With The Witcher 3 already haven eaten away most of your free time the highly anticipated expansion makes sure you put your social life on hold just that little while longer. Featuring a multitude of brand new quest lines and characters to interact with Hearts of Stone certainly justifies it’s more than reasonable price, putting a lot of recent paid DLC expansions to shame. If you’d thought Geralt’d had his fill of bedding women, slaying monsters and bedding women during his pursuit of the wild hunt… well you’d be wrong. The ashen haired, gravel voiced hero continues his journey bringing both death and love to the northern realms, making both monsters and women folk alike weak at the knees.
First of all it must be stated just how helpful the opening screen is. A lot of players may be confused as to how to begin this expansion but the game does a simple but effective way of telling you what you need to know. It would be fair to say Hearts of Stone certainly doesn’t spend any time subduing your excitement launching you into a boss battle within the first hour of game-play. After agreeing to slay a troublesome toad for Olgierd Von Everic and his gang of floppy haired goons you find yourself deep in the heart of the sewers facing a more than formidable foe.
From this point on Hearts of Stone lets you know it aint messing around, there’s a reason why the game recommends you start it with such a high level. It also make you instantly aware that this isn’t some slap-dash last minute botch job either as the boss designs in this expansion are truly mesmerising. The greatest example of this can found during the latter half of the expansion with the boss simply known as “The Caretaker”. This is one of the creepiest, most disturbing creations I’ve seen outside of Silent Hill. At the end of the fight Geralt quips “What the f**k was that?” and most players will have the same phrase echoing throughout their own minds after dispatching this horrific amalgamation of flesh.
However despite these excellent boss designs fighting them does become quite the chore. It’s not that the boss fights in Hearts of Stone are particularly bad it’s just that they can be incredibly frustrating in a way which doesn’t prove to be much fun. For instance a few of the fights contain bosses who are able to heal rather large amounts of their own health thus making them drag on for way longer than they should. There are ways around this of course for example you can prevent a particular boss from healing itself by destroying paintings inside the boss room.
Although doing this is no simple task as Geralt refuses to face anything else but the enemy during combat sequences meaning you have to randomly swing in the area you want and hope he might wildly hit something. It’s something that feels like artificial difficulty as the fights themselves aren’t too challenging but after you’ve chiseled down most of a baddies health bar within a matter of seconds they can be back to full strength.
Heart of Stone however isn’t just about boss battle of course and it does an incredible job of allowing you to explore even more beautifully presented landmarks within the expansive northern realms. Geralt finds himself wandering through dark abandoned manor houses and fog laden ruins in his quest to full-fill the demands of the Von Everics. If you managed to traverse every wondrous landscape during the main game you’ll find much delight in finding all the new areas dotted around the outskirts of Novigrad and Velen.
During his adventure Geralt comes across a multitude of characters both new and old and are all predictably well written and fit in alongside the rest of the games memorable cast. Olgierd is one of the stand-out characters you encounter his smug charm and bravado jumps out at you instantly, but as you unravel his troubled past you see there is so much more to him. The same can be said about the majority of the Hearts of Stone cast as your impressions of a character are consistently played with throughout the course of the game.
As mentioned earlier it’s not all new characters this time round as people from Geralts past make their return. For instance the medic known as Shani provides a constant support for your character and is one of the only people you can seemingly trust. Of course for those interested there is the romance option. I mean come on, what did you expect? Geralt keeps it in his pants less than he keeps his sword in its sheath.
There are many quests in Hearts of Stone containing heavy dialogue sections in some games this would seem a chore. However when characters start having a chin wag in The Witcher you cant help but be filled with intrigue.
For all the good work Heart of Stone does there is that thing that plagues most huge sprawling open world RPG’s. This is of course referring to bugs, something that obviously is hard to prevent when your games so huge but still does pull you out of the experience. Throughout the game I found myself occasionally having to re-load previous save states because an enemy hasn’t loaded in properly and wont enable me to progress.
Too many times Geralt was left hacking away at groups of bandits all stuck in one pose as they soak up the damage without reply. One moment saw Geralt’s legs seemingly bend in on themselves as he disturbingly floated around in mid-air. Most of this is likely to be fixed in the near future and hopefully most people won’t have their immersion broke by laughable bugs and glitches.
In summary, Hearts of Stone continues the epic story telling of The Witcher with unique interesting characters for you to interact with. The tragic tale of the Von Everics is one that could be the main plot to any big budget fantasy adventure and Hearts of Stone definitely delivers the good when it comes to its story. You never once feel like it’s been rushed or dragged out for longer than it should and the games excellent pacing is extremely satisfying for the player. Technical problems and some clunky combat never manages to derail the game and any fan of the main game should feel this is money well spent.