“It’s good to be back in the world of The Witcher,” is what I thought when I finally fired up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s, latest expansion, Hearts of Stone. The term “DLC” has been used in a derogatory way for some time due to the lack of content or uninspiring execution, but CD Projekt RED has been doing everything right all year and Hearts of Stone continues to bolster the developer’s reputation of releasing quality work. With at least ten hours of gameplay, Geralt’s adventure this time around offers several enthralling new quests, along with new weapons, armor, Gwent cards, and enemies.
Hearts of Stone begins with Geralt accepting a contract to slay a giant toad in Oxenfurt’s sewers from a nobleman, turned bandit leader, Olgierd von Everec. With an amusing, yet morbid, take on the Frog Prince Fairytale, Geralt soon gets involved in a scheme far more dangerous than he could have ever expected. The plots is best left unspoiled but expect some familiar characters to return, including one very minor character who brilliantly becomes the backbone of the entire story. I went back in the core game to get another glimpse of this character to discover a seemingly unassuming scene suddenly gain a great deal of context.
Without going into much detail, all of Hearts of Stone’s main quests have a completely different experience from one another, yet progress naturally. Expect to attend a wedding with the sole purpose of partaking in its revels, recruit expert thieves for a daring heist, and exercise spirits from a haunted house which puts some horror games to shame. The former of which was one of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had in all of The Witcher 3. It’s notable to mention all of these quests take place in expanded areas for Velen, Novigrad, and Oxenfurt, and are clearlying labeled to separate expansion from original game.
Since many players have likely completed or come close to the core game’s end, difficulty has been scaled to reflect such progress. Believe me when I say this expansion will be a challenge. When I was destroying enemies towards the end of the original game, I was now struggling to stay alive during every encounter at the very beginning of Hearts of Stone. It is recommended to begin the expansion around level 30. Fortunately an option is included to start the expansion with a prebuilt character if you aren’t anywhere close to that level.
An issue that was rectified from the past was the incentive to spend coin late game. Once you acquired masterwork Witcher gear, there was no reason to buy anything else due to how strong the Witcher gear became. Not only are there stronger armor and weapons to use in Hearts of Stone, there are also plenty of opportunities to spend that coin. One of the biggest outlets for spending is investing in a Runewright merchant. The Runewright allows you to boost your weapons and armor with new infusions called “Runewords” and “Glyphwords”. These enchantments function much like runes and glyphs except they grant equipment new abilities such as armor that deflects all arrows or permanent Grindstone and Armorer’s Table bonuses. I started the expansion with over 6,000 gold, and quickly spent 5,000 to unlock level 1 abilities.
Hearts of Stone is a worthwhile expansion that strengthens an already rock solid game. While some of the choices made throughout the adventure give the illusion of choice, there’s still enough room to customize your own outcome by the end of it. The dialogue and story are as good as anything from original game, which already comes with high praise. Base on my experience with this expansion, I feel confident that The Witcher 3’s next installment, Blood and Wine will be make the purchase of a season pass worth every penny.
Style – Single-player, Action RPG
Publisher – CD Projekt RED
Developer – CD Projekt RED
Release – October 2015
Hearts of Stone is a worthwhile expansion that strengthens an already rock solid game.