The Witcher 3 Hearts of Stone Review – The Oxenfurt Gambit
Hearts of Stone is an excellent expansion worth every cent of its asking price, if not more.
Expansions aren’t quite what they used to be in gaming, but then The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt wasn’t the most typical game when it released. While other open world games had and continue to have their usual “go here, do this, and collect this” system, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was more elegant about it. Each quest had a story, each story had a meaning and there was always some reward to exploring this wide open world. It’s perhaps because of The Witcher 3’s overall fantastic quality that its first paid expansion Hearts of Stone stands out all the more. CD Projekt RED has already proven capable of providing compelling free content and an excellent game – how does it do with a whole new storyline, missions and keeping everything fresh for veterans?
"Of course, there are other new additions to look forward to in Hearts of Stone. Along with the usual new weapons and armour, players can now take advantage of the Runeword system."
Hearts of Stone sees Geralt encountering Gaunter O’Dimm aka the Man of Glass who takes Geralt on for a certain contract after helping him in the base game. This involves tracking down Olgierd von Everec, a bandit who has gained the power of immortality but suffers more than his fair share of consequences for the same. Things, as are often the case with O’Dimm, aren’t what they seem and to say any more at this point is to give away the awesome narrative that Hearts of Stone spins.
It’s amazing to see just how many different stories CD Projekt RED can tell in a single expansion. From a comedic wedding with plenty of melodrama to organizing your own heist and investigating a haunted mansion, not to mention the subplots which take inspiration from famous fairy tales, Hearts of Stone furthers the same clever writing and nuance that defined the base game. This is most evident when it comes to Shani, who appeared in the first Witcher, and is perhaps one of the best written characters for the entire game. Her mannerisms, personality and the challenge she presents in understanding her provide a welcome change from Triss and Yennifer. It’s amazing how at this point in the game’s life-style, CD Projekt RED is still capable of delivering such likable characters.
Of course, there are other new additions to look forward to in Hearts of Stone. Along with the usual new weapons and armour, players can now take advantage of the Runeword system. This feature bestows some interesting perks on to your equipment by combining certain sets of rune stones. However, you have to be careful – using a Runeword on an equipment piece will destroy its slots preventing you from throwing another rune stone into it for the future.
"Hearts of Stone manages to offer an excellent 10-15 hours of gameplay with a rapid pace, making it all the more ripe for replaying (especially in New Game Plus). "
As it is, the Runewords don’t automatically grant you a new set of moves and abilities nor do they address criticisms of using a limited skill set with Geralt. They essentially introduce another wrinkle to further turn the tide of battle in your favour and honestly, I’m not going to argue against the effects of increased stamina after killing my enemies or adding Igni to my next sword strike.
It wouldn’t be a Witcher title without some awesome quests and Hearts of Stone does more than enough to please in that department. Arguably the best of these is the heist wherein you must recruit various crew members and successfully execute your plan. It was equal parts hilarious and endearing, even if things tended to end in failure very quickly. Then there’s the haunted mansion which feels like your typical exploration and investigation quest but culminates in an encounter with arguably the most vicious and difficult boss fight seen in a Witcher game yet. This isn’t the only boss in the expansion and those saddened by the lack of more complex fights in the base game will find plenty to like here. Also, even as we speak at length about expansions justifying their asking price, Hearts of Stone manages to offer an excellent 10-15 hours of gameplay with a rapid pace, making it all the more ripe for replaying (especially in New Game Plus). That’s not at all bad for a $9.99 price point.
Hearts of Stone does have some issues – the side quest involving herding pigs is far from the best experience you’ll have in the game, even if it’s humorous in a way – but there’s so much more that the expansion succeeds in.
"Even at double its price the expansion would be worth the investment but at $9.99, Hearts of Stone simply can’t be missed."
The visuals remain as lush as ever, especially in the character designs for bosses and characters. Voice acting, especially for Shani and Geralt, and the soundtrack remain some of the best – if not the best – you’ll see in gaming this year. The odd glitch or so tends to happen but it’s nothing game-breaking at this point (make no mistake though – the initial launch of the expansion was rough due to issues with New Game Plus loot disappearing).
Whether you had a brief relationship with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or completed the game on New Game Plus on Death March, Hearts of Stone is a call-back to the days when expansions felt significant. It delivers a set of memorable missions and side quests without feeling overtly bloated or plodding, and along with exploring more of what Oxenfurt and No Man’s Land have to offer, it gives us a deeper look into Geralt’s motivations, desires and goals in the long run. Even at double its price the expansion would be worth the investment but at $9.99, Hearts of Stone simply can’t be missed.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Meaty and satisfying storyline that delivers memorable interactions, characters and missions. Stellar voice acting, music and visuals. Runewords put an interesting spin on the established combat. Boss battles are highlights unto themselves and must be experienced. Long and satisfying but entertaining from start to finish.
The odd glitch here and there. Some pacing issues and uninteresting side missions.
If Hearts of Stone were a full-length game, it would be perfect. The fact that it's an excellent expansion to an already excellent game in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is appreciable in a whole new light. Fan or not, if you crave a compelling action-adventure, Hearts of Stone is well worth the price.
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