The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Hearts of Stone PC Review
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an incredible game that combines aspects of the RPG genre with brilliant storytelling, complex and compelling characters and a large, beautiful open world with lush graphics. As an experience, the game felt complete from start to finish – it did not need expansions to give the game and characters the closure they deserve. CD Projekt Red announced before release that they had content planned to expand The Witcher 3 with additional story, and that these packs would be of good length. After the engrossing ride of the game’s original tale, it’s hard to say no to more story when it is presented this well and as smartly written. The first of the expansions, called Hearts of Stone, is here, and is the smaller of the two announced, lasting around 10-12 hours, but for any who enjoyed the main game, this expansion continues to demonstrate why The Witcher 3‘s world and its characters are so fascinating.
There are three ways to start the Hearts of Stone content. Most people will continue from their main save and follow the quest that is automatically added to the journal upon loading. Hearts of Stone expansion quests are highlighted with blue, easily distinguishable from the original game’s side quests and monster hunts. The two other options are to start the game from fresh, which will add the quest after the prologue is finished, and the other option allows people to begin with a level 32 Geralt to jump right into the quest, all jacked up and ready to go with recommended gear and abilities.
Hearts of Stone kicks off with a monster hunt advertised on a village posting board that leads Geralt to the contractor and the story’s antagonist, Olgierd von Everec, a bandit leader who might seem like a nutjob, but is revealed to have history that begins to leak from his initial no-care-in-the-world attitude. Olgierd has forged a contract with Gaunter O’ Dimm, a mysterious man with strange powers, who was last seen for a small amount of time in the prologue area of The Witcher 3 – the person who pointed Geralt in the right direction to find Yennefer. Known as the Man of Glass – for his dealings as a merchant of mirrors – Gaunter opens more fascinating lore in the world of The Witcher, an area that Geralt, the all walking encyclopaedia of knowledge, alchemy and monsters, has no information about. Just like with the main game, the story should not be spoilt, and so we shall leave Gaunter’s strangeness here, but let’s just say, he can never say no to having fun with people.
Characters and their interactions with one another are the shining point of Hearts of Stone. It combines all the good from the main game into a micro version, a smaller scoped adventure that brings strong and vibrant characters to the forefront. Olgierd and Gaunter might be the building blocks for the story, but other characters shine as well. A certain male ghost brings some light-hearted comedy with his interactions with Geralt and other NPCs at the wedding event. Shani, a returning character from the first game in the series, has a charming aura around her. She’s a medic who has a strong commitment to help anyone, no matter what side of the war they fall on. Shani has some touching moments with Geralt, as they were once love interests, and she is also one of the unforgettable characters from this expansion, be it being in on the jokes with the same ghost I mentioned early or demonstrating her strength to help Geralt as much as possible. Her words are never wasted – always full of meaning, and I am happy that she turns out more than just being a replacement for the missing ladies from the main game – Shani completely stands on her on as a strong and well developed person through the great dialogue, subtle animations and tone of voice.
Story quests offer variety that bring refreshing tasks not seen before in The Witcher games. Hearts of Stone includes hiring a group of criminals and planning a heist to steal some stuff, jumping into a painted world – similar to the Painted World of Ariamis in Dark Souls – for a distressed soul, and attending to the needs of the supernatural and letting them have fun for an evening. There is certainly a lot of downtime for cutscenes in this, as plenty of story is told through the polished and detailed cutscenes and the trademark dialogue choices, maybe a little too much emphasis on cutscenes, as some can go on for quite some time. One such scene is the heist, where some of the action feels taken away from you, like you are watching the events unfold, rather than partake in them – this quest leaves the combat down to you and most of the robbing done in cutscenes.
Hearts of Stone is an entertaining journey from beginning to end, and the only real fault I have with the package, which is both good and bad, is that this tale does not merge into the existing story that I have already experienced, it’s another quest plotted in an already existing world that mostly gets on its own without relating to much of past happenings. Even having a love interest with Shani has no effect on what you did with any of the ladies before hand, so either Geralt keeps it all hush, hush or this additional story is here to stand on its on with nothing else. Hearts of Stone is a very focussed adventure that keeps its major content to an area of east Novigrad and its small villages, some which have been added in for this downloadable content, but outside of that, the exploration of the world is kept to a minimum here unless it’s for some of the added small side content, rather than the expansion’s main quests.
Don’t expect changes to the core of the game, as this is solely an expansion that brings more of what CD Projekt Red did so well before. Combat remains the same, with a new runewright craftsman, who has his own quest on offer in return for new gear. The runewright offers enchantments on gear with three accessory slots. These start with simple buffs, such as deflecting all incoming arrows, all armour, no matter the type, is treated as heavy armour and 100% more regeneration from food. If you continue to pump gold into the runewright – this guy will dry your pockets out, as a total of 30,000 crowns is needed to get his last service – then expect to use incredibly helpful buffs that can automatically give you Quen shield on entering a fight or increase potion duration time on each successful hit. While not drastically changing the motions of the combat itself, they do allow you to go more crazy with Geralt’s build.
Evaluating my time with Hearts of Stone, it was clear how the challenge had been turned up. The initial boss you come into contact with, a toad in the sewers, is the first signs that this expansion is not messing around. If you did not learn from the main game that having patience pays off and using potions and oils were important in taking down monsters, then this toad will slap you in the face with a wakeup call to go learn about them. This fat toad is a hard hitter, a boss that wouldn’t be too far out from being included in a game like Dark Souls, as it follows the concept of keeping out of harms way, watching his move patterns and striking when the time is right before the slimy green amphibian jumps on you. Even the new spider creatures hit hard – they got the jump on me when three sprung out during my forest escapades, killing Geralt in three hits. Enemies mean business this time around, so make sure you are ready for the hardships that the combat brings in Hearts of Stone – this is content made for people who got to grips with The Witcher 3‘s mechanics.
There is no other way to sum up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Hearts of Stone than saying this is more of what made The Witcher 3 spectacular. It brings ten plus hours of content with a intriguing story, new and returning characters that have had the same care as the cast who existed in the base game, once again brought to life with thoughtful dialogue and delicate animations, and refreshing quests activities that are not simply re-skinned events from the main game, but shed new light on the world, its lore and the people involved. In all, this is an expansion for The Witcher 3 fans who like the idea of returning to the world they once visited for one more self-contained meaningful story. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Hearts of Stone might not have a new land to explore, but that does not stop this from being a great addition to an already outstanding game.