you can imagine." Most his explanations felt like they depended on me depending on his word. Which, forgive me, but "dude, trust me" is just not a serviceable explanation for things, in my opinion. It's only until Dettlaff already sieges Beauclair and attempts to outright kill Syanna (surprise, surprise), wounds Regis, and fights Geralt does he finally conclude: "Yeah. Maybe this ain't it."
I get that he has a code. I understand that Dettlaff is his friend. But even he later dismisses the code as "trivial," and this code just felt like a convenient plot point to explain why killing Dettlaff was so off-the-table until it was the appropriate point in the story to do so. I understand that killing Dettlaff was also a last resort, because why would he want to kill his friend and someone he literally owes his life to? But even as Dettlaff is doing his mass-murder, he's still stuck on the idea that he can be reasoned with and he should be excused for his many crimes: the most recent and egregious being of his own free-will. That kind of judgment makes Regis ignorant at best and complicit at worst.
The Witcher does not have characters without controversies. I understand that. Love stories seldom end in happiness, a just ruler is probably a closet sadist, and every land is overrun by reprobates. But I always loved it for how human the characters felt. Like, take the Bloody Baron for instance. He did terrible things, directed a reign of terror throughout Velen, but also had so much depth, so much realistic imperfection that although his actions were reprehensible, his motives were understandable. Blood & Wine had a lot of bad things happen, but offers little in the way of thorough explanation. The characters felt like they were averse to solutions that were in front of their faces for the sake of generating artificial tension. The characters simply didn't have the depth I'd come to expect from the Witcher 3's writing, and maybe the harshness of my impression is influenced by that. I honestly just expected more, from a storytelling perspective. Otherwise, I did love it. It was a beautiful, rich expansion that sets the model for what an expansion should strive to be. And now, my chest is empty and my eyes are heavy. Goodnight, that is all.
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