Chris Capel's second wish is granted: more Witcher 3!
I was nearly out. I’d been mopping up the last few quests and question marks in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and was nearly ready to click that magical “uninstall” button. A superb game that I’ll treasure forever… oh wait, there’s suddenly more of it. Rats. I was actually going to skip the Hearts of Stone expansion, but temptation made me dive back in. But the question is, is that something you should do too? Read on.
Olgierd Von Everec and his impossible but fun tasks.
The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone is set during the main campaign and only features a slight expansion to the lands around Novigrad, so at the start it’s a little disappointing. It begins as low-key as possible, with Geralt checking the notice board for work outside the Seven Cats Inn. He’s told that a man named Olgierd Von Everec might need help with a little monster problem. It’s not little by any means, and soon Geralt is drawn into a massive story involving frog princes, immortals, ghosts, bank heists, family feuds, deals with the devil and university lecturers.
It is, in short, a really impressive tale and contains a lot of the best moments in the entire Witcher series. After a bit of a slow start it really picks up with the introduction of Gaunter O’Dimm, a mysterious man with some really powerful magic, and the request that Geralt helps him grant Olgierd Von Everec three wishes. It is the fulfilment of these three wishes that forms the majority of the Hearts of Stone expansion, and all three are very well told with enough shocking twists, turns, choices and consequences to make most full games blush.
The expansion also sees the reintroduction of Shani, the young human doctor not seen since the first PC-only Witcher game where she was the second main romance option after Triss Merigold. I chose Shani on my first playthrough, so I was quite upset when The Witcher 2 began with Shani written out, Triss already dating Geralt, and her laying naked in bed with him (not too upset, mind). She was one of the more selfless characters in the series and I’m glad to see her back. I’m pretty sure she’d got her same voice actor too. Oh yes, and she is romanceable too if you play your cards right.
Oh Shani, welcome back. And yes, I did play my cards right.
Even ignoring the story aspects the quests themselves are excellent. I don’t want to spoil too much but most of them have a lot more going on gameplay-wise than killing things or using Witcher Senses to find red things. It’s the sheer variety of missions that makes Hearts of Stone so fun. Every time I played a new part I was ready to proclaim it my Top Game Moment, then I’d change my mind at the next bit, and now I’ve finished I’m struggling to decide what my favourite bit actually was. It’s all great really, and just builds and builds to an exciting ending.
What’s even better is that there’s even a few extra side-quests to add to the millions in the main game, including new Witcher Contracts and Treasure Hunts. Several of these can just be found randomly, and others are connected to the new Runesmith who’s made camp in the very North-Eastern part of the Velen map. Help him out, and pay him a lot of coin, and he’ll inscribe powerful Rune Signs on any armour or swords with three empty Rune slots. I didn’t find these particularly useful to be honest, certainly not more useful than having three useful Rune Stones embedded in my sword. In armour though it might be more worthwhile, but I couldn’t afford what he was asking half the time. One additional neat part about the Hearts of Stone quests incidentally is that they appear blue on the Quests menu, so you can always find them easily and know which mission is a new one or not.
Which is especially good because these quests are ¬tough. The first boss battle in the expansion is one of the hardest in all of Witcher 3, and I had to actually look up a guide to find out how to beat him (otherwise this review would’ve been very short). Things are a little bit easier after “The Frog Prince”, but only marginally, and your combat skills will be pushed to the absolute limit. I even got killed by a pack of pathetic Drowners at one point. They were Level 34! That’s one of the few things Dragon Age: Inquisition has over The Witcher 3 - in DAI you can tell a tough enemy by appearance, whereas Witcher 3 just massively fluctuates the strength of regular enemies so you can’t tell whether they’ll be tough until you get really close. Hearts of Stone though you can generally assume all enemies will be tough. Venture in only if you’re Level 32+ I’d say.
Aside from that bloody impossible Frog Prince there is only one real downside with Hearts of Stone, which is that it’s just more Witcher 3. Apart from the take-it-or-leave-it Runecrafting basically all this expansion boils down to is more quests for the main game, in mostly the same areas you’ve been to before. These quests take up a lot of time and they’re of brilliant quality, but I just wish there was more actual world to discover and explore. Going out and exploring is one of the best parts about The Witcher 3, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto 5 and other open world games, and if you think so too you’ll be a little disappointed in Hearts of Stone. Not too much, but a little.
THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT - HEARTS OF STONE VERDICT
The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone may skirt the line between DLC and Expansion Pack by merely adding more of what was already in Wild Hunt, but gets away with it by being sizeable and awesome. The story, quests, characters, choices, twists, gameplay and wild adventures on offer are well worth the extra money, and the return of Shani is a neat bonus for fans who have been with the series since the first game. If you’re not completely sick of The Witcher 3 then it’s well worth getting Hearts of Stone since the content here is some of the best and most memorable in the entire series. Just get past that first boss and you’ll be fine. Now, if this expansion is so good, what’s the “proper” expansion Blood and Wine going to be like?!
TOP GAME MOMENT
Tough, but I’m going to go for the Painting. You’ll see what I mean.
The story is great with loads of twists and turns, and characters that are equally sympathetic and monstrous.
Some truly imaginative quests, including a haunted house, a bank heist, and... a wedding?
At the end of the day it's just extra quests for the main game. It's also bloody tough. You may need a guide to get past "The Frog Prince".
About Chris J Capel
Chris joined us in 2011 and loves Star Wars, comics and bad videogame movies.