The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone review
Killing monsters ripped straight from folktales of yesterday has never been as fun as it has in the Witcher 3.
The new expansion, Hearts of Stone, won’t disappoint fans of the series or lovers of open world role-playing games.
A unique expansion
When most games add an expansion, they add new worlds or realms for the players to explore and visit.
The Hearts of Stone expansion took a different approach, and it worked out better than I could have imagined.
CD Projekt RED chose to expand and improve on what was already there, breathing life into an already living world. Of course, there are new areas to explore and characters to meet, but most of it is confined to the areas east of Novigrad and Oxenfurt.
At first I wasn’t sure about this decision, but as I played, the game world felt more and more connected. Farmlands that were once empty or close to it now have thriving communities, much like the rest of the map southwest of Oxenfurt and Novigrad.
Characters you have met before in the original game show up in new quests and react to how you treated them in your last encounter.
The expansion does more than give you new quests and loot. It adds substance to an already fleshed out game world.
Who are the real monsters?
One of my favorite parts about the Witcher 3 was its morally ambiguous characters and their struggles to survive in an uncaring world.
Many games, books, and even movies, are so black and white. Someone is evil, or they are good. The reality is that people make mistakes and bad choices; even if they mean well. We’re only human after all.
Hearts of Stone is no different. The characters in this expansion exist in a moral gray area, and that’s a good thing.
Tragedy is easy to sympathize with, but when that tragedy is the result of someone trying to do right, but ultimately doing wrong, it creates complex characters.
I found myself constantly questioning my actions and choices, not something that happens often in role-playing games.
Hearts of Stone adds hours of new content. The main story of this DLC alone took me a little more than 8 hours to finish, although I could have done it in 6 or 7 had I not been questioning the morality of my choices and loading previous saves.
This doesn’t include the dozens of newly added message boards, Witcher contracts, and miscellaneous quests added throughout the world, which take several hours in their own right.
On top of this, a newly added rune crafting system (which reminds me greatly of Diablo 2’s runeword system) allows you to turn boring stat boosting runes into runewords that add great effect to your weapons and armor.
My personal favourite runeword automatically casts a quen shield on Geralt when he enters combat, free of cost.
Minor spoilers will follow here so skip ahead to the bottom if you don’t want anything revealed.
Geralt finds himself in trouble when he unknowingly kills an important person from the far off land of Ofir. He is captured by Ofieri soldiers and brought aboard their ship in shackles.
Shortly after, Geralt quickly learns the soldiers intend to hang him for his offense, but there is little he can do behind bars on a sailing ship. A familiar face approaches Geralt, mocking the hopelessness of his situation. He offers Geralt a way out, but at a price.
With no other options, Geralt accepts this mysterious man's terms and is branded with a scar on his face so that he won’t forget the agreement. This sets up the rest of the story, where Geralt must fulfill his contract to remove the brand on his face.
Geralt will partner up with several characters in Hearts of Stone. Some are new to the series, and others are familiar, but the one thing they all share is that they are genuinely interesting.
The antagonist of the expansion is equally engaging. He has an air of wrongness about him, and not in the brutal way that is so common in the Witcher 3.
Spoilers end here.
Nothing is perfect
As much as I enjoyed the Hearts of Stone expansion, there are a few things that could have been improved. There are a few points in the game when investigating a scene with your Witcher senses drags out and becomes tedious.
The runeword system costs an absorbent amount of money to get the full use out if it (35000 gold or more.)
And while there is a ton of replay value in the Witcher 3 and its expansion, it still suffers from the fact that once you finish everything, that’s it. Although you’d be hard-pressed to complete the game 100% because there is so much to do.
Hearts of Stone provides that excellent experience we’re used to from the Witcher series. With a solid amount of quality content that will keep you busy for at least a dozen hours, a $9.99 price tag doesn’t seem so bad.
If you’re a fan of the Witcher, or even just a fan of epic role-playing games, you won’t be disappointed with Hearts of Stone.