Having been away from Geralt’s world for a while now, it was surprisingly easy to slip back into his shoes for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s first true expansion, “Hearts of Stone”. After 16 free DLC instalments of varying flavours, this is its first large-scope piece of content, adding new areas, enemy types and an entire quest chain to explore in the newly-expanded No Man’s Land region near Novigrad.
Kicking off within the scope of the main game’s story, “Hearts of Stone” sees Geralt accepting a contract for a mysterious monster lurking in the sewers beneath the city of Novigrad, after the disappearance of many women from the town. Tracking this creature, Geralt runs into old friend Shani, a medic last seen in the original Witcher. Our hero soon finds and defeats the beast, but not all is as it seems.
As a result of this contract, Geralt finds himself indebted to the mysterious Master Mirror, forced to carry out three tasks for him to fulfil his debt and walk free once more. Along the way he will encounter a selection of all-new characters in No Man’s Land in a self-contained story that still slots well into the overarching tale of Wild Hunt.
It’s an impressive feat for a DLC of this scale to work so well, despite its need to operate both as a mid-game storyline or a post-game storyline, dependent on where the player is up to. The missions and enemies are definitely rated for higher-level witchers – with a base level of 30, many players will find themselves underpowered if they’re still early on in the main story, despite the DLC being available any time after the Prologue. Luckily, all main and side missions related to the DLC are helpfully coloured a distinct blue in the quest log and branded with the “Hearts of Stone” DLC logo, allowing lower-levelled players to avoid them at a glance if need be.
It was something of a relief as a post-game player to have enemies that truly posed a challenge once more – having finished the game around level 35, no enemy really did anything more than momentarily get in the way of my swords before turning into a pale red mist. Though, walking around the DLC’s new region, I once again had to actually THINK about combat; it came back to me just how complex and fun the game’s system is. Even random encounters will cause you to stop and think once more, as a lone boar or arachnomorph can wipe you out if you’re not paying attention.
These more challenging encounters make it all the more interesting to have a new customisation system available for your weapons and armour. Working away in the new town of Brunwich is a ‘runewright’, a unique crafter who can inscribe your equipment with Runewords and Glyphwords. These combinations of standard runes or glyphs have more complex effects than the ones you can equip individually, but allow you tinvest more deeply into your particular play style. With the runewright’s craft broken up into the familiar tiers of Combat, Signs and Alchemy, Geralt can further tweak his approach to combat to suit your preference. As a heavy user of the Aard sign, I quickly invested in the Signs branch to give my knockdowns that much more punch.
“Hearts of Stone” provides an extension to the wonderful Wild Hunt experience, and the best part is that it feels like it’s just part of the game. By subtly expanding the existing map and including locations from the main game, it doesn’t feel like you’re travelling to a special DLC-only zone for the mission quest. The new zone was so well integrated that at first I didn’t realise some of the locations were new to Novigrad. Nonetheless, the missions of “Hearts of Stone” are fun to play and in keeping with the game’s sense of humour; I’ll highlight the Dead Man’s Party quest as a particular favourite, but I won’t spoil why.
If you are playing or have played Wild Hunt, it’s definitely worth your time to invest a little money to extend your experience. With “Hearts of Stone” suggested to be the smaller of the game’s two paid expansions, I look forward to seeing just how big the next installment, “Blood and Wine”, will be next year. Nevertheless, I’ll be ready and waiting to step into the White Wolf’s boots once again.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s Hearts of Stone expansion was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.