There’s been a fair bit of consternation and grumbling about The Witcher 3’s Hearts of Stone. Is it just DLC, or is it a full-blown expansion, as its makers, CD Projekt RED claim? It’s an easy and fair question to ask in these times of unfulfilling season passes, and expensive post release content.

Witcher 3 (1)

Back in the before times, before the internet was quite as prolific as it is now, an expansion – particularly one to a Role-Playing Game – was exactly as it implied; an expansion. New stories, new characters, new weapons, new areas; very much new everything other than the engine it ran on.

The Witcher 3’s Heart of Stone, in truth, falls somewhere near the middle. It doesn’t add much in the way of mechanical features, nor any real new acreage; set as it is, largely within the confines of the Northern Kingdoms you’ve likely already explored. What it does add is a 10 more hours of gameplay, some of the best writing the series has seen, and a wealth of levity and humour. It also gives us a look at a more human, affable side to the usually gruff and grumbly Geralt. Beyond that, it really is just more Witcher 3. It starts off, as stories of this ilk often do, with a quest that has Geralt looking for a monster. Sent in by the anarchistic Olgierd von Everec (A fellow who looks like David Beckham sporting a dastardly villain’s twirly moustache) to dispatch a monster in a sewer. That’s child play to a Witcher as esteemed as Geralt, so taking the job isn’t even in question. Things, however, go a little awry with the monster hunt not quite going as expected. It sees Geralt stripped of his gear, and hauled off on ship, destined for a faraway land.

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Witcher 3 (4)

It’s on this ship that we meet a familiar face; Gaunter O’Dimm, The Master Mirror, who you probably encountered within your first hour of Playing the Witcher 3. While he seemed like he may have been a minor, unimportant character then, he’s front and centre here – and along with Shani, Geralt’s red-haired medic friend from the first game and the aforementioned Olgierd makes up a triumvirate of some of the most interesting characters in the Witcher games.

Saying too much more would spoil the story, but the quests contained with Hearts of Stone are largely interesting and often silly and irreverent. Where else but in the Witcher can you party it up with a ghost?

Witcher 3 (6)

It’s worth noting that Hearts of Stone really respects your time as a player. The mission requires that you be at least at level 30 before undertaking its quests, and to that end allows you to start from where you left off in your main game and use the Witcher you’ve created, auto-levelling him to 30 if you’ve not quite reached that mark. If you’ve lost your save for whatever reason, you can have the game create a new level 30 Geralt for you, so you can jump right in to the action without having to play the game again.

As I said earlier, Geralt ends up stripped of his gear, but in most games that involves inevitably starting off weak and eventually finding all of your equipment as part of a quest, but there’s none of that here. Once you’ve freed yourself from your captors, everything you had before is right back in your inventory. It doesn’t make much narrative sense, but it makes a heck of a lot of sense to somebody like me with limited gaming time.

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Witcher 3 (5)

As for the mechanics? Nothing’s really changed. Roach is still as erratic and odd to control as ever. The combat’s as divisive as it’s ever been. Some people love the parry, strike dodge, sign cycle of combat, but it’s never really tickled me much. I wish there were a few extra skills or talent and appropriate trees, but there’s nothing of the sort. The only real mechanical addition then is the Runewright. Introduced relatively late in the game, the Runewright (who’s refreshingly not creamy white if you’re concerned about things like representation in games) helps you enchant your weapons or gear in more significant ways than before, really helping you tune your character to your playstyle.

The world itself seems a little more barren this time around, and there’s a strange disconnect in the game’s setting if you’ve completed the game, as it really feels like it belongs in the middle, as part of the base game.

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Whatever minor gripes there are, they’re made up for by strong cut-scene driven narrative with superlative writing. It’s CD Projekt RED letting themselves have a bit of fun and letting Geralt have a bit of fun in the process – and I’d wager you’ll have fun with it too. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to return to the Northern Kingdoms, this is an excellent motivator, and one of the best bits of DLC in recent memory; certainly worth its asking price.

 

Last Updated: October 19, 2015

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone
Summary
It’s more of the same, then – but when you’re getting more of one of the year’s best games, that’s not something to complain about.
8.9
The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone was reviewed on PlayStation 4
90 / 100

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Not reading to avoid spoilers. ;P

    I didn’t spend nearly enough time playing this over the weekend.

    I will say I had to remind myself to fight patiently seeing as the enemies I encountered were between lvl 32 & 34. At least you can take them down as quickly as they do you. And of course oh hey look, black(ish) people.

    • It’s spoiler free. 🙂

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        I’m not taking any chances.

        I’ll admit to being kinda impressed by just how much they’d expanded the game – I’m sitting with 25-odd ?’s to clear, a new monster hunt (possibly 2, I can’t remember), a secondary quest & the main quest I haven’t even touched yet. The sweet Gwent decks you get with the physical edition are the icing on the cake.

        • Grand Admiral Chief

          SPOILER ALERT!
          GERALT IS A WITCHER!

          • WitWolfy

            SPOILER GERALT IS OF RIVIA!!!

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            SPOILER ALERT GERALT IS BADASS

          • WitWolfy

            Fact! A Geralt is getting laid AS WE SPEAK!!!!!!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Y R U RUNE MY GAMZ!?

