Back on the Path

Witcher 3 – Hearts of Stone DLC

 

Tea: Mango Green Tea

 

While I am well aware that the first Witcher DLC Hearts of Stone has been out for quite some time and the second one has already rolled out as well, I took a long time to finish the main campaign plus a lot of the side missions. But gladly I now returned to the path along with my trusted companion Roach for another round of witchering. With a stellar main game that I still recommend whole-heartedly as a standout experience among grey fantasy rpgs, Hearts of Stone has some big Mastercrafted Feline Boots to fill. Is Geralt up for the task or will my heart be turned to stone for this one? (Forgive that last pun)

Hearts of Stone does not relate to the main plot of the third instalment, but it will matter at what point you choose to take up the quests, not in any progress kind of way, but minor dialogue changes will occur. You might also want to wait until you are properly levelled up, seeing as the DLC packs quite a punch (more so than the main game at times), but thankfully CD Project Red, being the benevolent and thinking individuals that they are, provide you with a safe-file to jump straight into the action, should you not want to wait. The story starts with a seemingly standard witcher contract throughout which you will run into a familiar face (not familiar to me, since I did not play the previous games), but things go awry pretty fast and Geralt is faced with a death sentence ready to be carried out after a lovely ship voyage. With little options at hand, Geralt choses to trust the elusive and charismatic Master Mirror, or Gaunter O’Dimm, a man looking like a standard peasant NPC but being anything but. Geralt is rescued (sort of at least), but now has a debt to pay to the strangely omnipresent peasant that takes to form of fulfilling three wishes for one of his other clients Olgierd von Everec. Suffice it to say the plot goes places from here, be it funny (and I mean really hilarious), challenging, saddening, surprising, and fulfilling.

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– Charismatic and never black or white, that’s Olgierd von Everec for you. –

The gameplay has not changed, so my review of that is still perfectly valid and can be read right here. There is a lot of new gear to attain which is always nice and even lovelier swords to be strapped to your back. The expansion does add a Runewright that lets you enchant your armour etc. which is especially good for pieces that look really good visually but not so much stat-wise. So in terms of sheer mechanics there is nothing new to look at, but there really doesn’t have to be something, since Witcher was and still is one of the best balanced games I have played with a steady progression that never feels slowed down by anything, be it lacking weapons, armour or things to do. They did update the map, however, and while I thought the original perfectly serviceable, the new features do come in handy and just show how much thought CD Project Red is still putting into this game, even into features that have nothing to do with the expansion per se. There is a level that deserves special praise, but I do not want to spoil, it is part of the main story and if you get to it, you will know which one I am talking about for sure. Atmosphere up the arse. Still cannot talk about Gwent as playing cards pales in comparison to riding around and hunting monsters, but if you want to spend your time sitting in a tavern doing bugger all, be my guest.

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– Nope, it’s still boring. –

What sets Hearts of Stone apart from other expansions in big open fantasy rpgs is the same thing that sets the Witcher itself apart: Really solid writing and attention to detail. I already commented on the detailed faces that give hints to the emotional attitudes of people and Geralt shining brightest among all of them. I will never get tired of that slightly pissed of eyebrow movement when another peasant describes a monster with absolutely no helpful information whatsoever. But there is competition in the ring. Both Olgierd and Gaunter O’Dimm are fantastic. Their faces emote very convincingly with a lot of depth and their dialogue is among the best of the series. Always in character with no line failing to work as intended. You never feel as though characters in a video game are talking, but people are conversing and that is an achievement in games that gets too little recognition.

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– You can also get some nice glasses for Geralt. What’s not to like about that? –

Special praise has to be given to the character of Gaunter O’Dimm, however, since he is not only exceptionally well-written and interestingly crafted, but his voice actor does a phenomenal job. Every scene he is in is both immersive and surreal. His motivations are sinister for sure, but his way of talking is so smooth and elegant with a lot of seemingly century old experience. You will feel uneasy around, but will want to be near him, just to listen to more that he has to say. I’d recommend headphones to get the best experience out of his performance, especially regarding the ending that may feel lacklustre to some, but those people have no idea of pacing and classic dramaturgical structures. The ending feels satisfying (at least the one I picked) and is very fitting for the characters of the story and while it may seem out of place or unfitting for a fantasy rpg for some (at least if Youtube comments are to be believed), I deem it a worthy ending to this expansion.

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– The highlight of the entire expansion. –

So once again the Witcher has drawn me into his world and given me more evenings of exciting adventures. Everything that made the main game great is here and even improved upon in some cases. While it does not bring anything new to the table in terms of gameplay, it really doesn’t have to. The Witcher combat is complex and varied enough as it is and if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. I had a lot of fun with the roughly 8-10 hour expansion and am already looking forward to the bats crowding the sky in the distance, when I set out with Gerald again for some Blood and Wine.

 

 

Image sources in order of appearance:

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2 thoughts on “Back on the Path

  1. Sounds amazing! Unfortunately, I´m still stuck with the griffon at the very beginning, as I have yet to survive a certain fallout (4) at the moment.

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    • How can that be? Also I’d greatly advise the Witcher more than Fallout, but that is just my standpoint, never could tolerate Bethesda Rpgs, the most empty and unfocused games to date.

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