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Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Hearts of Stone

by onJuly 15, 2016
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Ever since the Enhanced Edition of the first Witcher in 2008, we discovered that CD Projekt Red make games for the long-term. And so, right after the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in 2015, the Polish developer announced that it will release two massive expansions – alongside the free downloadable content throughout the year – starting with Hearts of Stone and followed by Blood and Wine. Although I’m quite late on reviewing this expansion pack (released in October 2015), I had to try out this new content before embarking on Blood and Wine. This new content – Hearts of Stone is designed for high level players, and will allow you to revisit the Northern Kingdoms for a rough 15-17 hours of extra gameplay and story.

After installing this expansion pack, you are greeted by a new start menu to give us an overview of the content, and especially how to access it. A good idea, as it allows you to only start Hearts of Stone as if it was a standalone, and for others, a quest will appear in the log ready which can be started at any time. At that time, my trusty Geralt was around level 38, with good “endgame” equipment, enough consumables and a stack of money, and according to the Hearts of Stone, it was enough for me to confidently start this expansion quest. If you are still playing the original game, whether the main quest, a Witcher contract or a simple treasure hunt, you’ll be able to know which is the “classic” ones, and which are the Hearts of Stone quests, identified by the color blue.

Witcher 3 Hearts of Stone - VGProfessional Review (9)

While CD Project Red didn’t “inflate” the numbers regarding the storyline of Hearts of Stone (estimated at 10 hours of content), that figure is relative, since in reality the expansion is not confined by a series of missions. Apart from a few discreet and subtle changes like with the runes, we quickly discover that the northeast borders on the original world map have somewhat extended. Beyond Oxenfurt and North of Novigrad are new unexplored lands, full of places to discover and treasures to loot, with no notable changes bestiary, but are higher than level 30. But it’s not just about the monsters, it’s also new allies including an Ofir merchant which can engrave runes on your swords and breastplates, depending on meeting certain conditions and paying a due. Great system, as you can for example add to your armor the ability to deflect arrows, increase your stamina generation or spread the effects of Igni to chain several enemies. Effects that are particularly powerful, but asking to invest tens of thousands of gold coins, and seem especially disproportionate to the challenge that lies ahead.

The main challenge – and premises of this expansion – will be hunting for Olgierd von Everec, a fallen noble lord, now head of a marauding band in the No Man’s Land. His name will excite hunters, and a look at the scars that are all over his face surely means he’s not a show-off. Forced to adorn a faux hawk because of his battle scars, Olgierd exudes a certain charisma, quite the opposite of his band of mercenaries who tried their best to adopt the same hairstyle. Your first meeting with him will be via one of Geralt’s monster hunt in the sewer Oxenfurt, which seems to have poisoned the source of water. Nothing truly forces you to jump on the main mission path, and you can roam around at your leisure on this new playing field, to get some new sets of high-level armor, including quests for a new school of witchers. On the topic of the writing and fluidity of the script, the construction and diversity of writing is as good as I pointed it out in my original review of core game. Now for those of you that want to avoid spoiler, please stop reading now, because I will talk about the first main mission of this expansion.

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Geralt is back in Oxenfurt, and gains access to the underground tunnels of the city via a simple stair in a well, and a classic “Witcher” investigation starts, building on our sharpened senses to find the beast that is spreading fear and death in the city. Very quickly, you’ll meet a character from the first Witcher, Shani, whom as a doctor, accompanied a troop of soldiers with the aim of recovering an extract from the animal venom to be able to treat patients. With her help, you will quickly find the lair of the monster, a giant toad that actually is an Ofirian prince, victim of a sorcerer spell. Injured after the battle, you are captured by a group that was sent to save the cursed prince, and here you are taken to Ophir on a ship to be presented to their king, after killing his son. A character that seemed unimportant ends up on becoming the front-runner of the expansion story, and will offer his help: Gaunter O’Dimm. This new protagonist is a sneaky one, benefiting from the mess Geralt is in, he will grant him freedom from his captive if he accepts to hunt down Olgierd von Everec for him. Geralt obviously bows to the will of his savior, who brands his skull as a way to track his progress, and calls upon a storm that shatters the ship transporting him.

A diplomatic incident of major proportions, an epidemic caused by a cursed prince from a distant land, a man capable of triggering storms: Hearts of Stone starts with a bang. Except, the rest of the adventure is a series of successful smaller stories, which work individually, but don’t seem to be threaded with the same string. Sometimes comical situations are linked and will be honoring the characters largely inspired by fairy tales like Cinderella, the Cheshire Cat or Rumpelstiltskin. The shift of writing tone is not annoying and does brings a bit of variety but it’s surprising to see such a difference in quality and rigor as we are used to from the original games. It becomes clear that this extension can be autonomous on its own, especially since it does not take into account the choices made during the original adventure.

If the thread between the stories is conspicuously absent, we found the writing quality of the characters and their dialogues to be very solid. With the exception of Gunter, Olgierd and Shani, most of the characters you meet tend to disappear as soon as their presence is no longer required for the story… Which is weird. After a dozen of hours in this expansion, we end up with a finishing chapter that lack the scale of an iconic game and responds to very few questions raised earlier, especially about the true nature of Gaunter.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Hearts of Stone was reviewed using an Xbox One redeemable code provided by CD Project Red.The expansion is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC in both retail and online store releases. The original game was reviewed in June 2015, which you can read by clicking right here. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.

What we liked

• New armor sets
• New regions/areas to visit
• Shani
• Fun content
• New Gwent Cards!

What is not fun

• Content doesn't feel linked
• Some irregular spike of difficulty with boss fights
• A letdown of an ending

Editor Rating
 
Concept
9.1

 
Graphics
9.6

 
Sound
9.7

 
Playability
9.0

 
Entertainment
8.1

 
Replay Value
8.5

Final Score
9.0


Our final verdict
 

As the credits roll, Hearts of Stone feels a bit unfinished. CD Projekt Red has accustomed us to excellence with a title full of content, constant writing quality and a storyline able to keep us in suspense for several hours. It was therefore not surprising to expect more or less the same for the first expansion, but it ends up being far from being essential. Hearts of Stone will attract the hardcore Witcher, and I hope that the next expansion, Blood and Wine is at the height of its original title.

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