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The Witcher III: Wild Hunt was one of the biggest games to come out earlier this year and after spending over a hundred hours on the main game as a first timer for the franchise, I saw why it was one of the best modern RPG franchises today. CD Projekt Red’s latest reminded me of the Mass Effect series, where the character interactions and attachments matter along with the storyline. By the time the first big expansion, Hearts of Stone, came out, I was itching to return to the world and reunite myself with Geralt. Hearts of Stone is indeed more of The Witcher III, but more in a good way that stands up with the main game’s best quests.
Hearts of Stone requires you to be at least level 30 to begin it (60 on new game plus), but fortunately there’s a separate option to start the content on it’s own with a preset Geralt at level 32. It begins with Geralt finding a contract set by Olgierd von Everec to get rid of a monster at Oxenfurt’s sewers. Turns out it’s more than just your normal contract as Geralt gets stuck in a predicament between Olgierd and The Man of Glass, who you’ll recognize back at White Orchard. Geralt has to perform three requests Olgierd asks him to do in hopes of repaying the debt from The Man of Glass. Sounds easy right? Well they seem impossible at first, but we seen the impossible be possible in the world of The Witcher III.
The main quest is more than three requests as you learn more about Olgierd and The Man of Glass’s personalities and motives throughout the dozen hours as the expansion is indeed called Hearts of Stone for a reason. It’s as fascinating as some of the main game’s stronger quests like the Bloody Baron one, which is The Witcher III at it’s finest. Along the way, you’ll reunite into a returning love interest Shani and that also means another romance option if you make the right choices. I loved the variety of the quests Hearts of Stone offers, from participating in a wedding with Shani (also with an unique twist), an auction at Oxenfurt’s auction house, and a heist with an Ocean’s Eleven esque crew (well not that many people but you get the idea). Just like the main game, there are multiple endings for Hearts of Stone and they’re worth experiencing depending on the choices you make.
CD Projekt Red loves to switch it up and not keep things serious throughout The Witcher III and Hearts of Stone is no exception. The wedding with Shani reminded me of the night out with Triss where the world can be happy and not feel riddled with war. Of course Gwent is a good distraction from the main quest even though I haven’t spent too much time making a suitable deck against the opposition. One of the later quests also have a survival horror-like vibe as well. Then there’s more question marks to be explored on the expanded Velen and if you’re like me trying to discover every one of them, that is double the playtime Hearts of Stone’s main quest offers.
The gameplay and combat remain untouched as some of the tactics you used in the main game still work in this DLC. Sure, figuring out the weaknesses of the various bosses you’ll face in Hearts in Stone is more satisfying with oils, signs and bombs, but I still like how The Witcher III can still cater to multiple fighting styles. New in this expansion is a runewright that sells or crafts your runes and glyphs for your equipment. Upgrading him to master status however will require lots of money, so good luck finding enough for that. The new rune upgrading mechanics are indeed interesting, but it’s not that much of a necessity as I thought. However, he can useful during new game plus and harder difficulties.
Despite how excellent the story and characters are in The Witcher III’s Hearts of Stone DLC, there’s still technical issues and that’s not surprising for such a big open world RPG. Texture pop in, random load times during gameplay, Roach still being blocked off by invisible paths and audio not being heard in certain cutscenes are the some I encountered in playthrough. I even have a buggy quest but fortunately it’s one of the minor treasure hunts yet something like that still happening months later after the main game is out sucks. At least CD Projekt Red have been frequently patching the game fixing issues like that, so hopefully that happens sooner than later. The soundtrack and voice acting still remain superb as expected from the main game as well.
It was great diving back into the world of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt with the Hearts of Stone expansion. For $10 you get easily a dozen more hours of content from the main quest alone that stands up to the main game’s stronger quests. The new characters and the returning Shani are great additions to the cast learning more about their personalities and motives. Plus the variety offered in this quest line was also The Witcher III at it’s best. I’m not surprised however at the lack of a game changing mechanic to the combat and the technical issues. With that said, I’m really looking forward to next year’s Blood of Wine expansion, which is supposedly double the length of Hearts of Stone in a completely new area. If you’re itching for more of one of the best games of the year, The Witcher III’s Heart of Stone is easily worth your time and money.