Earlier this year Bill wrote the official review for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and said the game is an “Absolute Classic.” After five months and the release of 16 free DLC, ranging from new Hunts, costumes, and quests, CD Projekt Red has released the first official expansion for the game. Fortunately Hearts of Stone doesn’t skip a beat and continues the narrative that this game is truly going to be an absolute classic for the ages.
While Hearts of Stone is an expansion it can also be treated as a standalone adventure to the Witcher 3. Regardless of whether or not you completed the main campaign you can instantly jump in and take part of the action. The quests are geared for level 30+ but if you are not already there you can create a new game that will boost you to appropriate level and provide you gear and a ton of coin that contains all of the hunts and side quests available in the Witcher 3 but it will not have the main Wild Hunt story line available. If you are still making your way to find out just what exactly happened to Ciri you can divert at any time and try and solve the riddle that is the Merchant of Mirrors.
If you have read any of the books from the Witcher series you can see where CD Projekt Red has drawn their inspiration for the different systems in the game. From the two swords that Geralt carries on his back, the signs that he uses to cast spells, and the different potions he drinks. Those are all straight from the text. If nothing else the author Andrej Sapkowski did one thing extremely well in those novels and short stories, he create an incredibly interesting cast of characters and monsters that were never really all good or all bad. Even a devil could have motivations that would make you feel sympathetic to them. Too often characters in video games fit neatly into tropes. That isn’t the case with the Witcher universe. Continuing in that vein CD Projekt Red has created two dynamic characters that are engaged in a duel that has waged for a millennia that Geralt gets shoved into the middle of. An old acquaintance, the Merchant of Mirrors, needs your help, scars your face, and casts you deep into his plot to capture a soul.
Additional characters in Hearts of Stone epitomize the Sapkowski character model including Geralts old flame Shani. This tale is full of sadness but also has moments that are the most lighthearted and full of humor, that isn’t black, seen before in a tale about Geralt. We also see an old flame turn into a new love interest for Geralt that isn’t based on some abusive relationship. This is one that is borne out of a mutual respect and genuine admiration for each other. It is far different from the relationships he has had with any sorceresses.
The only downside to the entire expansion is the new runewright crafting system. It’s not that the new crafting system isn’t interesting. It also provides us a new character from a different culture. It’s just the system is not very useful in the current game. Runewright allows you to enchant items that have three open slots. In order to gain access to the best enchants you are going to have to spend 30,000 crowns. That’s no small feat but even ignoring that giant money sink there doesn’t really seem to be a need to use any of the new enchants in this expansion. Maybe this system will become more useful in the next expansion but for now they are at most an interesting diversion. Also runewright isn’t really that bad it’s just not at the same level of quality as the rest of Hearts of Stone.
Hearts of Stone has pulled me back into The Witcher Universe with its finely crafted story and menagerie of clever side characters. A cat burglar acrobat, a suicidal Firestarter dwarf, a lifelorn ghost, and more are all people that will stick with you for a while even after you are done playing. While this story may only take you 10 hours to complete make sure to set aside more time than that because you will probably need it.
Gameplay: 9 Other than the fact that Geralt has the turning radius of a ship at sea the gameplay is masterful. Quest design, secondary systems, Gwent! It’s all there.
Visuals and Sound: 10 The world created by Andrej Sapkowski is brought to life in the Witcher 3. Towns can be muddy browns but in an instant you can be in a lush green forest. The sunrises and sunsets exemplify that you can have horrific atmosphere but there is still beauty in the world.
Polish: 9 The previous five months has allowed CD Projekt Red to work all the bugs out and the game runs phenomenally. The only thing that is currently missing is some additional UI customization settings. Noticeably text scaling on the console versions.
Longevity: 10 With multiple paths to take in order to complete the main campaign and additional content players could easily spend 20 hours winding along on a single play through. This does not include wanting to play it over again to see the different outcomes.
Value: 10 $10 for a main story with multiple endings that will take you roughly 10 to 14 hours to complete powering through. If you wander off the beaten path expect it to take much longer. There are also additional side quests, monster hunts, horse races, and a new crafting system. The expansion is worth every penny.
- Wonderfully flawed characters
- More of what made the original great
- Geralt still turns like a boat
- Runewright is overpriced