Sometimes it can be difficult doing a review of something you’ve thoroughly grown to love while keeping yourself from devolving into an almost pre-teen state of “OMG!!!111!!LUV U 4EVAR”. My honest opinion is that the only thing keeping this review in line is the thought of having to justify the presence of two thousand exclamation points amid a random jumble of intermittently spaced capslocked letters to the editors, who at this point may in fact be plotting my murder. (Not quite yet – Ed.)
Having played through The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt a few times at this stage, I was sitting on my hands like a child, rocking back and forth waiting for this DLC. Like with most expansions you learn to hold your breath waiting, hoping that it’s going to be good but secretly fearing a not so gentle let-down. As you’ve probably guessed from the opening of this review I was most certainly not let down. With more missions, more area to explore and altogether more teeth, the first of the expansions has me utterly convinced that the Witcher 3 is going to go down as one of the greatest games of the decade. If the next instalment, Blood and Wine, is even half as good as Hearts of Stone I am not even sold, I am bowing at the feet of CD Projekt RED. Fan for life, right here!
One of the things that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt excelled at was an ability to create characters and stories with true flaws without losing our compassion or emotional investment in them. It’s always going to be one of the hardest things to do with borderline, almost irredeemably dark characters that, lets be truthful, do utterly terrible things. How do you make the audience still care about them after knowing all the horrible things they’ve done? The guys making the Witcher seem to have boiled this down to an absolute art form. It’s because they’ve taken the time to show you the character, to ask the tough questions about how they got to where they are; to let you see that this character, protagonist or antagonist, isn’t a black stain on an otherwise bright and just society, but merely another doomed, damned soul, waist deep and trapped in the mud with the rest. Never is this more obvious than in Hearts of Stone. Without spoiling too much I will say that Geralt has some far from easy decisions to make and the saying ‘better the Devil you know’ springs to mind. Or more accurately, better the Devil that hasn’t screwed you over quite so much.
Filled with more towns, contracts and side missions, one of the biggest of the new features to The Witcher 3 world is the ability to create runes. Having had to scour for them up to now this was a great addition. However, it’s easily the most expensive ability I’ve ever nurtured in the game, and when I say expensive I truly mean bankruptingly so. I thought up until now I was gleefully hording coins. No, I was just temporarily minding them for this Ofieri business man who literally fleeced me. When you go from being the richest witcher in the land to selling your second set of legendary armour in the name of runecrafting, you’ve been swindled somewhere. Now, don’t get me wrong, the runes you can create, especially the greater runes, they are awesome. But start saving now, really. If you decide to go the runecrafting road you’re going to need every single penny.
The overall tone of Hearts of Stone is vastly different to the fast paced chase of the Wild Hunt. There’s something far darker quietly slithering its way through the world; monsters and Demons more terrifying and more dangerous than anything Geralt has faced before; an ominous foreshadowing of future events perhaps. The tone of the expansion is bleak and filled with lashings of pain, and any feeling of adventure, exploration or joy was quenched by my own unending tears as I had my ass handed to me at every possible turn; combining the DLC with New Game+ is a bucket of cold water and no mistake. If there’s anything to take away from this new story it’s the understanding that if something sounds too good to be true it more than likely is; drafted into servitude you follow Geralt as he’s enlisted to help collect an outstanding debt for a mysterious character going by the name Gaunter O’Dimm. As you’d expect it all ends up much more than he bargained for.
The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone is a ghastly descent into darkness on a road filled with secret desires and the corruption and self-destruction that comes with them. What if someone told you, you could have everything you’ve ever wanted? Would you turn them away?
Who knows what souls CD Projekt RED are selling to craft stories this good?