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Geralt gets some new scars and some sound life advice.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily one of the best games to be released in 2015. Its gorgeous visuals, character-driven storytelling, and incredibly immersive world have provided hundreds of hours worth of content since its release in May; however, we haven’t really heard that much from developer CD Projeckt Red since the final installment of free downloadable content hit back in August.

Enter the first full-fledged expansion to the game, Hearts of Stone.

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone contains a new standalone story mission, as well as several side quests and witcher contracts. Having nothing to do with Geralt’s search for Ciri and his attempts to stop the Wild Hunt from destroying the universe, Hearts of Stone exists as simply another part of the teeming game world. These characters have been living their lives alongside Geralt and it feels like they really might have been there on the Continent all along.

The plot kicks off with Geralt’s investigating a contracted posted outside of Oxenfurt, which brings him into contact with Olgierd von Everec. He’s a smarmy mix between a pirate and aristocrat, who looks like someone you might see walking down the streets in Brooklyn, and he sets Geralt off on a contract that, at first glance, looks like any other. Of course, this does not turn out to be the case.

Geralt definitely comes up against some ugly stuff in this expansion.
Geralt definitely comes up against some ugly stuff in this expansion.

Much of the story for Hearts of Stone unfolds over the course of two primary quest lines, one having to do with attending a wedding, the other having to do with planning and executing a heist. Much like when you’re given the decision in the main game to either attend to the Bloody Baron quest or investigate the Ladies of the Wood, you’re given the power to go with whichever one suits your desires. The wedding holds the possibility of fun and romance, while the heist promises excitement and adventure.

Unfortunately, only the heist quest is really much fun. While I appreciated some of the less action-oriented quests in the main game, this one simply doesn’t work as well. Although the return of  The Witcher’s Shani does make for an interesting companion, her passing relationship with Geralt makes it difficult to care about her in the way that you can care about Triss or Yennefer. Throw in a half-baked romance plot, some truly horrid voice acting, and a character who gives off the rapiest of vibes, and it really makes for an uncomfortable two hours.

The wedding sequence is often uncomfortable and sometimes quite dull.
The wedding sequence is often uncomfortable and sometimes quite dull.

The heist, on the other hand, is much more well-executed, and makes for an incredibly exciting time. Making use of a wealth of heist movie tropes, including gathering your team and boatloads of betrayal, this plays out like Witcher meets Oceans Eleven. With the final stretch of the campaign exploring much more familiar territory for Witcher players, this acts as a wonderful breath of fresh air.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is at its best when focusing on individual characters and the stories that they have to tell, and that’s exactly what Hearts of Stone provides. While there are some definite hiccups along the way, this expansion not only feels like a hefty addition (it should take about 10 hours to play through the main campaign alone) to the world of the main game, but a worthy companion piece to Geralt’s search for his adopted daughter.

 

Review Statement: A digital download of this content was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

Tags : Hearts of StoneThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Keith Mathias

The author Keith Mathias

Keith is a writer and photographer living and working in the Baltimore/DC area. Every once in a while, he’ll put down the controller to pick up a book or simply bask in the light of the silver screen. Formerly of VideoGameWriters.com, you can read his thoughts on the DC music scene at WAMU’s Bandwidth.