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            MOAR SPOILER GIRRALT PLOUGHS DEM WENCHES

    • WitWolfy

      I forgot how addictive this story and its chracter is… Heck it actually feels like a game seeing that I just came from MGS V. Last night I actually found a dude that makes runes in the game too.. If I knew that existed I would’ve farmed that dude before I finished the game… GRRR.. All I need to figure out now is how to make quick cash again to level my equipment EVEN MORE!!!

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        The rune guy is new. I’ve just started his quest.

        • WitWolfy

          Oh so it wasnt just me.

      • “The only real mechanical addition then is the Runewright. ”

        Did you have *skimmed* milk with your cereal this morning, bro?

        • WitWolfy

          To be honest I got ADD reading today. LOL

  • Commander JJ of the Normandy

    Excellent stuff. I read it through and through…I like to live dangerously…and then there were not even potential potential spoilers. 😉
    Sounds great.

    • I don;t like spoiling plot points in reviews – and this DLC is essentially ALL plot.

      • Deceased

        it’s all about the PLOT …

  • WitWolfy

    “As I said earlier, Geralt ends up stripped of his gear..”

    Thats BS.. Last night after the ship wreck and the mini battle on the beach I could equip all my weapons and armour again. Plus I got this weird but welcomed glitch trophy… Where the game thinks I took all available characters to Kael Morhen even though I never did, and was one of the reasons I started a NG+. BONUS!

    • Read the whole sentence before bitching.
      “As I said earlier, Geralt ends up stripped of his gear, but in most games that involves inevitably starting off weak and eventually finding all of your equipment as part of a quest, but there’s none of that here. Once you’ve freed yourself from your captors, everything you had before is right back in your inventory. It doesn’t make much narrative sense, but it makes a heck of a lot of sense to somebody like me with limited gaming time.”

      • WitWolfy

        Oh snap!!! My bad dude!

  • Nikola

    Man excited to jump back in holding off I don’t know for what reason yet, oh yeah stupid Destiny raid…

  • Xcalibersa

    Will get this once I complete new game + …. but I keeping dying by bloody dogs

    • WitWolfy

      Dude I’m like LVL 36 and I cant even kill that darn Griffin on Death March.. THATS LIKE THE FIRST MISSION!!!

      • Xcalibersa

        Did you do the 18 gig update?

        It might have re balanced that part since I got through easily at lvl 37. Some of the missions in Velen req level 60 ….

        • WitWolfy

          Yea, I did the latest update over the weekend. Throttled and everything hehehe I’ll try again tonight.. that Griffin was overpowered to hell!!

          • Xcalibersa

            I just use the shield power, dive, strike, repeat.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge.

          • WitWolfy

            The shield power only worked for so long.. But I’ll persevere.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            *Quen

          • Xcalibersa

            Shield power, fire power, force push, mind power and some stupid purple spots. I just wish I could use multiple powers at once.

          • Matthew Holliday

            the switching required between spells and potions is pretty much the most limiting thing i have ever experienced.

        • Matthew Holliday

          take mission level requirements with a pinch of salt.
          in playthrough 1, i waited for the high level requirement missions and when i went to do them, i felt like i wasted my time.

      • Grand Admiral Chief

        I killed the Griffin on Death March, but I got so annoyed by a pack of HELL WOLVES who swarm and easily kill Geralt. So dropped it down to the second highest.

        I enjoyed the challenge, but it got annoying after a while

        • WitWolfy

          Don’t blame ya… Even at LVL 36 a low life drunken idiot at a bar can punch Geralt out now…

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            It lost a bit of the realism for me, since how can a lowly wolf, 10-15 levels below you, bite and kill Geralt with 2 bites when he as badass armour equipped?

          • WitWolfy

            Because.. SHUT UP! Thats why… But in fairness those pack of wolves are potent.. They can be worse than some Witcher contracts.

          • Xcalibersa

            All the wolves in Velen are around 40 so they can kill quite fast.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            Aye, so new game plus, level 55, and then level 40 wolfie nomnom and dead, yeah, not buying it. However, have not played recently since all the damn patches

          • WitWolfy

            I looked on my peasant HDD.. Both batman AK and Witcher 3 are the HDD hogs. no doubt. Both weighing at 50GB, EACH!

          • Matthew Holliday

            the size of games is the only reason i havent moved my steam, galaxy etc to an SSD.

            although they have been pretty hefty for a while now.

          • Xcalibersa

            How the hell did you get to 55 in the first play though????? Unless you went crazy and did a second new game plus.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            Read again, did a new game plus

        • Xcalibersa

          It takes time to get used to it. I run from packs now. I just want to get to level 60 and get those upgrade armor.

    • Matthew Holliday

      also started on new game+ then decided that i dont really want to start over again yet, so now im sorta stuck…

      • With his DLC, you can just pick up and play the new content. 🙂 Even create a new character that it auto levels to 30 for you.

        • Matthew Holliday

          yeah, gathered as much from comments further down, but man, mah geralt.
          i like that i can just yolo enter with my new guy though.

  • Greylingad[CNFRMD]

    I like what I’ve read… Now to download that damn patch…

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      And then the expansion, 4.7gb on PC. 😉

      • Greylingad[CNFRMD]

        Haaibo! Ag well… I suppose I have a 15GB night time bundle for a reason…

  • Milesh Bhana

    I got this just because i wanted the Gwent Decks. That alone was worth the purchase price imo. The DLC (that i’ll probably only play months from now) is icing on the cake.

    I hope they ship the other two factions cards with the next expansion.

    I’ve barely started the main game.

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