CD Projekt RED sure knows how to treat its fans. Not only was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt a fantastic and deep RPG, but fans were rewarded with a consistent trickle of free DLC that ranged from new quests, outfits, and even a "New Game+" mode. Now, Hearts of Stone — the first paid expansion for The Witcher 3 — has released five months later and it's safe to say that this expansion provides more value for your buck than most retail games in 2015. If you loved the original game as much as we did, then you owe it to yourself to play Hearts of Stone.
For those wondering what the requirements are to play Hearts of Stone, there really isn't any need to worry since CD Projekt Red have thought of just about every scenario. While it is highly recommended to have finished the main adventure and be above level 32, those who haven't reached those goals yet can still jump in on the action. A pre-made level 32 Geralt can be selected to play all the new content Hearts of Stone has to offer; the catch however, is that all regular Witcher 3 missions are locked off. You can still bounce around completing all the side content from The Witcher 3, but don't expect to jump back and forth between the two stories — which makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Hearts of Stone narratively takes place after the events of the main game so ideally, we would suggest finishing The Witcher 3 first before tacking on the expansion.
Hearts of Stone is essentially all the best parts of The Witcher 3 strung together in a 10-15 hour package. We can't stress just how much content is stuffed in here. It feels almost wrong to have only paid $10, but we won't press any further on the matter. There's only five main story missions in Hearts of Stone but just as you would expect out of a Witcher game, these are anything but basic. One thing immediately apparent is just how much more fun and whimsical things are this time around. For example, the opening quest begins with a rather by-the-numbers contract that unexpectedly concludes in a battle with a giant toad named Prince. Later on, you'll explore a spooky haunted manor full of those disgusting wraith monsters, and Geralt even gets the chance to let loose during a speech at a wedding in hilarious sitcom fashion. It's all wonderfully put together and enjoyable to play through. If you felt the main game faltered in its story with too many back-and-forth quests, then you'll be happy know Hearts of Stone puts that complaint to rest.
Even more impressive is just how well Hearts of Stone introduces and develops new and interesting characters. Olgierd von Everec, who possesses the power of immortality, is a peculiar antagonist for Geralt and somehow manages to steal nearly every cutscene he's in. Longtime Witcher fans will be happy to see Shani make a return too. Even if you never got around to playing the original Witcher, Shani still manages to leave a lasting impression simply based on her general behaviour around Geralt. Sure, her usefulness here doesn't extend much past being just another lover for Geralt, but her backstory was far more engaging when compared to other female characters in The Witcher 3.
Combat is just as fun and demanding as it ever was in The Witcher 3, save for a few noteworthy changes. Hearts of Stone implements a new game mechanic called Runewords which allows you to upgrade your gear with new powerful perks and bonuses using all of those existing runes you've no doubt accumulated throughout your journey. We fooled around with some of these new buffs, but ultimately felt that they don't alter the combat all that much. It's definitely worth toying around with, even simply just to get rid of unnecessary runes.
Once you've upgraded your gear, you can unleash your new abilities on new enemy types like the Arachnomorphs. These menacing spider enemies have amazing range and like to attack Geralt in packs. We fell a few times from their web attacks, but similar to nearly every enemy in The Witcher 3, reading moves and knowing when to evade and exploit weaknesses is key to being victorious. There are plenty of memorable boss encounters too including the aforementioned toad Prince, a teleporting mage, a headless swordsman, and a massive beast unlike anything seen in the original game. While Hearts of Stone does allow anyone to begin playing it, these challenges will require someone who has a masterful understanding of The Witcher 3.
Hearts of Stone is a full-fledged add-on for a game that probably didn't need to be any longer. Thankfully, Hearts of Stone is a total blast for Witcher fans and packs more into its 10-15 hour campaign than most AAA games on the market. With its wonderfully paced story, mesmerizing characters, and gorgeous world to explore, Hearts of Stone demands to be played. It also raises the bar for what fans can expect from DLC for their favourite games. If you're itchin' for more witchin', then picking up Hearts of Stone is a no brainer.