The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone
Come October 13, The Witcher 3 is about to get even bigger with a brand new expansion adding around 10 hours of gameplay and costs $10. The Hearts of Stone expansion adds a brand new questline and CD Projekt RED compares its time investment and depth to The Bloody Baron portion of the Witcher 3. I went hands-on with the new content, playing the first two and a half hours. Here's what caught my eye.
Before we dig into the awesome content, let's get some of the main features out of the way.
Hearts of Stone is a self-contained story that doesn't factor into the main story of The Witcher 3, meaning you can play it without finishing the original game. Think of it as just another contract in Geralt's monster-hunting life and not something to flesh out the main narrative of the game. The quest takes place at level 30. A new game option under the expansion name takes you straight to the new content, allowing you to start fresh at 30 or use your character already at the aforementioned level, so newcomers can head straight for Hearts of Stone if they wish. Once you hop into the expansion, you accept the quest off the board to begin, taking you to areas around Novigrad, such as the Redanian city of Oxenfurt and No Man's Land.
Two Morally Gray Characters Luring You To Their Side
As we've come to expect with The Witcher franchise, situations and people aren't purely good or evil. The series has earned its claim to fame with morally gray characters, always keeping you on edge about how much you can actually trust them. First impressions can often be misleading; most of the people Geralt gets involved with have serious flaws and have made some mistakes. Hearts Of Stone carries on this tradition. Geralt accepts a monster contract from a mysterious man called Olgierd von Everec. Even your first meeting with Olgierd is full of uncertainties. The crew he roams with all play a trick on Geralt, each of them pretending to be Olgierd. You'll soon see that this crew some harsh rules, and Olgierd isn't afraid to slice off their heads for the smallest transgression. When Geralt slays the monster for Olgierd, he discovers that he might have had ulterior motives. Not to mention that Olgierd is also immortal.
This leads to an encounter with a familiar face - Gaunter O'Dimm, the man who guided us to Yennefer's whereabouts in the beginning of The Witcher 3. O'Dimm also has some business with Olgierd and he's equally enigmatic. Something about him just seems off; he mysteriously appears whenever you need him and he seems to take delight in toying with Geralt. Olgierd and O'Dimm will constantly try to rationalize their behavior to Geralt. Expect to make decisions where you must try to choose the lesser of two evils. As CD Projekt RED does so exceptionally well, there's never really a "right" answer. As I played the expansion, I felt uneasy around both characters, always conflicted by their requests and what would be the best scenario for Geralt. I liked having the two try to lure me to their side and sell each other out, and I can't wait to see more of this dynamic when I play the entire expansion. Plus, finding out more about O'Dimm is exciting in its own right. He creeps me out, but that's what makes me think he has something interesting up his sleeve.
While the expansion won't add any new information about The Witcher 3's main plot, it does involve both new and familiar faces. In addition to O'Dimm, Shani, the red-headed medic, who had a role in the original Witcher and was mentioned briefly in both The Witcher 2 and 3, returns for the expansion. From what I played of Hearts Of Stone, she has a pretty prominent role. You find out what she's been up to and help her through her own struggles, including being her date to a wedding.
Outside of Shani, Olgierd's deceased brother, Vlodimir is a treat. Geralt has to bring him back from the dead when Olgierd requests that the witcher gives his beloved brother the "night of his life." Geralt wants to keep Vlodmir in spirit form and avoid complete necromancy, but for Vlad to interact with anything he must possess Geralt's body. This is straight-up hilarious, as Vlodimir is Geralt's opposite. He's relaxed, likes to have a good time, and doesn't take anything seriously. He also likes to smooth talk the ladies. Whenever Vlodimir takes over Geralt's body, Geralt's stance changes - Vlodimir puts his hands on his hips showing full confidence - and a goofy grin comes across his face. I laughed a lot in these sequences, including Vlodimir entering a pig-chasing contest to earn Shani a stuffed pig. Vlodimir is a lot of fun, even if he has a lot to learn about how to be proper gentleman.
Challenging And Intense Battles
If the early combat is any indication, get ready for some epic battles. A boss fight against a giant toad is sure to keep you on your toes. This massive creature is a sight to see, but facing off against him and his deadly tongue is another type of adrenaline rush. As with most of the Witcher combat, finding the right signs to exploit will lead you to victory, but you also must make sure you dodge the creature's deadly attacks and use your sword when you can. I used yrden to trap the slippery foe to get in some solid strikes. My other strategy included using igni to explode clouds of gas he leaves after a big attack. I'll admit I died a few times before I got the rhythm down, but that only made victory that much sweeter when I finally slayed the damn amphibian.
Another battle with a mage tasks you with just trying to get near him to attack. He throws out these dangerous tornadoes every time you move in on him, and if you don't avoid them, they're deadly. He moves quickly, but once you catch him, hammering him with a bunch of hits takes off his health in no time. This was an optional battle; I could have just ran ahead, but it was such a different battle, I knew I had to top it.
Learning More About Geralt
CD Projekt RED does a good job with bringing new layers to Geralt through this quest. While I still don't know where it ends up, it did raise questions about Geralt always being so serious and feeling the need to always be on to the next contract without stopping to enjoy life. Geralt is very self-aware and his interactions with Shani and Vlodimir have them trying to bring him out of his shell and let his guard down every once in awhile. I'm hoping that Geralt learns something from both of these characters and we can see a new side to him.
Side Quests Galore
Besides the hefty main quest, optional side quests are also all around. CD Projekt RED couldn't put an exact number on how many additional side quests this expansion adds, but did say it's a lot. I noticed a good amount appearing on the map in the new locations, and the main quest also veers off with some of Olegierd's shady crew asking you for help. Yes, there's even some opportunities to play Gwent. Expect little decisions to make their way into the game; like previously, certain dialogue options will get you out of battles and saying the right thing in a high-pressure moment can avoid needless deaths.
What excites you most about the expansion? Let us know in the comments below!