Hearts of Stone brings a new storyline, a new villain and a new romantic interest to the already expansive world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. But in the modern era of gaming, where DLC is a tainted word, how does Hearts of Stone stand on it’s own?
The first thing to note is just how technically impressive Hearts of Stone is, not unlike the base game of The Witcher 3. I didn’t encounter a single bug or error throughout my entire 12 hour playthrough of the expansion, and where more content usually means more problems for some big, open world games, Hearts of Stone seamlessly transitions into the world already established.
Plot wise, the expansion is actually surprisingly fun. After a run-in with soldiers from overseas, Geralt is rescued from his imprisonment by the mysterious Gaunter O’Dimm, who players might remember as briefly helping our protagonist out at the beginning of The Witcher 3. From there, Geralt is tasked with fulfilling three wishes for the immortal Olgeird Von Everec, and as simple as this might sound, it’s anything but.
The three wishes are incredibly varied, and bring a new dramatic flavour to the table. Firstly, you’ll have to let the deceased ghost of the brother of Von Everec inhabit your body for a night while at a wedding. To see Geralt so bent out of character provides a refreshing take on a man who had previously been stripped of all emotion capability, and the first wish provides a really funny aspect to Hearts of Stone.
For the second wish, Geralt ends up getting roped into a heist, and things only descend into chaos from there. I won’t spoil the options or outcomes of the heist, but putting together your own crew for the operation, with each one affecting the outcome of the mission certainly pays dividends in storytelling.
For the final wish, you must journey to the now decrepit manor previously inhabited by Von Everec and his wife, and retrieve a flower he left for her. This is where Hearts of Stone sags a little, as after a fantastic boss battle with the caretaker of the manor, you’re essentially tasked with putting back together memories for an hour and a half, which really drags down the plot when it should be firing on all cylinders.
Plot aside, the new characters introduced through Hearts of Stone are fantastically deep and emotionally layered. As previously mentioned, O’Dimm provides a great menacing threat, and although he does occasionally border on being downright annoying, Hearts of Stone manages to use him sparingly. Von Everec is also a great addition to the cast, giving us a man tortured by his past actions, and ultimately becomes an entirely different character by the end of the plot.
This is to say nothing to the standout character of the expansion: Shani. Players might remember Shani as a love interest from the original Witcher, and she makes a really charming reappearance here. Once again she’s a potential love interest, but she doesn’t impact on your relationships with Yeneffer and Triss, meaning Geralt can essentially carve his own plotline with her, which turns out to be quite a nice, emotional ride.
In terms of combat, Hearts of Stone doesn’t do much different, but that’s because it doesn’t have to. The combat in The Witcher 3 was already stellar, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s to say nothing of the two new boss fights introduced through the expansion, the first being the Toad Prince in the sewers, and the second being the aforementioned Caretaker of the manor. Both are really, really well designed boss fights, forcing you to move quickly, attack only when you can, and always be on your guard through rapid enemy movement.
Hearts of Stone brings a lot to the table, and that’s exactly how paid content should be done. Forget all the “service to the players” crap that Ubisoft and EA try and sell us, because CD Projekt Red have evidently worked tirelessly to bring us a truly huge expansion full of vibrant new characters, a big plot and some great new enemies. This nails how paid content should be done, and it’s absolutely fantastic in every sense.