What do demented childhood fairytales, a spiritual possession, a love story, and a heist all have in common? If you said they were parts of the new Hearts of Stone expansion for the Witcher 3 give yourself a pat on the back. Hearts of Stone is in every sense an expansion to the most recent Witcher release. While intended for characters of level 30 you can take part in the Hearts of Stone tale during any part of the game. For those of you that have yet to reach 30 you can create a new game that has a Geralt leveled and waiting for you to take on this new adventure, the only caveat is that you cannot play through the main Wild Hunt storyline. All other hunts, contracts, and side quests; however, will remain available.
Unlike the previous free DLC’s released by CD Projekt Red, Hearts of Stone is more than just a cosmetic item, a new quest, or a new monster hunt. It is all of those and more. It even has a new crafting system, Runewright. Hearts of Stone is a new standalone adventure that will take you through Velen and reintroduce Geralt to an old flame, an immortal, and will reacquaint you with a character who may have seemed inconsequential when first you met in White Orchard at the beginning of Wild Hunt who pointed you to Yennefer.
Where CD Projekt Red predicted that Wild Hunt would take players between 50 and 100 hours to complete they have said that Hearts of Stone should take about 10. I have found that to be a pretty accurate estimate with my completion time being in that neighborhood. That was ignoring all but the main story of Hearts of Stone.
The things that made Wild Hunt work so well are all present and accounted for in Hearts of Stone. It has an engaging storyline that replaces some of the original dark themes with some light hearted humor, seeing a dancing Geralt at a wedding for example, yet it maintains the gripping story telling elements that pull you in for Wild Hunt. That woman Geralt is dancing with at the wedding by the way is Shani. You may remember her from her original appearance in the first Witcher. She is a medic and one of Geralt’s old flames. Since Geralt has had a chance to be romantically involved with a brunette and a blonde in Wild Hunt it only makes sense that the developers would choose a redhead for the expansion right? That said Shani and Geralt have a relationship that goes back for years but whether you have played the first Witcher or not you will learn Shani’s backstory while she is courted by Geralt in one of the most bizarre ways imaginable.
Another bit of storytelling that CD Projekt Red has become adept at is by making choices have actual consequences. The depths of how far your relationship will go forward with Shani is up to you. How you manage to complete a number of quests in the main story arc is also up to you. Whether by subterfuge or brute force you can accomplish your mission and depending on which path you choose will determine what team members you collect from the rogue’s gallery that are available to you in the midpoint. This also allows for increased replayability because you will not always end up with the exact same outcome. The characters also stand out from the normal RPG NPC. These characters are alive with personalities all their own ranging from a suicidal dwarf to a high flying acrobatic elf.
Apparently CD Projekt Red felt that Geralt did not have enough scars so they branded him with a new one in the opening hour of the storyline... on his face. Complements of Gaunter O’Dimm, otherwise known as the Merchant of Mirrors, but I won’t spoil the reason why.
The biggest disappointment of the expansion is the Runewright system. While it does allow for some quality upgrades to your armor and weapons it is extremely expensive. I’m not sure that it is worth the effort for the upgrades. If you are sitting on a ton of coins to spend it may not be that big of a deal but if you have to go out farming for gold you might be a bit put off at the rewards.
If you enjoyed Wild Hunt this should be the simplest decision you have had to make all day. Pick up Hearts of Stone. At $10 it is worth the cost of admission and will provide you with at least that many hours of enjoyment as you try to discern the relationship between the Immortal and the Merchant of Mirrors.