The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone (DLC) Review
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a great game, lovingly crafted, meticulously written and so epic in scope that with more than 200 hours invested in the game, I’m still encountering new content. Six months on from its initial release and the first substantial DLC expansion has finally been unleashed. Entitled ‘Hearts of Stone’, the add-on adds additional areas to the world to explore, some new storylines to follow and a few tweaks to the base game. So is it worth the price of admission? Read on to find out…
Players who have completed the Witcher 3’s main story will have the new story quest to kick off the DLC added to their quest log as soon as they load up the game with the content installed. For players who want to try the new content without completing the main game first, the game will give the option to create a fresh save with Geralt already at the recommended level for starting the expansion content directly from the main menu. Handy!
The expansion’s story starts upon picking up a Witcher Contract from one of the game’s many notice boards… And as Geralt is wont to do, it’s off to meet the contract giver before venturing into a nearby sewer to slay a monster. Unfortunately, fulfilling the contract has the unintended consequence of sweeping our favorite monster hunter up into a much larger narrative revolving around a mischievous powerful being and the immortal nobleman to whom he is bound.
The DLC revolves around Geralt being forced to fulfil three seemingly impossible tasks to work off a debt and each of these three tasks plays out as a portion of the new content’s core quest line. Each of these sub-quests feels completely unique and original but still managing to fit the dark tone of the world and its characters whilst feeding effortlessly into the compelling overarching storyline. From setting up and pulling off a heist to letting Geralt’s hair down at a wedding, these quests are by far some of the most refreshing and entertaining that the game has offered to date.
The DLC is geared towards high level players, with level 32 being the recommended benchmark for embarking on the new quest chain. For the most part, in terms of gameplay, the game remains essentially the same. If you loved what the base game brought to the table, you are going to enjoy the expansion – between conversing with an array of new and returning characters, players will be exploring new zones, hacking and slashing their way through increasingly difficult enemy encounters and taking on some of the more unique and punishing boss battles that the series has produced. All in a day’s work for Geralt of Rivia.
Runecrafting is the only real addition to the gameplay mechanics and players can use it via specifically trained NPCs to alter their higher end weapons/armour to remove glyph slots (which are usually luck-based in their triggering) in favor of Runewords – permanently passive perks/effects such as: buffing damage, using adrenaline to restore vitality or increasing the effectiveness of food consumption. There are plenty of Runewords on offer and finding a balance between words and glyphs in how you customise Geralt’s gear encourages a great amount of experimentation to find a build that best suits your style of gameplay.
In addition to the new quests and Runewords, the expansion also incorporates a large swathe of land which has been seamlessly added to the northern part of the main continent of Velen (just north of the main city of Novigrad). This new zone adds a range of new side-quests, new types of monsters to fight and plenty of real estate to explore filled with caves, villages and other new points of interest to further grow the already expansive game world.
If there are any drawback to the expansion, they would mostly be tied into lingering issues carried across from the core game. The horse and AI are still not the greatest assets to the game, Geralt still struggles with ladders, the frame rate still drops off occasionally and occasionally texture pop-ins are visible for a few seconds after entering a new area or initiating a cut-scene. Unfortunately, the loading times are also still excruciatingly slow and can be downright frustrating if players find themselves stuck on a particularly tough enemy/boss encounter and need to reload often.
All in all, despite the few niggles inherited from the base game, Hearts of Stone is a tidy little addition to an already fantastic title that will take well in excess of 10 hours to experience everything that the new content to offer. The dialogue, storyline and quest-lines fed into this DLC are on par with the main game (a feat in itself) and the quests themselves are memorable and very much worth your time. If you enjoyed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you best pick up Hearts of Stone, you won’t regret it.
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