The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a game full of expansive content, with quest lines whose stories feature characters full of depth and make players feel a range of emotions. With high praise out there for the base game there is a lot of expectation for Witcher 3’s first expansion, Hearts of Stone. I’m pleased to say that Hearts of Stone isn’t just a good expansion that adds to the game’s lore, but could easily be considered to be one of the best pieces of single player DLC to ever be released.
The first thing you need to know about Hearts of Stone is that you need to have levelled to at least level 32 to be able to take on the tasks that will come before you. There are new monster nests and bandit camps with high level enemies within the new area that you can explore just outside of Oxenfurt. This area includes a couple of new villages, landmarks, and the story also opens access to a new small island, though there isn’t much there apart from some loot.
It introduces some new characters as well as bringing back a couple you may have already met. The first will be familiar to those who played the original Witcher on PC in the form of Shani, a doctor who Geralt had quite the past with. The second is a character you would have met playing through Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s campaign but he played such a minor role that you’d be forgiven for forgetting about him. His name is Gaunter O’Dimm, a person who gives you a bit of advice, and he requires the assistance of Geralt.
The main plot of the story is all about a deal made between Gaunter O’Dimm and a man named Olgierd von Everec. Olgierd is a nobleman of sorts who has managed to acquire the ability of immortality, and some life choices have led to him being tied to O’Dimm until their agreement is fulfilled. Geralt is a pawn in this situation, given tasks to complete so the deal between Gaunter and Olgierd can be completed once and for all. Both of these individuals are very well written and you’re never sure where you stand with either throughout the Hearts of Stone plot.
The tale of O’Dimm and von Everec is full of tragedy with moments that have you flitting between being anger and sorrow for them. To even give more details of what the story is and how the two know each other threatens to lessen the impact you could experience from it. However while the majority of the Hearts of Stone expansion is sombre in nature there is a surprising amount of humour within it too. There is a quest where the majority of the action required is to just have time to enjoy a special occasion, littered with some corny and smutty lines uttered by another new character, Olgierd von Everec’s brother Vlodimir, with many of them aimed at Shani as he attempts to woo her.
Hearts of Stone also introduces the Ofieri, a people from the distant land of Ofier, though that place is made up of various kingdoms where different kinds of people live in vast cities. The characters that Geralt meets include a trader from this place, and a new type of craftsman called a Runewright. The Runewright has the ability to create new enchantments that are more powerful than others in the game, but only one can be equipped per weapon or armour that has three rune slots.
Accessing the Runewright’s wares isn’t cheap though, as Geralt has to help out with some start up costs to gain access to the lowest levelled runes. The cost of this is 5ooo gold, with the second tier being 10,000 gold, and the final tier requiring Geralt to hand over 15,000 gold. While these runes will grant access to better skills and abilities they aren’t necessary to progress through Hearts of Stone, and the cost to access the goods feels somewhat prohibitive.
The Ofieri seem to be based on older cultures of the Middle East and areas around the Indian subcontinent, especially the clothing and language. The Ofieri who do speak the Common tongue, aka English, do so like any person learning a new language would. Words aren’t always quite in the right order, but with context the things that are said make sense. The Ofieri are on a journey of discovery and wish to learn more about the world they inhabit, including the customs of the local people and the nature of the land. In fact their implied journey of discovery parallels Geralt’s own path as he learns more about the mysterious people he is dealing with.
Hearts of Stone can be played at any time regardless of where you are in the plot, but I did find that some of the non-essential context, like what NPCs were saying, referenced events or characters whose arcs had already come to a conclusion in my own story in a way that made it seem they were still active. This was likely done to avoid any major spoilers of the central game’s plot and some moments do acknowledge events that have unfolded during your play through.
Hearts of Stone is a piece of DLC that has been done right, genuinely adding to an already great game. The antagonist in this content is for me a better and more interesting character than the members of the actual Wild Hunt from the main plot, and you also learn more about Geralt’s past too. If you own and enjoy The Witcher 3 then Hearts of Stone is easily recommended, but go in knowing as little as possible because there are some truly spectacular moments to be had.