Review: The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone

 Dues need be repaid, and he will come for you...

Console: Nintendo Switch

After finishing my 130+ hours playthrough of The Witcher 3 at the beginning of the year, you’d think I’d be ‘Witcher-ed out’ for the moment. Well, you’re wrong! While I didn’t immediately dive into the game’s expansions. But I had so much fun with The Witcher 3 that I couldn’t stay away for long and thus, I picked the game up again and started with the first of two expansions: Hearts of Stone. Now that I’ve finished it, it’s time to review it.

Let’s dive in.


In Hearts of Stone, you once again play as the Witcher Geralt of Rivia, a human enhanced by magic and mutations to kill the monsters that roam the world. When he takes a contract from the ruthless bandit captain and (former) nobleman Olgierd von Everec to slay a beast terrorizing the Oxenfurt sewer system. The contract, however, turns out to be more than he bargained for. Before long, he finds himself entangled in a high-stakes game between Olgierd von Everec and the nefarious Mirror salesmen Gaunter O’Dimm. Caught in a thick tangle of deceit, Geralt will need all his cunning and strength to solve the mystery of what deal these two made and emerge unscathed.

As it’s an expansion, the gameplay and other aspects are exactly the same as those of the base-game which I’ll here forth will simply refer to as ‘The Wild Hunt’). To quickly recap the basics of the gameplay, Geralt has two swords on his back. Steel for humans, silver for monsters which you use to attack your enemies with either a light or heavy attack. His arsenal is supplemented with small acts of magic, signs, as well as special potions, bombs and oils. The only new thing that Hearts of Stone adds to Geralt's arsenal is a new set of specialized runes. These are, however, rather expensive and time-consuming to obtain. They’re neat and definitely pack a punch when set up correctly but it's very much something that a casual player won’t get much out of unless you’re willing to invest the time.

"A man must display some madness from time to time - helps him feel alive."  - Olgierd von Everec.

The story is the big attraction of Hearts of Stone. It’s great. Not as great as the story of The Wild Hunt but still excellent. It’s well written, has very interesting characters and has a creepy atmosphere running throughout it that sets it apart from The Wild Hunt. Gives it a different vibe, so to speak. The music especially helps to set this creepy atmosphere and I must say that I think the tracks newly added for Hearts of Stone are the best musical pieces in the entire game.

The variety comes, in large parts, to its right with the main questline. The story doesn’t quite follow the path that you think it does going in. There are twist and turns, which puts Geralt into some unexpected positions and brings him to some surprising places. Because of this, there is a great variety in what you do during Hearts of Stone which helps make each quest stand apart from the other but also those of The Wild Hunt. This makes these quests, in my opinion, some of the most fun quests in the entire game because of their variety as well as some neat tie-ins to CD Projekt Red’s previous Witcher games and Witcher lore in general.

What kind of gets in the way of the story though is its length. Hearts of Stone’s narrative will last you around 10 to 15 hours, a good number considering it’s an expansion. The problem though is that the story thus doesn’t have as much time to delve deeper into its characters and the new bits of lore it introduces. Even though these aspects are just as well done as in The Wild Hunt, because the game doesn’t have as much time this time around, these characters are not as well-fleshed out as they could’ve been.

Gaunter O'Dimm, the mysterious Mirror salesmen that most refer to as 'Master Mirror'.

Additionally, I was also disappointed by the amount of content the expansion offered. For an expansion that retails at around 10,- separately the value of the expansion is very good. This number pales in comparison to The Wild Hunt, however, which lasts somewhere between 50 to 100+ hours and you do see that in the content. The number of side-quest, the density of stuff in the northern part of Velen that this expansion adds, the number of new monsters are all lower than I expected which is disappointing. The lack of any monster contracts aside from the one that quick-starts the story especially. Even so, quality is often better than quantity, and the stuff that is here is still great and very enjoyable and that does take the sting out of my disappointment in this field quite a bit.

Lastly, you don´t have to have played The Wild Hunt to start Hearts of Stone. You can start it using an already existing save-file but there´s also an option to just start the expansion right off the bet. Geralt is levelled up to the appropriate and you’re giving some higher-end gear and items as well. You can even do most of the side-quests from The Wild Hunt this way so you’re not even restricted to just the Hearts of Stone content. It’s the perfect option for players who might be returning to The Witcher from other consoles and just want to experience the expansion’s or if you’ve lost your progress over the years.

Conclusion

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone is an excellent expansion. It brings you more of that Witcher 3 content that makes the Witcher 3 such a good game. The characters, the world, the well-written story while adding in some improvements of its own. An expanded world, creepy atmosphere and returning elements from earlier Witcher games that long-time fans will most certainly appreciate. There are some hiccups, of course. Chief amongst them the expansions length and amount of content are not as vast as compared to that of The Witcher 3 base game but the value of the entire package is still very good.

If you enjoyed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, then buying and playing Hearts of Stone is a no-brainer!

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