Hearts of Stone is a fantastic addition to the already stunning Witcher 3. A game I not only reviewed with top marks, but also bestowed my Best Game of 2015 to. While Hearts of Stone does feel like a bit more of the same, given it takes place almost entirely in the existing Novigrad map, the first paid expansion gives us a great story, some well-crafted characters, and a more human side to Geralt we’ve yet to have seen.
Among the free downloadable content already available to players of The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red stated that they would only charge for additional content if it was substantial. So is this content substantial enough? Almost.
As I mentioned, the add-on pack does take place in Novigrad, a place I have spent the large part of Witcher 3 with already. While it takes place in the northeastern section of the map, an area not widely used in the main game, it does cheapen the experience a little bit.
Aside from that small gripe, the expansion is mostly great. Characters like Olgierd von Everec, Shani, Iris von Everec and Gaunter O’Dimm are extremely well written and acted to near perfection.
Upon answering a request for a monster to be slain, Geralt meets Olgierd von Everec, the game’s main antagonist. This is a wonderfully crafted character that has real depth and emotion. He became one of my favorite characters in the entire Witcher series. I couldn’t wait to have Geralt interact with him more and more. I suggest going with the good ending of the game to get the most out of his role. Olgierd needs a monster slain in the sewers and Geralt is up for the task. While in the sewers hunting down said creature, Geralt runs into Shani, a character Witcher fans know from the first game, and even bigger fans know from the Witcher novel, ‘Blood of Elves’. Shani is amazing. Her character model is one of the best designed in the game, and her overall presence and personality is pulled off so well. She is romanceable with one of the most revealing and adult scenes so far introduced in the Witcher series.
During the course of the entire journey you’ll find Geralt taking part in wedding festivities, exploring a haunted house, taking part in an auction, and pulling off a heist. I really enjoyed the wedding mission as you get to see a very fun, more human side of Geralt, with a fun twist. The haunted house mission is one of the better written quests of the game. The heist activity seems to have great promise as it starts so good. You get to pick your team, the music is great and gets you totally pumped for the job at hand, and then it totally falls apart and becomes the only poorly constructed content in the pack.
One element that was somewhat lacking in the main Witcher 3 campaign was typical Boss Fights, and Hearts of Stone has plenty of them. The giant frog was great, the Caretaker was awesome, the Sand mage is pretty fun, and the Nightmares can be brutal on harder difficulty.
A new enemy type introduced is the Arachnomorphs. They’ll web you up from afar as they’ll dash around to keep away from you. They are super fun to fight and you’ll find them in a few different sizes throughout the story. You’ll come across some new bandit and guard types, but they are typically the same style of enemy you are already accustomed to.
There is a new gear upgrade mechanic that is wonderfully written into the story and gives good justification for it being added. These are in the form of Runewords and Glyphwords. The former being for weapons and the latter for gear. These allow you to add new abilities to your gear that go beyond what Witcher 3 offered you already with traits like “2% chance of burning” or “5% chance to stun”. These upgrades replace those slots with traits like “Consumed food restores 100% more vitality”, “30% chance of returning some damage to the attacker” and “Armorer’s table and grindstone bonuses never expire” with that last one being super effective. I really enjoyed the characters associated with this aspect of the game and found them very well written.
There is quite a bit more to the story in terms of what sets a lot in motion, but I’ll leave it to you to explore it further. There is so much to do in this expansion that the $10 purchase price is easily justified. The expansion will run you around 10-15 hours or more depending if you seek out and complete everything that comes with it. CD Projekt Red knocked it out of the park with Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and while this pack can at sometimes be treading on familiar ground, it’s still an overall fantastic experience that brings us another reason to rip through the countryside on our trusty steed Roach and behead some more bandits.
Hearts of Stone is currently available on your system of choice for $10 with the next expansion “Blood and Wine” to be released within the next few months. You can purchase the complete package for $24.99 and be all set for both packs. If you are interested in the Gwent cards, Gamestop in the States has a physical edition of Hearts of Stone that features 2 new decks for the card game.