Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Platform: PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 13th, 2015
Price: $7.99 USD
CD Projekt Red has shown that it knows how to do DLC properly, and its first paid addition to the fantastic The Witcher 3, entitled Hearts of Stone, does not disappoint. This expansion is, quite simply, an additional ten to twelve hours of excellent gameplay- and this isn’t just a few new monster contracts either. This is almost all storyline quest content, which easily meets or exceeds the base game’s high standards in writing and design for main questlines.
Hearts of Stone is about confronting evil. Whether it’s a man who can no longer feel empathy or pity, a powerful otherworldly being that likes to play with mortals, or just the greed and jealously of feuding brothers, Hearts of Stone turns its mind to the darker elements of The Witcher’s world. It’s first introduced to it in the form of Olgierd von Everec, a wealthy brigand who finds amusement only in extreme forms of revelry and cruelty. He sets Geralt of Rivia off on a task to defeat a monster in the sewers beneath Oxenfurt.
But Geralt quickly finds that the monster is not what he at first appears, and neither is Olgierd. Saved from certain doom by an enigmatic being by the name Gaunter O’Dimm, or Master Mirror, Geralt is tasked with three impossible quests in order to repay his debt.
These quests form the majority of the content, and each is fantastic in its own way. One takes you to be possessed by a womanizing and raucous ghost while attending a wedding. There, Geralt can engage in all manner of wedding games while some of the more amusing dialogue the Witcher 3 has seen plays out. This also leads to the game’s new romance possibility: a comely army medic, and Geralt’s date to the wedding.
Another quest sees Geralt embark on a major robbery, which brings together some of the best elements of the heist genre. He must select and recruit his team before drugging guards, scaling a tower, and venturing into a secret underground vault. The final of these quests brings Geralt to a haunted house, where he must venture into painted landscapes to recreate the tormented memories of a jilted lover.
All of these quests bring unique elements to game, and each feels fresh, even after a hundred hours of The Witcher 3. The final showdown, too, is a unique and rewarding encounter that neatly wraps up the expansion’s many plot threads. Indeed, Hearts of Stone showcases one of the great strengths of CD Project Red’s writing team: the ability to have the player investigate a complex story, and have it unravel from the middle out.
The game suggests being level 30 or higher to undertake the content, and it’s a good suggestion. The expansion is riddled with boss encounters, and many fights are not easy on any difficulty level. The difficulty can sometimes spike surprisingly, too, such as when Geralt gets trapped within a room full of soldiers, or when you try to take on an immortal sword master. While you can choose to load a pre-created character in order to enjoy the expansion, a strong knowledge of combat will be essential. Fortunately, these fights are fairly interesting, from giant toads to onslaughts of spectral visions, and having to try them over a few times rarely feels like too much of a chore.
The expansion also brings new item customization in the form of the Runewright, a sort of enchanter, who can imbue weapons and armour with powerful effects. Unfortunately, gaining access to the more powerful enchantments requires very deep pockets, so make sure to save some of that monster-killing bounty. It is worth it, however. The right enchantments can be game-changers.
The Runewright is Ofieri, a new nationality to The Witcher 3, and notably the game’s first non-Caucasian ethnicity. He did not come alone, however, and the Ofieri perform a central role in the story. Additionally, with their middle-eastern inspired culture, the Ofieri bring a host of flavourful items, including some very powerful weapons and armour.
Beyond this, there’s some new Witcher gear to get your hands on, and a spattering of new side quests to undertake and locations to explore. But mostly this is an expansion focused on story content, and that’s a good thing because it’s where The Witcher 3 shines brightest. If you’ve enjoyed the main story content of the base game, then there’s no doubt you’ll love Hearts of Stone. It’s simply a great tale, well told, and with some fantastically unique gameplay to go with it.
Developer: CD Projekt Red